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The Reel Revenue is Hawaii

Like the thousands of people who queued for hours to watch Pearl Harbor on opening night, so did I, only to end up in the first row. But never had I felt so close—after all, Pearl Harbor was one of several summer movies that was filmed here in our Islands. The others are Jurassic Park III, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Planet of the Apes. Thanks to these and other Hollywood productions, Hawaii’s film industry witnessed its best year in 2000 with revenues of $136 million. In 1998 and 1999, the industry generated $99.1 million and $98.1 million.

The one flick that’s sure to drop jaws this month is Final Fantasy , scheduled to hit theaters nationwide July 11. Final Fantasy is the baby of Hawaii filmmaking studio Square USA, a subsidiary of the Japan-based video game company Square Soft Inc. Since 1997, Square USA quietly had been making this multimillion-dollar sci-fi movie, which stars computer-animated actors who move and look like real humans. Managing Editor Dave Choo and I saw a 17-minute trailer of the movie during a press tour last May. Square animators called this movie-making technique “hyperRealism.” We called it plain impressive.

Over the past four years, Square USA’s Harbor Court studio lured talented people from all over the world, and at one time employed as many as 250 employees from 22 countries. That became quite evident when, while visiting Square’s downtown Honolulu office, I ran into three classmates from high school days in Tokyo, and one graphic artist who hails from the same village on Guam as I. Final Fantasy no doubt will be a watershed in the film industry, not only for Hollywood but also for the islands.

Already Hawaii over these past few months has been the filming site for upcoming movies Windtalkers, To End All Wars and Project X-4, the tentative title for a comedy starring Adam Sandler. I know I’ll be in line for my tickets – only this time, I’ll be in the back row.

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