Thursday, March 17, 2005

Opening Night Nerves - Star Wars for FUN and for LUCK


Revenge of the Sith showcases more planets than any Star Wars film that has come previously, more planets than all the previous Star Wars films combined.

The scale of the Star Wars finale is so enormous that it stretches from the heart of the Republic to the wispiest stretches of the Outer Rim. To better orient yourself in galaxy far, far away, here's a brief introduction to some of the planets to be found in Episode III.


A center of art and beauty in the galaxy, Alderaan is an unspoiled world that exemplifies pacifist ideals. Representing Alderaan in the Senate is Bail Organa, played by Jimmy Smits, the eventual adoptive father to Princess Leia.

Alderaan is seen briefly in the film, with stunning photography gathered in the Swiss Alps, augmented by a gleaming palace added digitally.

The Episode III Art Department developed the look of Alderaanian culture as extremely advanced and sleek, with tight jumpsuits and streamlined headsets being the norm aboard Alderaanian starships. EDITOR'S NOTE: I, FOR ONE, AM GLAD IT EXPLODED BEFORE WE HAD TO SEE ODDBOB IN A TIGHT JUMPSUIT. (ALTHOUGH THE IMAGINED SIGHT WILL NOW HAUNT ME FOR DAYS).

Present in the film are several prominent natives of Alderaan, including Captain Antilles of the Tantive IV played by Rohan Nichol and Queen Breha Organa, played by Rebecca Jackson Mendoza.

Cato Neimoidia

A key "purseworld" of the Trade Federation, Cato Neimoidia is home to many treasure troves belonging to the greedy Neimoidians.

In the early development of Episode III, Cato Neimoidia was to be a gas giant ringed by a flat, disc-like space station - reminiscent of the donut-like shape of the Trade Federation battleships seen in Episode I. The opulent interiors of Cato Neimoidia were to be stocked with riches, gleaming precious metals, and other gaudy examples of excess.

In the finished film, Cato Neimoidia is marked with skyscraper-filled cities lining bowed bridges that span enormous gaps - its two-word definition during development was "bridge world."

Episode III dialogue referring obliquely to a sticky situation involving Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Commander Cody on Cato Neimoidia was expanded to become the opening chapters of the novel Labyrinth of Evil by James Luceno.


The capital of the Republic, and eventual birthplace of the Galactic Empire, the city planet of Coruscant figures prominently in Episode III as it has the entire prequel trilogy.

Returning locales include Padmé's apartment, which has been expanded to include a spacious verandah; the Jedi Temple, which includes such new chambers as a high tech computer room, military briefing room, and gunship hangar; and the Senate building, which includes the Chancellor's holding office from which extends his commanding podium.

A prominent new location is the Galaxies Opera House, where Supreme Chancellor Palpatine maintains a private viewing box. In the film, he is witness to a zero-gravity Mon Calamari aquatic ballet.


A stronghold belonging to the Commerce Guild, Felucia is the site of a Republic mission led by the Twi'lek Jedi, Aayla Secura.

Early in the development of Episode III, George Lucas planned on depicting the fall of the Separatist home-worlds in the Clone Wars, and each Separatist faction and species was given a distinct planet of their own. Felucia was to be home of Shu Mai and her Gossam people. The early artwork described it as a "kelp planet" and a "fungus planet."

For the film, the look of Felucia was locked through a detailed concept model built at Industrial Light & Magic. The planet is a dense mixture of yellow, blue and green hues, expressed through exotic vegetation and fungi, including enormous bottle-like pitcher plants that color the sunlight like a stained-glass window. Native creatures include large grub-like beetles used as mounts and translucent life forms, like gossamer-winged birds with flesh like gummy candy.

See Felucia in action in "Reversal of Fortune," a daily online webstrip by Paul Ens and Thomas Hodges, available only to members of Hyperspace: The Official Star Wars Fan Club.


The homeworld of the Wookiee species, Kashyyyk serves as a major navigation point for the entire southwestern quadrant of the galaxy. For this reason, it becomes the site of ongoing battles between the Republic and the Separatists.

During the events of Episode III, a major droid incursion brings Yoda to Kashyyyk, where he serves as a Jedi General for the clone forces, fighting alongside such Wookiee heroes as Tarfful and Chewbacca.

Star Wars lore has described Kashyyyk as a world of enormous jungles and a forest floor that rarely sees daylight. While this is true of vast portions of Kashyyyk, the action in Episode III takes place in an enormous tree village near a freshwater lagoon. Confederacy and clone forces tangle in a chaotic beachfront battle orchestrated from the massive tree city above.

To capture Kashyyyk on the screen, a huge practical tree model was constructed by ILM and populated with digital characters and placed into background plates of exotic Asian jungles and riversides.


A tiny, fiery world of unstable geology, Mustafar is filled with mineral-rich volcanic eruptions and rivers of molten lava. It is the cinematic equivalent of Hell for Anakin Skywalker's journey to the dark side.

Though elements of actual volcanic eruptions in Italy were gathered to serve as background plates, much of the imagery of Mustafar consists of miniature photography and digital matte paintings.

For years, Star Wars fans have known that lava is an important ingredient in the final transformation of Anakin Skywalker into the scarred and crippled Darth Vader. How it all happens will finally be revealed in Episode III. Beyond its role in the story of Anakin, Mustafar is an out-of-the-way locale perfect for the leaders of the Separatists to relocate and rally following recent setbacks in the Clone Wars.


Mygeeto is one of several Separatist-held planets showcased in Episode III as an example of the galaxy-wide engagements of the Clone Wars.

Early creative explorations of the world had it be a Banking Clan headquarters, with space-age architecture in a cold, crystalline landscape.

While some of the crystalline elements remain, the planet's environment is dominated by a cityscape, which will be seen in crumbling ruins in the film. As a result of the prolonged fighting, ash is everywhere, intermixing with the ice crystals to create a grayish, sleet-filled environ. Ki-Adi-Mundi will be seen leading clone troops on Mygeeto.


Naboo has appeared in all three Episodes of the prequel trilogy. It is an important world, not only serving as the home of Padmé Amidala and Chancellor Palpatine, but also as a symbol of the times left behind with the ascendancy of the Empire.

The classical architecture and hand-crafted beauty of Naboo is a throwback to a simpler era. It's little wonder that in Episode III, Padmé wistfully longs to be with Anakin at her placid lake retreat to raise a family far away from the deceit and destruction of the war.

The world of Naboo in Episode III is realized through digital matte paintings that incorporate the same designs and structures seen in the previous two prequels.

The brief visit to Naboo will include an appearance by Keisha Castle-Hughes as the new teenage monarch of the planet, Queen Apailana.


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Opening Night Nerves - Star Wars News


Toys "R" Us Midnight Madness Master List
Here it is folks, the master Toys "R" Us Midnight Madness list!


Only one near Houston:
1420 Lake Woodlands Dr.The Woodlands, TX 77380(281) 367-0061


It Is Your Destiny

Here's the latest ad from the latest comics for Celebration III. Join the party of a lifetime with more Star Wars under one roof than ever before. EDITOR'S NOTE: WHIMPER. WISH I COULD GO. COOL POSTER, THOUGH. (SNIFFLE).

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Star Wars Takes Over Toyfare Magazine
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Toyfare #93 was released today, and if you buy only one issue of this magazine, this is it!

Star Wars dominates this issue with an exclusive 23-page toy photo guide, coverage from last month's Toy Fair, and special edition of Twisted Toyfare Theatre! The toy guide covers virtually every figure in the modern line, presented in the classic humorous Toyfare fashion. EDITOR'S NOTE: DWEEBPAL ADRIAN - PLEASE ADD THIS TOYFARE TO MY 3RD PLANET STASH!

Star Wars In 3D At ShoWest
ShoWest, the largest annual convention for the motion picture industry, always has a lot to show off, but this year, it's going to have a really special session on Thursday.

"DLP Cinema Presents James Cameron and George Lucas on "3D Dimensions in Digital Cinema", featuring the premiere viewing of 3D clips of Episode IV and Aliens of the Deep.

