Even more than usual, Las Vegas becomes a land of hype and glory at ShoWest, the annual confab (March 4-7) where studios ply theater owners with booze, tchotchkes (Men in Black II Ray-Bans, anyone?), and summer-movie hullabaloo. Buoyed by 2001’s 5 percent jump in admissions — the largest in 42 years — the industry is poised to emerge from a painful round of bankruptcies that had crippled at least 10 major chains like Carmike and Loews. Though Fox hasn’t set terms for May’s Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones (the conditions could dampen theater profits), prospects for this summer seem bright. ”Both on paper and through the film clips we saw, it really looks dynamite,” said Herman Stone, president of North Carolina’s Consolidated Theatres. Sit back and enjoy the ShoWest highlights. — Nicholas Fonseca

— While a stunning digitally projected tech reel of Clones clips prompted one exec to talk of ”a transforming day in cinema,” exhibitors cringed at upgrading for $150,000-plus per screen.

— Plugging June’s Crocodile Hunter, Aussie adventurer Steve Irwin wrestled a gator at MGM’s lunch. Film execs, he confided, ”are more dangerous than a pool full of great white sharks!”

— The tussle continues over the title to Austin Powers 3 — whose booth stood beside one for MGM’s new James Bond pic, Die Another Day. As New Line served ”Goldmember” martinis, MGM marketing honcho Bob Levin harrumphed: ”Legally, they can’t call it a Goldmember. But you should try our Finlandia martini — that’s what Bond drinks.” It’s a plug, baby!

— Celebs like J. Lo and Will Smith stormed the closing-night gala, but many were puzzled by the dress code. ”I feel a little too white,” admitted Nicole Kidman, in an ivory Yves Saint Laurent pantsuit. ”Everyone else is in black!” Emcee Dana Carvey wore a jumpsuit. Said a khaki-clad Josh Hartnett, ”They told me I couldn’t wear jeans, so I had to scrounge up something else.”

— Despite a well-received screening for About a Boy, codirector Chris Weitz lamented that his Hugh Grant dramedy opens in May opposite a certain sci-fi sequel: ”I just hope Jar Jar Binks plays a really large part in Attack of the Clones.”