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Luv2Roam
04-16-2003, 03:04 PM
Anschutz company releases two movies
Paula Moore Denver Business Journal

Anschutz Co.-owned Walden Media LLC releases its first two Hollywood movies this month, and they're anything but Mickey Mouse.

Walden, which belongs to Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz's growing entertainment empire, teamed with Walt Disney Pictures to release "Titanic" director James Cameron's "Ghosts of the Abyss" documentary and "Holes," based on the popular children's novel of the same name.

The "Ghosts" release date is April 11 and "Holes" comes out April 18.

New York-based, education-oriented Walden and Disney teamed up in October 2002, signing a two-year North American distribution deal.

"'Holes' and 'Ghosts of the Abyss' are like our babies," said Walden spokeswoman Alison Lehrer.

There's a lot of movie-industry buzz about "Ghosts," especially, which uses the latest in underwater filming technology to take audiences through the 90-year-old wreck of the British luxury liner Titanic. "Ghosts" also is Cameron's first theatrical release since his 1997 blockbuster "Titanic," winner of the Academy Award for best picture that year.

The 3D Festival Web site, which "is dedicated to celebrating the art of 3D," recently called "Ghosts" revolutionary and "set to break the boundaries of motion picture standards."

Walden touts it as "an immersive 3-D adventure" and "unprecedented."

Filmed in large format for IMAX 3-D theaters, the 45-minute "Ghosts" was made with the state-of-the-art Reality Camera System, developed just for the movie by Cameron and Sony Corp. They adapted digital technology and Sony's large-format photographic technology to 3-D, allowing Cameron to shoot underwater longer and better than ever before.

"Movies are artificial," Cameron said in press material. "We all see in 3-D. With movies in 2-D, flat on a screen, that's an artificial experience. [With the Reality Camera System], we're trying to share the reality we had, when we were on the expedition, with the audience."

"Ghosts" originally included exploring the wreck of the infamous Nazi battleship Bismarck, according to the Hollywood Reporter. But Cameron released a separate TV movie called "Expedition: Bismarck" in 2002.

"Holes" stars Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight and Patricia Arquette, and chronicles the detention-camp adventures of kids with names such as Squid, X-Ray and Armpit. Weaver, as the warden-like camp director, paints her fingernails with snake venom, and Voight plays her right-hand man, Mr. Sir.

The story involves an ancient family curse, a mystery and, as the title suggests, holes in the ground.

Walden and Disney make a good match because of their educational, family orientation, according to Disney.

"The philosophy behind the kinds of films they're choosing to make perfectly complements ours," Disney Chairman Richard Cook said in an October 2002 statement announcing the union.

"Disney is a great home for us. ... And we will also look to become really synergistic with them," Cary Granat, Walden's CEO, said in a statement at the same time.

The Walden-Disney team also is making "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the first live-action movie adaptation based on "The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis. The movie is being directed by Andrew Adamson, who helmed "Shrek," which won the 2001 Academy Award for best animated feature film.

But the Disney deal is nonexclusive, so Walden collaborates with other movie companies as well. It's currently working with Paramount Pictures on another feature still in production, a remake of "Around the World in 80 Days" with martial-arts star Jackie Chan, Kathy Bates and British actor Jim Broadbent.

Walden is in post-production on "I Am David," starring Joan Plowright and Jim Caviezel, and based on the Ann Holm novel.

Walden was formed in May 2001 to produce education-oriented feature films and television programs; it's also involved in publishing.

The company is headed and co-owned by Granat, former president of independent movie giant Miramax Films' Dimension division. Under Granat, Dimension made a name for itself with hits such as "Spy Kids," which grossed $112.7 million in 2001, and 2000's "Scary Movie," which cost $19 million to make and grossed $277 million.

The Tufts University graduate also was behind the wildly successful "Babe" when he was an executive at Universal Pictures.

Walden's first production was "Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey," an IMAX production starring the Stomp dance troupe that originally played exclusively at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. "Pulse" recently went into broader release, according to Lehrer.

Walden is involved in the movie-theater business, as well, opening the 462-seat Walden Family Playhouse on March 4 at the Colorado Mills shopping mall in Lakewood.

The company is developing children's shows for the theater. Its first is "Rock Odyssey," a modern musical interpretation of Homer's "Odyssey."

Walden's three-year-old sister movie-production company, Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Crusader Entertainment, specializes in "family-friendly" films. Its initial outing was "Joshua," a movie about the second coming of Jesus Christ, released in 2002.

Upcoming Crusader projects include "Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Story" and "Sahara," the first installment of best-selling author Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt series. The company also is working on "A Sound of Thunder," based on a story by science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury.

Anschutz also controls the country's largest movie-theater company, Regal Entertainment Group Inc., based in Englewood.

Regal went public last year in one of the country's largest IPOs, raising $342 million. The company owns the Regal, United Artists and Edwards theater chains, which boast 5,885 screens nationwide.

Another Anschutz entertainment entity, Anschutz Entertainment Group Inc. of Los Angeles, owns all or part of Los Angeles professional sports teams such as the Kings and Lakers, the Major League Soccer pro league and five European hockey teams.

Anschutz Entertainment also owns the Staples Center sports arena in Los Angeles and operates the posh Kodak Theatre, the Academy Awards' new home.


2003 American City Business Journals Inc.