Here's a press release from Texas Instruments on the show:

TI DLP Cinema(TM), George Lucas and James Cameron to Highlight Digital Cinema and 3D Movies at ShoWest 2005 Tuesday March 15, 6:03 am ET- Theatrical Exhibitors Will Experience Premiere Viewing of 3D Clips of 20th Century Fox's Star Wars: Episode IV and Disney's Aliens of the Deep

LAS VEGAS, March 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN - News; TI) today announced it will unveil the future of digital cinema and 3D movies at ShoWest, the largest annual convention for the motion picture industry, taking place March 14 - 17 in Las Vegas, NV. Texas Instruments has planned a landmark demonstration with Star Wars creator George Lucas and Academy Award®-winning director James Cameron on Thursday, March 17 to showcase 3D theatrical entertainment with DLP Cinema(TM) technology. EDITOR'S NOTE: CHECK IT OUT, JERRY M...DO WE FEEL HIP, HAPPENIN AND ON TOP OF TECH INNOVATIONS OR WHAT?! (WITH OUR SPANKY NEW DLP TV SETS)

TI will for the fourth consecutive year serve as the corporate sponsor of ShoWest.The new 3D experience enabled by DLP Cinema(TM) projectors will be demonstrated and discussed by Lucas and Cameron, both pioneers in digital movie making. A Christie CP2000 DLP Cinema(TM) projector will be utilized to showcase scenes in 3D from Fox's Star Wars: Episode IV, Disney's Aliens of the Deep and many other movies from various genres, including live action and animation.

DLP Cinema(TM) projectors provide exhibitors with the first ever opportunity to give moviegoers a pure 3D experience with simple adjustments to a standard installed DLP Cinema(TM) projector. Moviegoers watching a 3D movie projected with DLP Cinema(TM) technology can immerse themselves in an unparalleled viewing experience with incredible color reproduction and 3D imaging.

"With digital 3D projection, we will be entering a new age of cinema. Audiences will be seeing something which was never technically possible before the age of digital cinema -- a stunning visual experience which 'turbocharges' the viewing of the biggest, must-see movies," said Academy Award®-winner James Cameron, director of Aliens of the Deep. "The biggest action, visual effects and fantasy movies will soon be shot in 3D. And all-CG animated films can easily be converted to 3D, without additional cost if it is done as they are made. Soon audiences will associate 3D with the highest level of visual content in the market, and seek out that premium experience."

DLP Cinema(TM) technology is deployed in more than 310 theatres worldwide through manufacturers Barco, Christie Digital and NEC. TI DLP Cinema(TM) technology will feature prominently at the following ShoWest activities:* $100 Million Reel: Tuesday, March 15, 9:15 a.m. -- Tribute show reelcontaining clips from all of 2004's hundred-million-dollar grossingmovies* DLP Cinema(TM) screening of Warner Bros.' Miss Congeniality 2:Tuesday, March 15, 6:00 p.m.* DLP Cinema(TM) presentation of Sony Pictures Entertainment's ProductPresentation with Extended Sneak Peek of Stealth: Wednesday, March 16,8:00 and 8:30 p.m.* Twentieth Century Fox and DLP Cinema(TM) Final Day Luncheon: Thursday,March 17, 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.* DLP Cinema Presents James Cameron and George Lucas on "3D: NewDimensions in Digital Cinema": Thursday, March 17, 2:00 and 3:00 p.m.

"ShoWest is a crucial platform for advancing the art of theatrical exhibition and this year's event will move us closer to the highly-anticipated deployment of digital cinema worldwide," said Doug Darrow, Business Manager, TI DLP Cinema(TM) Products. "Earlier this month, the UK Film Council announced it would equip 250 screens with DLP Cinema(TM) projectors and we are excited that U.S. and international exhibitors and distributors continue to share our desire to deliver digital cinema. ShoWest stimulates evolutionary growth for the motion picture industry and we look forward to our ongoing collaboration with George Lucas, James Cameron and the entire community to provide the best cinematic presentation possible -- today and tomorrow."

DLP Cinema(TM) technology-enabled projectors can also be seen at the Barco, Christie Digital booths and NEC's Palace Room 4 at ShoWest.About TI DLP Cinema(TM) Projection TechnologyTI DLP Cinema(TM) projection technology has been exposed to millions of movie-goers throughout the world, delivering the clearest, sharpest, brightest and most accurate images as the director intended them be seen.

The total number of installed DLP Cinema(TM) projectors is now more than 310, with theatres located in 29 countries around the world. More than 140 movies have been released on DLP Cinema(TM) projectors, including: The Phantom of the Opera, Polar Express, Shrek and Shrek 2, Finding Nemo, Collateral, and Star Wars: Episodes I and II.

For more information, or to find a DLP Cinema(TM) theatre near you, please visit .DLP and DLP Cinema are all trademarks of Texas Instruments. All other products and names may or may not be trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies.

More on Revenge of the Sith

We reported last year that the 'Revenge of the Sith' soundtrack would be released May 3rd, 2005 with a bonus DVD.

Here's more info on the set from a Sony Classical press release at PR Newswire:

Press ReleaseSony Classical Releases New Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith Soundtrack That Includes A 70-Minute Bonus Collector's DVD

Bonus DVD Takes Viewers on a Musical and Visual Journey Through All Six FilmsFrom the Most Popular Movie Saga of All Time and Features Scores FromFive-Time Oscar Winner John WilliamsSOUNDTRACK RELEASED ON MAY 3, 2005

Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith Opens in Theaters Worldwide on May 19, 2005

NEW YORK, March 15 /PRNewswire/ -- On Tuesday, May 3, 2005, Sony Classical will release the original motion picture soundtrack of the last episode of the massively popular Star Wars saga, Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith.

It features a new score by five-time Oscar winner John Williams, who is also the composer and conductor of the score for each film in the six-chapter Star Wars saga, and an exclusive collector's DVD -- Star Wars: A Musical Journey -- an unprecedented bonus at no additional cost.

Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith, written and directed by George Lucas, is the most anticipated movie of the year and opens worldwide on Thursday, May 19, 2005.

Created especially to accompany the CD release, the thrilling 70-minute DVD features 16 brand-new music videos set to selections from all six of John Williams' unforgettable Star Wars film scores and has been designed around a timeline that will take the viewer chronologically through the entire saga.Each movement is introduced by actor Ian McDiarmid (who plays Senator Palpatine in the films) and features a spectacular montage of images, complete with excerpts of the original dialogue and sound effects, set to Williams' legendary music which has been newly remixed and remastered in 5.1 surround sound. Williams' principal theme from the new score, entitled "Battle of the Heroes," will be featured in a music video created by Lucasfilm.EDITOR'S NOTE: OK. THIS, ALL BY ITSELF, SOUNDS WORTH THE PRICE OF THE CD, DON'T IT?!!! WOW!!!!

The soundtrack packaging will also include liner notes from George Lucas plus an exclusive fold-out poster featuring a montage of images from the film.

In Revenge of the Sith, the final and most dramatic chapter of the Star Wars saga, the Clone Wars rage as the rift widens between Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and the Jedi Council. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), the young Jedi Knight with an allegiance to Chancellor Palpatine, struggles to keep his marriage to Padme' Amidala (Natalie Portman) a secret amid the turmoil. Seduced by promises of power and temptations of the dark side, he pledges himself to the evil Darth Sidious and becomes Darth Vader. Together, Sidious and Vader set in motion a plot of revenge against the Jedi, leading to a climatic lightsaber battle between Vader and his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), that will decide the fate of the galaxy.

With 43 Oscar nominations to his credit, Williams has composed a new score for the film, utilizing the themes and musical motives that link it with his earlier scores for the Star Wars films.

The London Symphony Orchestra (L.S.O), with the composer conducting, performs the original score. The L.S.O. is the same orchestra that recorded Williams' original Star Wars score 28 years ago and has continued to perform the score for each successive chapter of the saga.

In 1999, Sony Classical released the Grammy-nominated original soundtrack recording of Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace(TM), which was a platinum-selling album in the U.S. and sold more than two million copies worldwide, in addition to a specially packaged Ultimate Edition that featured Williams' entire score for that film.

