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Will 'Scrooge' Spielberg Steal Christmas?

October 11, 1985|DENNIS HUNT | Times Staff Writer

The nation's video retailers have a nickname for director Steven Spielberg--Scrooge.

They see him as the villain who's keeping them from enjoying the merriest of Christmases. To a video retailer, a Merry Christmas means stores full of well-heeled customers buying videocassettes. One event that would generate a mad rush--the biggest ever--to video stores in December would be the videocassette release of Spielberg's "E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial."

According to one insider, the release date--on MCA Home Video--and the price are totally up to Spielberg. Retailers were hoping the 1982 movie would be available this Christmas but "Scrooge" Spielberg, so far, hasn't given the OK.

What's Spielberg waiting for? According to the source, he's hesitant about releasing "E.T." on cassette because he feels it won't play well on TV screens. That's a weak arguement. "E.T." works on sentiment, not elaborate special effects. If TV is good enough for a special effects extravaganza like "Star Wars," it's certainly good enough for that little green creature.

Meir Hed, who co-owns the Videotheque stores in Westwood and Beverly Hills, contends that "E.T." is finished as a blockbuster theatrical attraction--"It did OK this last release (about $35 million) but the next time it'll be much less"--but would generate whopping profits as a cassette.

"If 'E.T.' came out about Dec. 15, it would likely be an incredible hit," Hed explained. "In six months, it could sell 2 million copies and be the biggest videocassette in history. At $29.95, that would mean about $28 million profit."

Hed made another point: "There are many bootleg copies of 'E.T.' around. The quality of these copies isn't very good. If Spielberg is worried about people seeing 'E.T.' under inadequate conditions, the existence of those bootleg copies must really bother him. If the studio released it, at least the copies would be decent. And think of all the money they're losing on the bootleg copies."

It's Spielberg's move.

STAR WARS III: The rumors about a February videocassette debut of "The Return of the Jedi," the third-highest grossing movie in history, have turned out to be true. CBS-Fox recently announced that the third episode of the "Star Wars" trilogy will be available on Feb. 25--but not, as many had hoped, at a bargain price. It will sell for the standard $79.98.

The announcement came about two months earlier than expected. Apparently CBS-Fox is planning an expensive marketing campaign that it wants to begin as soon as possible.

The decision to wait until February puzzles many industry experts. It's hard to believe that "Jedi" would do better in February than it would during the holiday season when many shoppers turn into spendthrifts. That $79.98 price tag would seem less formidable to shoppers in a spending mood.

ODDS 'N' ENDS: According to wrestling video expert Steelman Rocco, a Nov. 7 match in Chicago may still wind up as the second installment of the hugely popular "Wrestlemania." The Chicago event features eight matches, including the biggie between Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper. The TV matches that preempt "Saturday Night Live," are, noted Rocco, part of the buildup for that Nov. 7 extravaganza.

Jane Fonda's newest cassette, "Jane Fonda's New Workout" (Karl-Lorimar: $39.95), is scheduled for release next week. A continuation of her first cassette, "Jane Fonda's Workout," this should be a big seller.

A study published in the industry newsletter VCR Letter indicates that there will be 500 million tape rental transactions by the end of the year. At an average price of $2.50 per rental, that's $1.25 billion in revenues.

MADONNA: "A Certain Sacrifice," a low-budget movie Madonna starred in five years ago, is in the stores this week (Virgin: $59.95). Considering that it was made for less than $100,000 by an inexperienced director, Stephen Lewicki, it's not bad.

Madonna, who has several semi-nude scenes, is an adequate actress. She does her best acting in the scene following a rape. Throughout this tawdry drama, you can see the early beginnings of her current stage persona, the pouty seductress.

This film, which includes no singing by Madonna, would probably still be gathering dust on a shelf somewhere if she hadn't enhanced its value by becoming a superstar.

How does Lewicki feel about the frequent charge that he's simply exploiting her?

"If people say that, I don't mind," he replied. "People do things like this in this business all the time. It's the nature of this business. I hope the videocassette makes lots of money."

Another Madonna cassette is due out next month. This one, scheduled for Nov. 4 release, is more recent. "Madonna Live: The Virgin Tour" was shot last spring in Detroit. The 50-minute cassette, which includes 10 songs, will sell for $29.98.

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