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Ross Hunter's 'Airport' and Sequels Flying Into Video; New Releases of '85 Films Include 'Cocoon,' 'Agnes'

May 02, 1986|DENNIS HUNT | Times Staff Writer

Producer Ross Hunter calls his film "Airport" (1970) "a poor man's Grand Hotel" and "a soap opera on wings." He has no illusions about the quality of this movie, which was just released on home video (MCA, $59.95).

It featured an all-star cast at a time when all-star casts were obsolete. Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy and Helen Hayes, who won a best-supporting actress Oscar for her role in the film, are the principals. "It's an old-fashioned, formula entertainment," said Hunter, who's made a fortune producing other entertainments, like "Tammy and the Bachelor," "Pillow Talk" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie." "It's not art, it's fun."

The amusingly acerbic producer was spinning tales about the making of "Airport." The best one concerned shooting the bombing scene on the plane: "We actually did a decompression bombing. Everything and everybody was nailed down. We told people we could use stunt doubles because it might be dangerous, but only two extras didn't want to stay. The problem was Dean Martin. He didn't want to use a double. I told him he could get hurt, but he wouldn't listen.

"Anyway, he was standing there and the whole side of the plane blew up. He was blown down the aisle. If the woman in the last seat hadn't grabbed him and held on to him, he would have been blown out of the plane. Watch the picture and you'll see him shooting down the aisle. That was real. George Seaton (the director) said it was the best scene he'd ever filmed."

Universal, Hunter recalled, didn't even want to make the movie: "Around 1970, kids were going to see pictures like 'Easy Rider' and 'Five Easy Pieces.' Supposedly nobody wanted to see an old-fashioned entertainment like 'Airport.' The picture cost $10 million, a fortune in those days. The studio would only give me $7 million; I had to raise the rest myself. I guess it was a crazy gamble, but look what happened."

The movie has made $200 million worldwide and spawned three sequels--"Airport 1975," "Airport '77" and "The Concorde: Airport '79." All three--none of them Hunter productions--were also just released by MCA at $59.95.

Hunter admitted that he loves to see his movies transferred to home video because they're released uncut: "You drive yourself crazy putting a movie together and they butcher it on commercial TV. When you're watching on TV, you wish you had your hands around the editor's throat. People watching it think it was made by morons. But on home video they don't edit the pictures. You don't know how good that makes a producer feel."

But one aspect of transferring his old films to home video doesn't make him feel so good: "We don't get any money from home video because we made our deals before it existed--all that money and we don't get a penny. It's enough to make you cry."

NEW AND COMING MOVIES: This should be a big weekend at video stores. "Cocoon" (CBS/Fox, $79.98) will be the big draw, followed by "Agnes of God" with Anne Bancroft, Jane Fonda and Meg Tilly (RCA/Columbia, $79.95), "A Chorus Line" (Embassy, $79.95) and "The Journey of Natty Gann" (Disney, $79.95). Sleeper of the month may be "My Chauffeur" (Crown, $79.95), a low-budget romantic comedy starring Deborah Foreman as the lone woman working for an otherwise all-male limo company.

ODDS 'N' ENDS: "Back to the Future," which MCA is releasing on May 22, will be watched closely for its staying power. Lately, blockbusters have been peaking fast in the rental market and then fading. MCA is hoping to crack the 500,000 mark in orders--a record for a $79.95 cassette--but it may take a while. Retailers may order this one cautiously at first.

In the instructional baseball home-video sweepstakes, "Mickey Mantle's Baseball Tips" (CBS-Fox,$19.98) is neck-and-neck--in terms of excellence--with "Little League's Official How-to-Play Baseball by Video" (MasterVision, $39.95). Because of their organization and quality of instruction, both are exceptional guides for Little Leaguers. Even kids with short attention spans should find these painless.

Some home video insiders are somewhat concerned by the slight slump in VCR retail sales in March, but that doesn't mean the boom is over. According to various surveys, 40% to 50% of American TV homes will have a VCR at the end of the year. At the beginning of the year, VCR penetration was nearly 30%.

A Fairfield Research study places the first four months' rental revenue of "Beverly Hills Cop" at $53 million and "Ghostbusters" at $51 million. Supposedly, "Cop" was rented 19 million times and "Ghostbusters" 18 million. These figures seem inflated and are likely to be regarded with skepticism by many in the industry.

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