‘Phantom Menace’ Takes Over the World

Leave it to George Lucas to make the home-video release of “The Phantom Menace” an event worthy of international hype.

The top-grossing film of 1999, with a worldwide haul of more than $920 million, will hit stores around the globe during the week of April 3, Fox announced today. The U.S. release date is April 4. (That’s a Tuesday. Plan accordingly.)

Given the ambitious international release strategy, the studio is in hyperbole overdrive.

“This is going to be the week of ‘Star Wars: Episode I‘ on video around the world,” said Steve Feldstein, a spokesman for Fox Home Entertainment.

It’s also going to be an Easter hit, at least according to Fox, which passed up the lucrative Christmas 1999 shopping season to lie in wait for April 2000.

“Easter is a trade high-traffic shopping season, and by releasing it in the springtime, we were also able to make it global, which is cool because fans of the franchise, old and new, will have [the video] at the same time,” Feldstein said.

Fox is not the first distributor to attempt a coordinated worldwide video launch — Dreamworks did it with “The Prince of Egypt” — but the other releases were spread out over several months. “The Phantom Menace” video will debut around the world within a matter of days, Feldstein said.

“We’ve been able to marshal forces and release it within the week in all territories we do business in around the world, which is just about everywhere,” Feldstein said.

Uh, what does “just about everywhere” mean? Pretty much, everywhere — except France. It won’t be released there until the fall. (Just what the French need — another reason to carp about America.)

While the home-video release effort is massive, all remains quiet on the DVD front. Plans call for the flick to be issued only on VHS videotape in the United States. (In some Asian countries, it’ll also come out on laserdisc and VCD, a video CD.)

In these parts, the “Star Wars” saga has never been a friend to DVD collectors. Not one of the films from the original trilogy has yet been issued in the format. And word is fans may have to wait until director George Lucas‘ new prequel trilogy is completed before any of them see state-of-the-art DVD releases with all the extras.

“George would love to do something special with the DVD release, but he won’t do it until he has time to concentrate on it,” said Lynne Hale, a spokeswoman for Lucasfilms Ltd.

“Right now he’s writing the script for ‘Episode II,’ then we go right into principal photography this summer in Australia. And after that, he’ll be working on ‘Episode III,’ so it could be some time before he’s able to devote the time needed to work on the DVD,” Hale said.

Last May, when “Phantom Menace” was released theatrically, it was reported that 20th Century Fox received only a distribution fee from Lucasfilms and none of the box-office grosses. (Lucas funded the entire production himself, with no studio money). Fox and Lucasfilms officials would not comment today on whether a similar arrangement had been struck for the distribution of the video revenue.