In 2002, the label released the original soundtrack recording of Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones(TM). Both are currently available.

In September 2004, Sony Classical became the home of all the Star Wars soundtracks with the release of newly remastered editions of the soundtrack recordings of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope(TM), Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back(TM) and Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi(TM). The recordings are available individually and in a special boxed set with a deluxe slipcover case.

The Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith soundtrack also continues Sony Classical's long association with John Williams, who has recorded a number of non-film projects for the label.

Williams won the third of his five Academy Awards for his score for the original Star Wars (1977) and received nominations for his scores for The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).

The soundtrack albums for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back also won Grammy(R) Awards for Williams in 1977 and 1980, and he was a nominee for Return of the Jedi in 1983 and Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace in 2000.

Information about the original motion picture soundtrack of Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith is featured at

Sony Classical is the trademark of Sony Corporation. All rights reserved.Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith are trademarks of Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved. EDITOR'S NOTE: GROOVY GROOVY GROOVY!!!

Opening Night Nerves - Movie News



Whedon is "Wonder Woman's" Man
It's official. Joss Whedon has been hired by Warner Bros. and Silver Pictures to write and direct the new "Wonder Woman" feature film.

Joel Silver and Leonard Goldberg will produce the film which is of course based on the DC Comics character created by William Moulton Marston.


SUPERMAN Filming Takes Off

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Movie stars touch down in Tamworth
A TASTE of Hollywood came to Tamworth yesterday when the principal actors in the new Superman blockbuster touched down at the city's airport ahead of filming at the Breeza-based set today.

Little-known American actor Brandon Routh, who will play the Man of Steel in the Bryan Singer directed film, chose an F28 Skywest plane to get here rather than use his super powers.EDITOR'S NOTE: OH THAT WACKY AUSSIE WIT....The 25-year-old opted for casual clothes rather than the lycra tights he'll be used to wearing during filming on the set of the Kent family farm.

Joining him on the flight were 80-year-old Oscar-winning actress Eva Marie Saint, who will play Superman's earth mother Martha Kent and producer Chris Lee.

Routh was quickly ushered to a waiting 4WD by minders before being taken to a local motel where he will get some rest before donning the famous suit.

Superman Returns producer Chris Lee said the cast and crew were all looking forward to filming in the area.

"We're here to film for a couple of weeks," Chris said."Everyone involved in the film is very excited about filming in this area."

Some filming has already started at the Kent farm set with cameras suspended by cables connected to cranes seen hovering above the farmhouse, silos, corn fields and barn.All filming in the area will be conducted at two sites on the Breeza property, focusing around the Kent farm and the craft crash site, located away from the farm. A local gas company has been asked to supply 110 45kg gas cylinders for use in the opening scenes.It understood pyrotechnics will be used simulate the space craft, carrying Superman as a baby, crashing to earth.

Anime "Castle" Coming to U.S

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HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, the second-most popular film in Japanese history, has been set for a June 2005release here in the U.S. The film was directed by "Spirited Away's" Hayao Miyazaki.

The movie is based on the book by Diana Wynne Jones. The story centers on a teenager who is turned into a 90-year-old woman by a witch and then finds herself sharing a bizarre mobile castle with a sorcerer and a fire demon. EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE MY FRESHMAN DORM AT UNC! (I COULD SUE FOR ROYALTIES).

Christian Bale and Lauren Bacall will provide voices for this English-language version.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Wednesday Dweebing 7 - MORE Star Wars, by golly!



The Simpsons Bart Wars
Our Price: $14.98

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All new Featurette; "The Making of Bart Wars"Four Simpsons Episodes
Ships May 17

Ever since Bart Simpson mentioned the original Star Wars Trilogy as recommended viewing during The Simpsons' first season, Star Wars references have abounded throughout the show's sixteen-season run.

One of the most celebrated Star Wars-referenced episodes, "Mayored to the Mob", featured Mark Hamill and a slew of hokey references to our favorite galaxy far, far away.

"Mayored to the Mob" is one of four episodes available on the new Bart Wars DVD, three of which have never before been available in this format.

Additional episodes include "Marge Be Not Proud", "Dog of Death", and "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson". Also included is an all-new featurette called "The Making of Bart Wars: The Simpsons Strike Back".

Enjoy this great tribute to Star Wars spun in the uniquely entertaining Simpsons-style.

Star Wars Darth Vader Sprinkler
Our Price: $18.99

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Stands 10" tallSpins around with water spraying action
In Stock Now

Let the Dark Side defend your lawn from the ravages of summer heat or cool you off on a hot day with this Darth Vader sprinkler! Standing 10" tall, this great new Vader sprinkler spins around with water spraying action, wielding his lightsaber in a furious battle to save your lawn! Let Darth Vader be the center of your backyard universe today with this very cool garden accessory. EDITOR'S NOTE: I'M SEEING A WELL-KEPT LAWN IN MY FUTURE.

Star Wars Weekends 2005 Collectibles
Visitors to Disney-MGM Studios in Florida between May 20 and June 12 this year will be treated to a great lineup of special Star Wars Weekends merchandise created exclusively for this eagerly anticipated annual event.

In addition to the planned activities, events, and celebrities, guests will have the opportunity to shop for exclusive pins, posters, t-shirts, coins, and other collectibles in the whimsical Disney/Star Wars crossover tradition.

To many, that tradition is defined by the exclusive pin sets available at each Star Wars Weekends event, and Pin USA delivers a fantastic array for 2005. Some available only in limited edition sets, collectors can look forward to at least 20 all new designs this year.

Here's the rundown:

Set of five jumbo pin on pins (a feature which gives a pin added dimension) will exhibit the artwork used on each Star Wars Weekends poster between 2000-2005. The 2005 edition pin, which uses the stunning Vader in flames graphic, includes Mickey's hand "brushing" the ears on with a paint brush.

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Limited edition framed set of nine pin on pins featuring eight scenes from Episode III plus the
Darth Vader/Mickey Star Wars Weekends pin.

Limited edition set of four Darth Vader pins that come in a special Darth Vader
Sith Lord box.
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Three pin paper box

Anakin transformation set which depicts the evolution of Darth Vader
Limited edition Episode III opening day pin

The Star Wars Weekends collectible coins, which have become a traditional event exclusive since 2001, will all be recast for a limited edition set of 250. Collectors of these popular coins from the past need not worry -- the 2005 Star Wars Weekends logo will appear on the obverse of each coin, distinguishing them from the past years' originals. Collectors will also note the addition of a year 2000 coin, which will finally be made available for the first time exclusively in this set.

Additionally, the 2005 coin featuring the Darth Vader/Mickey graphic will be available in four finishes: gold plate, silver plate, bronze oxide, and brushed nickel. These will be limited to 1000 each.

Bean bag collectors will be pleased to find Mickey clad in the famous Sith Lord's armor for this year's event, nicely complementing the "Jedi Mickey" bean bag from the 2004 Star Wars Weekends.

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In addition to these limited editions and other collectibles, fans will be able to find a whole bunch of other great items featuring the Star Wars Weekends 2005 artwork.

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Keychains, mugs, t-shirts, caps, posters, magnets, and a special watch will all be available to guests at Disney MGM's Star Wars Weekends event, with some items also slated to appear at California's Disneyland theme park as well.

Clone Wars Volume II Exclusive Poster
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Fans awaiting Volume II of Cartoon Network's Star Wars: Clone Wars this March can now celebrate the return of this groundbreaking series with an exclusive new poster available to the public only from

Obi-Wan and Anakin, whose bristling relationship will turn to blows in Revenge of the Sith, feature prominently in this third poster to promote the series, noticeably darker than its predecessors to suggest the sinister themes leading into Episode III. Fans fortunate enough to get the first two (the second was offered by last year) can now display the entire set alongside the Star Wars saga series, recently completed with the addition of the Episode III poster.

Make sure to grab what may be the last Clone Wars poster created for this award-winning series. Look for it exclusively at on March 14.

Wednesday Dweebing 6 - Do we Care?

Bush to tap Martin to succeed Powell as FCC chairman
President Bush will elevate FCC commissioner Kevin Martin to head the FCC, an anonymous congressional source said Wednesday.

