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'Platoon's' Video Battle Over

January 19, 1988|DENNIS HUNT | Times Staff Writer

The "Platoon" battle is over. Oliver Stone's Oscar-winning Vietnam War film is expected to become available at video stores on Friday as the result of a $15.7-million out-of-court settlement reached over the weekend by Hemdale Film Corp., Vestron Inc. and the video division of Home Box Office Inc. ending their long legal battle over the movie's home video rights.

Under the terms of the agreement, Stamford, Conn.-based Vestron will eventually acquire royalty-free video rights to "Platoon" along with rights to another disputed film, "Hoosiers," and a third Hemdale movie, "Best Seller," a drama starring James Wood and Brian Dennehy.

Vestron also said it had been paid $15.7 million but didn't specify whether the money came from Home Box Office or Hemdale.

"We are pleased to have this matter behind us and are delighted with the settlement," said Austin O. Furst Jr., chairman of Vestron, in a company statement. "It makes these important films available to the public, compensates Vestron handsomely and restores 'Platoon' and 'Hoosiers' to Vestron's catalogue."

But not right away.

According to the agreement, Home Box Office will distribute the "Platoon" and "Hoosier" videocassettes until Aug. 31. Then, the rights will revert to Vestron for the next 10 years.

The settlement, announced jointly by Vestron and HBO on Saturday, ends an unusual 11-month legal contest over the film that took the Best Picture Academy Award last year.

Before "Platoon" became one of the top-grossing films of 1986, Hemdale sold the rights to Vestron but, later, Hemdale charged, Vestron violated their agreement by missing a payment--a charge that Vestron says was never proven.

In any case, Hemdale then sold the "Platoon" rights to HBO Video, which had planned to release 351,000 cassettes in October of last year. But Vestron, claiming it was entitled to the rights because of its previous deal with Hemdale, filed an injunction delaying the release.

Vestron sued Hemdale for breach of contract in March of last year and sued HBO in July for copyright infringement.

David Pritchard, vice president of corporate affairs at HBO Inc., said the company was glad to have settled the protracted legal problems.

"This thing looked like it might have dragged on for another year," Pritchard said. "For many people, the urge to see the movie would have been less compelling after a while. There would have been a bigger problem with piracy too. There are already pirate tapes out there now."

Alan Grodin, attorney for Hemdale, said Monday that the company is "generally satisfied" with the settlement and pleased that the case has been settled. "Settlement means compromise," he said, "and no one is ever totally happy with the results."

Pritchard said the movie's pay-per-view and cable release dates, moved because of the delay in the home video release, haven't yet been fixed.

"Hoosiers," a Hemdale movie starring Gene Hackman about the Cinderella season of a high school basketball team, was also part of the legal dispute. Video retailers were ordered in the fall to take HBO-distributed copies of the film off their shelves.

"Now transactions can resume and HBO can collect money again," Pritchard said.

Although "Platoon" was a major box-office hit, grossing nearly $140 million, its prospects in the video sales market are uncertain. Some industry observers noted that the film will be facing especially strong competition in video stores--"Dragnet" and "Dirty Dancing" have recently been released in video, "La Bamba" and "Predator" are in the stores this week, and "RoboCop" is due next week.

Furthermore, HBO has put a hefty price on the "Platoon" cassette--a record $99.95, $10 more than the current price for top-grossing films. With "Platoon's" higher wholesale price, some observers said, video store owners may not purchase as many cassettes, which could mean that consumers in some areas may have difficulties finding rental copies.

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