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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pirates Capture 'Phantom' on Video

With a little luck, you will now wait less than half an hour in line for an $8 ticket to see "Star Wars: Episode 1 f The Phantom Menace," this year's hottest movie.

But that's in New York. In Moscow, make a dash to one of the video markets, like Mitino on Volokolamskoye Shosse just out of Moscow, and buy yourself a copy for 60 rubles, or $2.50.

The picture is blurred, the dialogue is dubbed badly into Russian, and somebody's head will pop up in front of the video camera that recorded the movie in an American theater f but the alternative is waiting more than a year for the film to come here legally.

The blockbuster hit market stalls just a week ago, about when it came to theaters in America, and it was a big hit in Moscow too. The first batches were scooped up immediately, vendors said. But now demand has stabilized at 15 to 20 copies a day per stall on weekdays, about half of daily sales, and twice that many on weekends.

"The Phantom Menace" repeats the bootleg success of "Titanic," illegal copies of which surfaced at markets shortly after the film was released and which Comcon market research group said brought in $2 million before licensed tapes caught on.

However, it is far behind the Kevin Costner 1995 science fiction epic "Waterworld," which was in Moscow even before it was cut in Hollywood.

"The Phantom Menace" sells about as well as Titanic did, said vendors at the Mitino market, some of who expect demand to hold for as long as two months.

But a manager at Underground Video, whose name, logo and phone number are printed on the cassette box next to those of 20th Century Fox, said the movie, though it has broken sales records in the States by grossing $102.7 million in five days, was no match for Titanic.

"The Phantom Menace" is an "American cult movie" built on little but special effects and has little appeal to Russians, especially those in provinces, whereas Titanic is "the greatest film of all times and nations," said the manager, who only identified himself as Igor. Igor said Underground only produced boxes, and other firms supplied the tape copies.

Demand for the Star Wars prequel, which tells the beginning of the tale told in the three previously released Star Wars movies, was already on the wane, he said. In fact, Russian movies are much more popular, he said.

The reason why Underground Productions can put its name as well as its address and phone number on the cover of "The Phantom Menace" is that there's no one out there who would try to claim its rights to the movie.

Foreign films that haven't yet been licensed to a Russian distributor are the most vulnerable. If a video pirate tries to market a picture already licensed to a large distributor like Soyuz or Varus Video, then it would probably face swift legal action.

But "The Phantom Menace" is not likely to be licensed to any Russian company for a while, and bootleggers say foreign owners are often reluctant to take the time and expense to come over and pursue them.

"This would take [foreign companies] too much effort and expenditure," said Pyotr Zalessky, director of research at Comcon.

American filmmakers are "very concerned about the video market and video piracy in any corner of the world, including Russia," retorted William Shannon, deputy director of the Motion Picture Association of America New York office.

Igor was skeptical. "Russia is not a market for them, it's too poor," he said. "What can they offer instead, a $30 licensed copy? We are not pirates, we are providers of affordable videos."

Zalessky said bootlegs account for up to 80 percent of the Russian video market. The authorities have stepped up their crusade against video piracy, but the big bucks made in the business make the task daunting, Zalessky said.

Vendors at the Mitino market appeared to be nonchalant about Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's order to remove all stalls selling video cassettes from the streets and limit trade to a handful of markets.

Some hadn't heard about the new regulation, effective June 1, and one said, "this will be the same as vodka excise labels which you can buy f the tapes will just cost more."

Igor of Underground Productions said Muscovites' favorite place for video and CD shopping, the Gorbushka market in Moscow's Fili region, was unlikely to disappear."It's too much of a feeding trough for authorities," he said.