Martin was appointed to the commission in 2001 and will replace outgoing chairman Michael Powell, who is leaving the agency Thursday.

Sources also said an official announcement was scheduled for 2 p.m. ET. Since he is already an FCC commissioner, Martin's promotion to chairman, which had been widely expected, does not need Senate confirmation.

The agency has been prominent in the public's mind recently for tougher enforcement of the indecency guidelines that free, over-the-air radio and TV stations must follow. It probably was best known for the fine it levied in connection with the so-called "wardrobe malfunctions" involving entertainer Janet Jackson at the 2004 Super Bowl and for actions taken against bawdy radio shows and other programming deemed to racy for broadcast. EDITOR'S NOTE: SIGH.....

DGA, WGA fight Emmy write-offs
The DGA and WGA West are firing back at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for considering removing awards related to longform and variety programming from the Primetime Emmy Awards broadcast.

In a missive obtained by sources that was sent by the guilds to Dick Askin, chairman and CEO of ATAS, on Tuesday, DGA president Michael Apted and WGAW president Daniel Petrie Jr., raised concerns over the potential move. "For the Academy to deny the role of the key creative talent in genres which have traditionally offered some of the best programs on television would seem to be an abdication of the Academy's raison d'etre," the letter read.

The guilds were responding to one of many possible changes being examined by a pair of ATAS committees charged with streamlining the telecast.

This scenario would have the writing, directing, supporting actor and actress longform categories shifted to the Creative Arts ceremony, which is held a week earlier than the Emmys, on Sept. 11 EDITOR'S NOTE: SO THEY'LL HAVE 3 AWARDS ON THE TELECAST? WHEN WILL THEY GET IT THRU THEIR HEADS THAT WE EXPECT AT LEAST THE BIG AWARDS SHOWS TO BE AN ALL-NIGHT PARTY. IT'S PART OF THEIR MYSTIQUE.

Wednesday Dweebing - the ODDSnends

Report: 'Passion' tied to attacks on Canadian Jews
Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" on Tuesday was cited by a report as the cause of an upsurge last year in Canadian anti-Semitic attacks, now running at a record pace. The League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith, releasing its 2004 audit of anti-Semitic attacks in Canada, said last year's media coverage of Gibson's film and its alleged depiction of Jews as the "Christ killer" led to an often violent spike in attacks against the Canadian Jewish community. "Whereas only nine incidents in 2003 had religious connotations to the story of Jesus' death, there were 32 such incidents in 2004, nine of them in February when the movie opened and a further 15 in the three months following its release," the B'nai Brith study found. EDITOR’S NOTE: OH JOY. SIGH….. (BUT POP CULTURE HAS NO DELETERIOUS EFFECTS, HMM?)

Apple joins Blu-ray consortium
Apple joined the Sony-backed Blu-ray Disc Assn.'s board of directors Thursday and now is expected to provide high-definition disc-authoring software in both Toshiba-backed HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats to consumers and professionals alike.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD are competing hi-def DVD disc technologies that have been battling it out for the next-generation DVD market. Both formats are expected to hit retail shelves with consumer play-back consoles and disc burners by year's end, ramping up sales and marketing efforts during the first and second quarters of next year, according to both Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps.

The Blu-ray disc format offers up to 50 gigabytes of storage, while the competing HD-DVD has a 30 gigabyte capacity.

However, HD-DVD is cheaper for disc replicators to manufacture. HD-DVD backers cite disc-replication costs as their advantage to content suppliers, while Blu-ray's backers say that higher disc capacity and additional copy protection offered through a new disc-manufacturing process makes Blu-ray's next-generation DVD format the superior product. EDITOR'S NOTE: HERE WE GO AGAIN. BETAMAX ANYONE?

Build your TV!As the FCC and the entertainment biz get ready to end home recording as we know it, a bunch of radical geeks are working on a solution or two.
By Annalee Newitz
'ALL I WANT is to make a high-definition copy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, save it on a DVD, and loan it to my friend," says Sarah Brydon, looking up from a long table covered with half-built computers.

These sound like the words of a science fiction nerd, not a revolutionary. But Brydon is a new breed of protester – and she's expressing her discontent with the U.S. government by building a television.

She's one of a dozen consumer activists who have gathered on a Saturday morning in late January for a high-definition television "Build-In" at the Mission District office of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (where I work). EDITOR'S NOTE: THE EFF FACTORS IN A DAN BROWN BOOK...."DIGITAL FORTRESS". THEY'RE CONSIDERED THE BAD GUYS THOUGH, PICKING ON THE UPRIGHT GOVT. SPIES-AND-SECRETS FOLKS. (DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE HERE, EH?)Part computer hardware nerdfest, EDITOR'S NOTE: GIVEN OUR LEXICON I THINK THIS WOULD BE CONSIDERED A 'GEEK'FEST, YES? part hell-raising political action, the Build-In is a high-tech protest of a new Federal Communications Commission regulation called the "Broadcast Flag."

According to the FCC, the flag is going to ease the nation's transition from today's analog televisions to tomorrow's high-definition televisions.

What exactly does it mean for a government agency to "ease" the transition from one kind of TV signal to another? In this case, it seems to mean making the entertainment industry feel very warm and fuzzy inside.

The Broadcast Flag is designed – poorly – to stop people from putting high-quality recordings of TV shows on popular file-sharing networks like BitTorrent. In reality, it will give the government an unprecedented amount of control over what we do in our own homes with recordings of HDTV. The flag is supposed to stop mass copying and infringement, but it will also stop most consumers from perfectly legal activities like saving HD copies of shows for personal use. EDITOR'S NOTE: THEY COULD SELL TICKETS TO WATCH THE GOVT. TRY TO STUFF THE TECH GENIE BACK IN THE BOTTLE.

Past generations of media activists protested government and industry control of TV content. They battled FCC censorship, denounced market grabs by massive content conglomerates like News Corp., whose bland, mainstream programming turned a diverse media landscape into The O'Reilly Factor and 7th Heaven reruns. Those activists nourished independent TV content on local cable access channels, where they could talk openly about radical politics or get naked on a whim.

Now the Broadcast Flag has alerted a new group of media guerrillas to another way in which government and industry control pop culture: by locking down the devices that receive, copy, and remix broadcast signals. And these activists are responding by building independent technologies that don't bend to the will of the FCC or MGM.

The televisions created at the Build-In are also computers, and they contain a TiVo-like device called a personal video recorder (PVR) – you can use them to pause a show, record it, sample it, and even save a copy to DVD. Using the TV she builds today, Brydon won't have any trouble loaning her friend a copy of Buffy.

The television liberation front
By noon every surface in the EFF office is covered with computer guts: multicolored ethernet cables lie in snarled piles all over the floor, hard drives occupy precarious positions near half-eaten bagels, TV antennae poke into the air, and exposed circuit boards are tenuously connected to monitors whose output isn't always good. These TVs are going to rock, but getting the software running perfectly is a pain in the ass.

Celebrated consumer gadget blogger Phillip Torrone is bouncing around the room, interviewing everybody with his iPod for a Podcast about building televisions. He's flown down from Seattle just for the Build-In.

"Tell me about this machine!" he says excitedly, thrusting the little white device at audiovisual geek Gregor Menasian, who has packed the last bit of open space with a computer full of extremely sweet components: quiet fan, capacious hard drive, fast CPU.

As the two of them talk, EFF special projects coordinator and attorney Wendy Seltzer snaps photos of an error message on Menasian's monitor. Seltzer, who helped organize the Build-In, wants to be sure that accurate reports of glitches go to the hackers who wrote the software everybody's using today to turn their computers into HDTVs with built-in PVRs.

Called MythTV, it's named for the "mythical convergence box" gadget-crazy futurists often predict will finally combine TVs, DVD players, Web browsing, and stereos in one simple machine.

What has galvanized this group – made up of TV fans, civil liberties activists, and politically minded hackers – is outrage at what the Broadcast Flag will do to the future of innovative, crazy-dream devices like MythTV. After the mandate goes into effect July 1, it will be illegal for anyone in the United States to manufacture a device that records high-definition television unless it's built to obey a special signal – the flag – emitted by stations broadcasting HD shows. The flag will tell PVRs and other equipment whether they're allowed to copy a show onto some other medium, like a DVD. In short, broadcasters and content owners will actually be able to control your recording habits.

