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STAR WARS.

May the Force surround you: That's the plan when a cutting-edge sound system is put into service with the May 19 release of ``Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.'' The new system, called Dolby Digital Surround EX, was developed by an unusual partnership of Lucasfilm's THX division and Dolby Laboratories in San Francisco. The Chronicle got a sneak preview on Monday of the new THX trailer, which will use the surround-sound format.

Theaters across the country are eager to install the system because they want to showcase what everybody believes will be the movie of the year. The ``Phantom'' soundtrack will be the first recorded in Dolby EX.

Costs to theaters are relatively low - between $2,000 and $4,000 - and installation is simple. Theaters install four speakers along back walls, then hook up wires to an adapter. The belief is that the system will revolutionize the way audiences hear movies, just as Dolby Stereo did 22 years ago when the original ``Star Wars'' was the first movie released in that format.

Surround EX allows filmmakers to direct the sounds of on-screen action to different locations within the auditorium. Audiences will be enveloped by the sound of, say, a spaceship coming from behind them, passing overhead, then advancing into the distance.

About 2,500 theaters in North America are expected to have the system by the time ``Phantom Menace'' is released, according to Dolby Laboratories.

Both Dolby and THX have created new trailers to introduce Surround EX that are scheduled to be released May 19, the same day as ``Phantom Menace.''

THX's 15-second trailer launches a new slogan, ``Let's See It in THX,'' with letters that break apart while the synthesized sound of a bowed cello playing the single note A turns into a D-major chord enveloping the listener.

Dolby's new 30-second ``Aurora'' trailer will feature 50 voices of the Sonoma State University Chamber Singers and Sonoma County Bach Choir, plus 10 members of the San Francisco Symphony brass section. They are recording on Friday at Lucas' Skywalker Ranch.

The next major film to use Surround EX is ``The Haunting,'' a special-effects thriller by ``Twister'' director Jan De Bont, due July 23 from DreamWorks.

`Phantom' flu: Employers beware: You may be hit with the most widespread planned absenteeism in U.S. history, possibly causing nearly $300 million in lost wages for a single day, according to government data analyzed by the Challenger, Gray & Christmas outplacement firm. The cause? The May 19 opening of the new ``Star Wars'' movie, ``Episode I - The Phantom Menace.'' Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that 2.2 million full-time employees might skip work to see the movie on opening day.
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 20, 1999
Words:444
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