Let's say, for example, that it's a couple of years from now, and your TiVo (bought anytime after July 1 of this year) has recorded the excellent Marx brothers movie Animal Crackers, which was just broadcast on TNT in HD. Tomorrow you're getting on a plane to Australia, and you'd like to save a copy on DVD to watch on your computer during the 15-hour flight.

You're entitled to make a personal copy under federal copyright law, so it should be no problem. And in fact, it was no problem back in the days of analog broadcasts and VCRs. But with the Broadcast Flag in place, TNT can send out a signal that tells your TiVo not to make HD copies of Animal Crackers. So when you burn that DVD and put it into your computer somewhere over the Pacific, you get a bunch of garbage. The FCC has just stolen your rights.

Think of it this way: if the Broadcast Flag applied to VCRs, it would, in effect, allow you to tape shows but not necessarily take the tape out of the VCR. And you'd likely be forced to erase your show in order to tape the next thing.

Certainly there may be broadcasting companies that refuse to send out the flag, or that send out a flag saying "go right ahead and copy this." But a company like Paramount, which owns the rights to Star Trek, is unlikely to allow them to do so, for fear that letting people make copies will undercut its ability to sell syndication rights to Spike TV and UPN. Networks like CBS aren't going to want to let their shows out of the box either – they don't want to lose control of their intellectual property.

For years we've taken for granted our ability to record television programs to enjoy weeks or even years later. Now that we have a chance to get extremely high-quality, HD broadcasts, the FCC is trying to take our HD media libraries away from us.

Why would it do this, especially given that it has received absolutely no mandate from Congress?

Basically, the agency succumbed to pressure from Hollywood. Entertainment companies figure that as long as the copies available online are of a lower quality than what's on TV, the broadcasters have a leg up on downloaders.

But instead of relying on the law to stop people from infringing copyrights, these companies lobbied the FCC to take control of the marketplace and force vendors to sell machines that make all forms of copying effectively impossible. If your super-excellent HD copy of CSI can't get out of the TiVo box, then you can't stick it online and break the law. Too bad you can't do what the law permits either.

Even more disturbing, the Broadcast Flag mandates that recording devices be "robust against user modification." In plain language, that means consumers can't repair, tinker with, or optimize their own machines. What's more, it will also become impossible for small, upstart technology companies to break into the consumer electronics market for TV recorders. If they can't take apart the devices that output the HD signal, they can't build cool new devices to play with that signal.

Which also means that the devices people are using at today's Build-In will be illegal in four months.

The government-entertainment industrial complex
"I don't care about TV, and I don't watch it," says Build-In organizer Seltzer, who's been fine-tuning her MythTV box for several months, coaxing better and better performance out of it. "I'm concerned with the Broadcast Flag because it could be the first step in a new kind of technology regulation" – a precedent-setting moment in which one government agency takes control of the high-tech marketplace, allowing only certain companies to manufacture devices outputting the HD signal. It seems a dangerous direction to be heading in.

For now, consumers may not realize the immense impact of the Broadcast Flag – the big content owners and the FCC are being pretty foxy about it.

Even after the Broadcast Flag goes into effect, you'll still be able to make low-quality copies with your VCR. Most televisions are still receiving and outputting analog signals. The full impact of the flag won't be felt for several years, when most broadcasts are in HD and most people have chucked their VCRs. Suddenly you'll find out that the DVD player you bought last year can't play HD programs you burned from your new TiVo. Sound confusing or hard to imagine? That's precisely the point – the FCC is counting on your not being able to figure it out until it's much too late.

Over the next decade, HD is going to become the standard signal – most new TVs will be able to tune it, and free-to-air networks like ABC, CBS, and Fox are going to move to HD broadcasting. So will cable. Most networks already make some shows available in HD – CSI, most sports events, some PBS shows, like The Desert Speaks.

If your current TV receives HD, you'll know it – the quality is so much better it's almost scary. EDITOR'S NOTE: MARG HELGENBERGER HAS LINES! A traditional analog TV creates its picture out of 480 interlaced lines on your screen, while a typical HDTV creates the same picture using 1,080 interlaced lines. Those extra lines mean more detail, more intense color, and an eerie sense that the picture on your screen is literally the same quality you'd get if you were watching something with your own eyes.

The FCC is acting now to shut down what you can do with this amazing quality because once consumers have something (the way they've long had VCRs that record TV), it's harder to take it away. As long as what's being taken away is something "in the future," it's hard to feel like you're losing. But of course you are.

For a perfect example of how you'll feel this loss, consider the DVD player. Ever wonder why there have been no new nifty gadgets you can use with your DVD player for at least 10 years? Seems strange, doesn't it? I mean, think of how many new hoozits and zoomies have been invented for your computer in the past decade. Given the rate of invention in this country, shouldn't DVDs be making breakfast for you by now?

There's one simple reason they aren't.

A coalition of companies from the entertainment, consumer electronics, and computer industries got together in 1999 and formed a group called the DVD Copy Control Association, which enforces a strict standard on all devices that can play DVDs. Anyone who develops such a product must comply with the CCA's standards, which include forcing it to place copy protections on any copies made of a DVD. Those protections mean you can only play the DVD in "approved" devices, such as a Sony DVD player or a Microsoft Media Player. It means you can't run the DVD through a mixing board to make a video collage, or create a tiny digital copy of it to play in your cell phone when you're bored on the bus.

Just a few weeks ago, a company called Kaleidescape was sued by the CCA for having the audacity to invent something it called a DVD jukebox – a cool device that could hold dozens of movies ripped from DVDs and output them to as many TVs or computers as the user liked. It was sort of like an iPod for movies, except several people could watch the movies in the same house at the same time if they wanted.

At $27,000, the DVD jukebox is a very high-end toy. Kaleidescape execs say it's ideal for somebody who wants to make his or her DVD collection available to people in multiple rooms all over a large house (like, say, Steve Jobs's).

CCA sued Kaleidescape on the grounds that the jukebox promoted piracy, despite the fact that the recordings in it were made from legitimately purchased DVDs and that copies couldn't be removed for distribution elsewhere. The industry group wanted Kaleidescape to rebuild it so that viewers had to insert the DVD they were watching to prove they actually owned it. Of course, that would defeat the whole purpose of a jukebox. It would be nothing more than a very expensive DVD player.

And that pretty much sums up why the DVD player you bought in 1995 isn't much different from the one you'll buy tomorrow. This is a situation that sucks for the consumer and sucks for the small-business owner or innovator who wants to bring his or her ideas to market.

The Broadcast Flag will create a cartel similar to the CCA, only this time the government will be directly involved. Instead of the CCA launching a civil suit against somebody for making a noncompliant device, under the Broadcast Flag the government will be able to fine that person or stop him or her from selling the product. This will allow big media companies like MGM, Sony, and Paramount to get what they want – total control of how you watch television – without having to get their hands dirty.

Already, small-business owners like Jack Kelliher – who runs a tiny computer hobbyist company called pcHDTV – are being forced to change their business strategies to survive the flag. A longtime hardware hacker and entrepreneur, Kelliher sells a computer component called a PC card that lets computers tune in HD signals like a television (people at the Build-In used his cards to turn their computers into TVs).

"We wanted to do something for hobbyists who wanted to build their own HD systems," he tells me by phone from his office in Utah. "But then the FCC did their embargo, and the rule means we can't offer the product next year."

He and his partners are scrambling to come up with other (legal) products to sell next year, in order to make ends meet. Among other things, they're creating a computer card that will receive TV signals and output them to analog devices that aren't affected by the Broadcast Flag. "This whole thing bothers me because I come from an era when we built radios in high school and stuff like that," Kelliher says. "Being able to build your own TV seems really American to me. It's sad that the government wants to halt innovation – it's just un-American."

Another innovator whose brainchild will be seriously affected by the flag is Isaac Richards, the Ohio-based lead developer of MythTV, the program the Build-In participants are using to make their computers act like PVRs. MythTV interacts with a PC card like Kelliher's, then displays TV shows on your monitor. It also records and stores shows, movies, and music, and it can even be set up to display the weather for your area (scraped from the Weather Channel) and bring you the latest news from your favorite blogs. It's not much different from TiVo – except that it's free and it isn't authorized by the FCC.

Like many inventors, Richards started his project because he wasn't satisfied with what was commercially available. "I wanted a TiVo, but it was limited," he says. "And the concept was simple: you just record TV and play it back."

Since Richards released the first version of MythTV on the Net two years ago, the program has become quite popular: nearly 100,000 people downloaded the last release. And part of what makes MythTV such a seductive package is the fact that it's entirely open: anyone can add to it. It's the diametrical opposite of a DVD player, whose every element must be reviewed and approved by an industry cartel.

In general, people are using MythTV to watch analog TV. But when HD becomes the standard, MythTV's development may face stagnation. As analog becomes an obsolete format, MythTV will also become obsolete. People can build their own analog TVs, but they won't be able to build their own HDTVs. And thus there's no chance an upstart young innovator like Richards will ever create a bigger, badder, cooler PVR for HDTV the way he did with MythTV for analog.

Looked at from this perspective, the Broadcast Flag isn't really a deterrent against piracy so much as a deterrent against the big consumer electronics companies losing market share to little guys with big ideas. As long as it's illegal for people like Richards to tinker around with HD components, nobody will ever invent something better than TiVo or Media Player. It simply won't be possible to create new HD-related toys without a fleet of expensive lawyers in tow. EDITOR'S NOTE: APOLOGIES TO KEVIN AND OTHER LAWYERS...AGAIN...BUT GRRRR.....

The Broadcast Flag is an unholy alliance of government, big entertainment, and big electronics. Each is protecting the others' interests so that they can maintain control over the marketplace. The only losers in the deal are small entrepreneurs and consumers. EDITOR'S NOTE: PER USUAL.

Geeks and librarians unite
Hope is not lost – at least, not yet. Several public interest groups, including Washington, D.C.-based Public Knowledge and the EFF, as well as the American Library Association, are fighting the Broadcast Flag tooth and nail. Librarians worry that limiting devices that can output HD may interfere with future methods for distance learning and archiving. Public Knowledge is concerned with the bigger picture. As executive director Gigi Sohn puts it, "People who want to make fair use of copyrighted materials won't be able to do it." In other words, no personal copy of Animal Crackers to make the flight to Australia less arduous.

Last week, a D.C. appeals court heard oral arguments in ALA v. FCC, the lawsuit these groups brought against the FCC, in which they argue that the FCC overstepped its jurisdiction when it mandated the flag. "There is no precedent for what the FCC did here," Sohn says. "Every time the FCC has regulated devices, it's because Congress gave it the authority. But this rule isn't based on any congressional mandate or even ancillary to a provision in the Communications Act."

Sohn, who was at the oral arguments, says the three-judge panel was very persuaded by the merits of the case. All three acknowledged that the flag seemed unnecessary to ease the nation's transition to HDTV – one even remarked that this was as ridiculous as the FCC attempting to regulate washing machines. Unfortunately, the case may hit a snag when it comes to whether these groups actually have standing to bring the case. The court seemed eager to have more concrete examples of how people would be harmed by the mandate. "Of course, it's hard to come up with concrete examples when the devices in question aren't even out yet," Sohn points out. And may never be, given the flag rule's chilling effects.

The EFF's Seltzer says the flag will create media fiefdoms, in which consumers are locked into particular devices or sets of devices in order to enjoy their media. It will be costly to buy a set of flag-compliant consumer electronics that all work together – and even when you do, recordings made in, say, a Sony machine won't be able to play in a Microsoft one. Which is just one more reason why it's time to build your own TV.

Back at the Build-In, Seltzer and Brydon are jumping up and down and shouting. "We've got TV!" Seltzer exults. Brydon can't stop grinning at her monitor, where they've tuned in some local news. The picture is still a little jerky – the software needs some tuning – but we've got our first HDTV working.

Best of all, it's a liberated TV – it isn't an "authorized device," and it's not "broadcast flag compliant." It certainly isn't "robust against user modification." But because it was built before the July 1 start date of the Broadcast Flag rule, it's going to remain perfectly legal. This TV will always be able to record HD shows and burn them to DVDs for personal use. Next year, Brydon can loan her friends an HD-quality copy of Battlestar Galactica if they missed it that week.

Dale Kiefling, another Build-In participant, is almost ready to channel surf on his box too. He and his friend Lorena Fleming say they're excited to play around with TV the way they do with their computers. "I think the Broadcast Flag punishes the wrong group," Kiefling says. "The people who do mass piracy will always have the means to – the flag won't stop them. Meanwhile, the rest of us are stuck with broken entertainment systems."

All the people who now take for granted the act of removing a tape from their VCR – the Star Trek fans, the OC addicts, the Marx brothers aficionados – will gradually discover they can't do the same thing with their new PVRs. Copyright law permits consumers to make personal, fair-use copies of their media. And yet the government-entertainment industrial complex will have engineered every device to stop them.

"That's the worst part of all this," Fleming says. "People won't realize how bad it is until suddenly their stuff stops working."

Annalee Newitz is policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a freelance writer. Get the gory details at

Catching a 1-minute TV show on your cell
Have you heard about "The Sunset Hotel," that sizzling new soap opera?

Here's the setup: Jack, the new bartender at the hotel, is holding a friend over the edge of a hotel roof as traffic streams by. They're arguing over a woman, who might or might not be worth it. She's Bianca Novak, "the highest paid call girl in the Hollywood Hills."

The story is set in a film noir atmosphere with echoes of Raymond Chandler.

Can't tell you much more, even if I wanted to. After all, the episode only lasted 60 seconds. But I can tell you the heat was turned up in the second episode.

Sunset is part of a new TV short form, known as "mobisodes," original segments made for viewing on the small screen -- "small" as in cell-phone small. Steaming video over streaming video technology.

I watched it on a two-inch screen on an LG cell phone, with rabbit ear antenna up, over Verizon Wireless' new Vcast service, which currently covers about half the Chicago area and will cover the rest by the end of the year.

Verizon launched the first true high-speed "3G," or third generation, cell-phone network, with speeds comparable to those found with DSL. The service, available on special 3G phones, costs $15 a month above a monthly cell plan.

For more than a year, it's been possible to watch clips from TV shows on a cell phone on Sprint's network. Originally, images were displayed at two frames per second, which created a slide-show effect. Then, the display sped up to 10 frames per second.

Vcast is able to broadcast at 15 frames per second, which might be half of regular TV's rate but still yields high-quality images and sound. The images are delivered using technology from PacketVideo, a startup backed by Motorola Inc.

Verizon also invested in original programs, with new bite-sized mobisodes appearing once a week. Twentieth Television has applied its expertise from making such first-run TV shows as "The X-Files" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to produce the mini-shows for Vcast.

In addition to Sunset, Twentieth Television is making a direct-to-mobile version of the popular "24: Conspiracy," with the neck of a special agent being snapped by a woman in a nightie and some high-tech shenanigans in the first episode, and "Love and Hate," an unscripted mobisoap in which the cast incorporates non-actors into the improvised story. Twentieth Television describes the technique used to make "Love and Hate" as "manipulated reality," as if we need any more of that. Production values were good.

I had no problem watching Vcast on a Metra train, but service was unpredictable inside buildings. And Verizon needs to speed up access to Vcast. It's a seven-click process that took two minutes to connect to the Vcasts.

Mobisodes seem to fit our ever-decreasing attention spans. Verizon said it could actually run five-minute shows, but doesn't want to eat up its phones' memory and processing abilities. Vcast's shows could be breaking new ground with short forms and experimental techniques. It's a short breath of fresh air on the Vast Wasteland EDITOR'S NOTE: I BEG TO DIFFER. ONE MORE MOMENT WASTED. AND HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE GOING TO WALK IN FRONT OF TRAINS AND BUSSES WATCHING SOAPS ON THE PHONE SCREENS? (HECK, HERE IN HOUSTON, PEOPLE RUN INTO TRAINS ALL THE TIME, WITHOUT THIS SORT OF POINTLESS DISTRACTION).

Wednesday Dweebing 4 - Da Mouse da MOUSE DA MOUSE

H.K. Disneyland: 10,000 hotel reservations in 3 weeks
HONG KONG -- The Hong Kong Disneyland theme park set to open in September has already booked 10,000 room reservations for its hotel since it opened a customer call center three weeks ago, officials said Wednesday. "It really took us by surprise, the volume of calls coming in," said Bill Ernest, managing director of operations at Hong Kong Disneyland. Ernest said Hong Kong residents have made most of the 10,000 reservations at the park's 1,000-room hotel, though the park expects that about 40% of the visitors will eventually come from mainland China EDITOR’S NOTE: SAVING UP FOR OUR ASIAN DISNEY TRIP, JOEL?


What's the name of the large pirate ship at Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean?

She's the "good" ship Wicked Wench.


You'd never guess what lies behind this unassuming door ...
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If you're a frequent visitor to Disneyland Park, you've probably walked by it a dozen times and never given it a glance. Or maybe you've heard rumors among Disney fans about a fabulous place hidden away somewhere in the park, a glamorous club where celebrities hobnob and delicious aromas fill the air.

Well, the rumors are true. Tucked away in New Orleans Square behind a tasteful but inconspicuous door, just next door to the Blue Bayou, is the entry to a little joint called Club 33. The waiting list for membership can take years and few are fortunate enough to open that door – but the Disney Insider goes everywhere.

Club 33 was first conceived of by Walt Disney himself. He wanted a place where he could entertain personal friends and VIPs and show off his beloved Disneyland. To that end, he imagined a luxurious private club in the space above Pirates of the Caribbean and the Blue Bayou restaurant, lavishly furnished and offering the finest cuisine. He would maintain a private apartment next to the club, connected to it via the kitchen.

Executive Chef Marcel St. Pierre and Manager Jeff Plumb welcome you to Club 33.
Walt and Lily scoured New Orleans antique stores to find unique and lovely objects for his Club. He even had the Imagineers copy an old-fashioned elevator that caught his fancy in a Parisian hotel. "Walt and Lily wanted to buy the lift, but the hotel wouldn't sell it. So they had an exact copy made," Club 33 manager Jeff Plumb tells us.

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Sadly, Walt never lived to see this piece of his dream become reality. Club 33 opened after Walt's death, but, except for the private apartment (that space, above Pirates of the Caribbean, is now the Disney Gallery), it's just what he envisaged.

The club's members (there are currently from 470 to 490 of them) enjoy gourmet cuisine like champagne risotto, roast muscovy duck, and lamb osso bucco in two lovely dining rooms. A staff of around 70 is on hand to cater to members and their guests. "We know what our members like, we try to remember everyone's preferences," Jeff tells us. "We have one member who visits every year from Australia – he loves salmon and when he comes, we make sure he gets his salmon – whether it's on the menu or not!"

From the moment you enter the lobby, you know you're in a special place. You're surrounded by art, gleaming wood, and lavish wall coverings, and that spectacular brass elevator. Upstairs members and guests discover lovely flower arrangements, concept art from attractions like the Haunted Mansion, and even an antique harpsichord, decorated with murals by the Imagineers. Paul McCartney visited recently, Jeff tells us, and sat down to the harpsichord – which, sadly, needed tuning and refurbishing at the time.

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Members can enter Disneyland Park, and the club, 365 days a year, but they are also privy to some truly spectacular monthly members-only events – like viewing the Fantasmic! fireworks show in a reserved seating area when it debuted, then tucking into a fireworks-themed dinner, complete with a dazzling dessert featuring spun-sugar pyrotechnics. Other events have included a night featuring the wines of Fess Parker – the actor who played Davy Crockett still has a special fondness for Disney, says Jeff. "He's a great friend of ours!"

Both Marcel and Jeff began their Disney careers at other restaurants at the resort – Marcel proved himself at Disneyland Resort's lavish and lovely Granville’s restaurant before joining the Club 33 staff, while Jeff is a veteran of several of the Disney hotel restaurants.

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They agree that Club 33 is a dream job. "We have so much latitude with the menu," says Marcel. "I create the food and Jeff does the wine – we make a great team!"

Club 33 membership is within the reach of anyone who is willing to pay the annual dues, and wait … and wait … and wait … for a coveted spot to open up. Members tend to stay for the long haul – some as long as 38 years – so new openings are few and far between! However, that patience and investment are richly rewarded by a Disneyland experience truly unlike any other.

If you'd like to learn more, you can write and request an information packet and application at:
1313 Harbor Blvd.Anaheim, CA 92802Attention: Club 33

Disney's No. 2 Officer to Take Charge in September

Robert A. Iger, left, Disney's second in command, with Michael D. Eisner, the top executive, whom he will succeed.

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March 13 - The Walt Disney Company announced Sunday that its president, Robert A. Iger, who began his career as a studio supervisor 30 years ago at ABC, will succeed Michael D. Eisner as chief executive, ending Mr. Eisner's storied but tumultuous two-decade reign a year earlier than expected.

Mr. Iger, 54, has tirelessly - and sometimes uncomfortably - worked in Mr. Eisner's shadow in the five years he worked as Disney's second in command. Since he became president of Disney, Mr. Iger defended Mr. Eisner, 63, and the management team, while at the same time seeking to differentiate himself from his boss, who had become a lightning rod for grievances about Disney, a media giant with assets valued at $54 billion, including ABC, theme parks and movie studios.EDITOR’S NOTE: SOUNDS LIKE GORE AND CLINTON (GIGGLE)

The board had not planned to make an announcement this soon, according to several people apprised of its discussions over the weekend. But when Meg Whitman, the chief executive of eBay and a former Disney executive, withdrew from consideration, the board called a meeting Saturday night. Ultimately, the board agreed that Mr. Iger, whose contract ends in September, would get the job, these people said.

How long Mr. Eisner would stay was one of the main issues he and the board grappled with, the people close to the board said. In the end, Mr. Eisner agreed it was time to go. "I'm ready to move on," he said in a letter to the board on Sunday.

Mr. Iger's appointment will be effective in September. The announcement was the culmination of a shareholder revolt last year, which Mr. Eisner had sought to mollify by announcing that that he would not ask to remain as chief executive once his contract expired in September 2006. In what was widely seen as a public rebuke of Mr. Eisner's management style at the time, 45 percent of the shares cast in the 2004 board election were withheld from him.

In the letter to the board, Mr. Eisner said that he would not seek to be named chairman. Moreover, he said he would not ask to remain on the board, something many in Hollywood believed he hoped to do if Mr. Iger was named chief executive.

The transition will begin immediately, and Mr. Eisner and Mr. Iger will share the chief executive's duties for the next six months for a smooth transition, the company said.
"Bob is not Michael; no two people are alike," said the Disney board chairman, George J. Mitchell, the former senator from Maine, in an interview with reporters Sunday afternoon. Mr. Iger had the right combination of company knowledge, candor and experience dealing with others "to move this company to another level," Mr. Mitchell said.

In recent months many inside and outside of the Disney company had expected that the board would name Mr. Iger chief executive, even though the board said it was conducting a thorough and extensive executive search. The board talked to other candidates, including Ms. Whitman, who was sen as the only serious outside candidate.

In many ways, Mr. Iger was the natural choice to run Disney, having spent his whole career at Capital Cities/ABC. But Mr. Eisner, who endorsed Mr. Iger only last year, had said in the past that he had not been entirely impressed with Mr. Iger when the two first met.

As little as a year ago, few executives in Hollywood expected that Mr. Iger would be named chief executive. But in recent months, Mr. Iger successfully wooed Wall Street and members of the board. And Disney's improving fortunes at the ABC network were well timed, as Mr. Iger was given credit for hits like "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost." But previously, Mr. Eisner had been criticized by shareholders for not getting along with key Disney partners, troubles at ABC as well as for the stock's underperformance.

Mr. Iger has also been responsible for negotiating with officials in Hong Kong over construction of a Disneyland park there. Now, he will have to prove he has the ability to retool Disney. Even before Mr. Iger's new contract was signed, critics are questioned whether the board conducted a thorough search.

In a statement on Sunday, two dissident former board members, Stanley Gold and Roy Disney, the nephew of the company's founder Walt Disney, expressed scorn for the board's decision. "The pledge made by Chairman Mitchell to conduct a bona fide search was a ruse to avoid a contest at the 2005 annual meeting," said the men said in a joint statement. "Mr. Mitchell's approach to good governance is no better than a carny at the fair, enticing words but in the end the game is rigged." EDITOR’S NOTE: WELL THAT’S GOTTA STING A BIT.

Disney's board did not begin talking to outside candidates until after the annual meeting last month in Minneapolis, despite announcing the search in September, when it said the process would be concluded by June. But Mr. Mitchell said the board had evaluated a number of candidates before the winnowing began.

He would not say who was on the list, but a person apprised of the search said it included about 10 people and 3 of those people were Peter Chernin, the chief operating officer of the News Corporation, and Leslie Moonves and Tom Freston, co-presidents of Viacom. The person said the executives either could not get out of their contracts or declined to submit to the interview process. In particular, Mr. Chernin, who many thought was a natural to run Disney, had a preliminary conversation with Mr. Mitchell, said a person apprised that discussion.

Mr. Mitchell said that the board met 11 times to discuss succession, and that Mr. Iger, also a board member, did not attend those meetings. Mr. Eisner sat in on the first part of the meetings, and then nonmanagement directors met alone, he said, adding that Mr. Eisner did not attend discussions the board had with Mr. Iger about the job. And Mr. Eisner sat in on only part of one meeting with an outside candidate, Mr. Mitchell said, declining to name that candidate. However, a person apprised of the meeting said it was with Ms. Whitman of eBay.

Mr. Iger has not attracted the same ire that Mr. Eisner did in his later years, but he has also not been celebrated for having a creative vision, according to Hollywood executives. He is best known for being a hard worker with an easy charm and cool demeanor, something that could work in his favor with Disney's disaffected partners, including Steve Jobs, the chairman of Pixar Animation Studios, who battled with Mr. Eisner.

Several Hollywood executives, some who even have fought bitterly with Mr. Eisner and Disney in the past, expressed optimism at the change at the top. Harvey Weinstein, the co-founder of Miramax Films, who is currently negotiating a split from Disney, said, "I've had a great working relationship with Bob Iger and think he is a terrific choice for chief executive of the Walt Disney Company."

Brian Grazer, a producer and a personal friend of Mr. Iger's, said Mr. Iger's sometimes casual demeanor could be deceptive. "Just because he appears easygoing doesn't mean he will be a pushover," Mr. Grazer said. "He is a person who cares about winning."

Further, Mr. Grazer said, Mr. Iger is unfazed by the emotional turmoil so prevalent among many of Hollywood's more outlandish entertainment executives. "He's not emotionally constructed on anger."

One of the most surprising benefits of Mr. Iger's appointment, some analysts say, is that it might end the revolving musical corporate chairs in Hollywood and bring a sense of stability to an industry that has been in turmoil the last few years. EDITOR’S NOTE: STABILITY IN HOLLYWOOD MEANS A YEAR? (IT’S SORT OF AN OXYMORON, ISN’T IT?)

"On the positive side, we can expect media investors in other companies like the News Corporation and Viacom to breathe a sigh of relief as their executive management teams will stay in place," said Richard Greenfield, a media analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners in New York. EDITOR’S NOTE: UNTIL THEY DON’T.

Disney Seeks to Recoup Court Costs From Pooh Royalties Case
· The entertainment company wants the heirs of Stephen Slesinger to pay more than $1 million.

Nearly a year after winning a hard-fought battle over Winnie the Pooh royalties, Walt Disney Co. wants its longtime adversaries to pay more than $1 million in court-related costs that the Burbank-based entertainment giant incurred to prepare and present its case.

In a hearing this afternoon, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl is scheduled to consider Disney's request to recoup $1,083,057 from the heirs of Stephen Slesinger, a New York literary agent who, in 1930, acquired Pooh merchandising rights from author A.A. Milne.

Among other things, Disney seeks to be reimbursed for the $803,528 it paid to accounting experts, court-appointed mediators and referees during the case that began 14 years ago.Court documents show that the company is demanding repayment of some of its expenditures down to the last penny.

For example, the company seeks $16,257.01 it spent serving subpoenas, including ones to several "high-risk" witnesses the company considered to be "potentially dangerous." State law provides for prevailing parties to recover some court-related costs. However, lawyers representing the Slesinger heirs plan to argue that Disney's request goes far beyond what the law allows.

In particular, the Slesinger family has chafed at Disney's assertion that it should be repaid the $151,415.27 it spent to manufacture elaborate display panels it used to make its case. Disney's attorneys referred to the large visual aids during a hearing last year to show how Slesinger-hired ruffians rifled through Disney's trash and stole confidential papers related to Pooh. Dozens of the display panels featured oversize reproductions of key documents. Some boards spotlighted color photographs of trash bins outside eight Disney buildings in Burbank and Glendale.

"The Walt Disney Co. is an entertainment company and they brought certain production values to their presentation," said Steven Sherr, an attorney representing the Slesinger family. "While aesthetically pleasing, the law says that you can only recover what's reasonable and necessary."Disney's attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, declined to comment.

Court papers filed by Disney dismissed protests by the Slesingers and their attorneys, saying: "None of these arguments have merit."

Seventy-five years ago, Stephen Slesinger, a pioneer in the business of marketing cartoon characters, paid Milne $1,000 for merchandising rights to the honey-loving bear and his forest friends. In 1961, Slesinger's widow, Shirley Slesinger Lasswell, granted Disney the rights in exchange for royalties.

In 1991, Lasswell and her daughter, Patricia Slesinger, sued Disney, claiming the company had cheated them out of hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties for the sales of videotapes, computer software and other Pooh products.

The dispute lasted more than a decade but never made it to trial.In March 2004, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charles W. McCoy ended the case. After a weeklong hearing, McCoy found that the Slesinger family had tried to gain an upper hand by stealing confidential Disney documents and then lying and altering the papers to cover up the theft.

The Slesingers have appealed McCoy's decision.

Meanwhile, in a separate lawsuit in federal court, Disney is seeking to have the family's lucrative rights terminated entirely.

That Disney is being so penny-conscious now is notable, considering the huge amount of money the company saved by winning the case. Had the Slesingers' claims been proved, Disney could have lost "several hundred million dollars," the company acknowledged in a 2002 regulatory filing.

Disney lawyers are arguing, however, that the reimbursement issue is about more than money. In effect, the company asserts that by slapping the Slesingers with a bill, the court will be delivering a message about the family's conduct."As the prevailing party, Disney is entitled 'as a matter of right' to an award of its costs both to defend this lawsuit and to protect itself from [the Slesinger family's] abuse of the legal process," says one pleading.

But Sherr, the Slesingers' attorney, says today's hearing has less to do with conduct than with what costs can be considered reasonable. Sherr has objected to several amounts, including $8,320 Disney says it spent to serve two subpoenas upon one witness, an "ex-convict," according to court documents, who had been hired by the Slesinger camp to dig through Disney's trash.

And then there is the issue of the costs of Disney's elaborate courtroom displays. Disney says in its pleadings that it actually spent more than $277,000 to create and design 322 enlarged graphics for use in court. Because only 129 of those were used, court documents say, Disney is asking to be reimbursed only $151,415. Such a pull-out-all-the-stops display might have been warranted, Sherr said, if Disney's audience had been an "audience in a theater" or even a jury."But here you had a judge and some lawyers in the courtroom," he said. "It's Disney's right to use some of these exhibits, but it's an entirely different matter to have someone else pay for it." EDITOR’S NOTE: OUCH OUCH OUCH. IS ANYONE BESIDES ME ABOUT READY TO SHUT DOWN ALL THE LAW SCHOOLS FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME? (SORRY KEV).