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COLUMN ONE : Wayne Takes on Europe : When 'Wayne's World' enters the Old World, how do you translate 'babe alert' and 'hurl'? Successfully, it turns out, with help from mock dictionaries, young comics and 250,000 pizza boxes.

September 11, 1992|RONE TEMPEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — Party on! Or, as they say here in France, Megateuf!

The movie version of "Wayne's World," playing off its success on television's "Saturday Night Live," has been a huge hit at home in the United States. But months ago, when Paramount Pictures executives and their international marketing specialists pondered how to take the film overseas, they knew they faced problems.

Few films in history have been more idiomatically American than this comedy about two weird (in France they say \o7 Zarb!) \f7 heavy metal freaks who run a public-access cable television program from the basement of a home in Aurora, Ill. In Europe, public-access cable TV is nonexistent; basements are used to store wine.

The problem, in short, was how to sell "Wayne's World" in the Old World.

Hy Smith, a senior executive with United International Pictures, the London-based consortium that handles international marketing for Paramount, put his finger on the main challenge, saying: "What this movie is really about is teen-agers having their own language. The key is language."

Having pinpointed the problem, the film's promoters attacked it country by country:

* In Britain, which in May became the first European country to premiere the movie, an advertising campaign was launched to introduce the "Wayne's World" lexicon to the English audience with 200,000 little, mock dictionaries. A special, live "Wayne's World" program, featuring the movie's stars, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, was broadcast on English MTV.

* In Germany, the marketeers hired the staff of the country's most popular teen-age magazine to translate the film into hip Deutsch. Tia Carrere, the actress-singer who played Wayne's love interest in the movie, made a three-city concert tour before the film opened.

* In France, considered the most difficult country to crack, promoters hired a sensationally popular team of young comics to find French equivalents to expressions such as \o7 Babe alert! Party on! \f7 and \o7 Not!\f7

The comics, Alain Chabat and Dominique Farrugia, known professionally as Les Nuls, used a backward-speak suburban Paris street argot called \o7 verlan \f7 to do the job.

The film has not opened yet in France. But elsewhere in Europe it has been an unexpected success, already grossing $33 million by the first week of September. That is about three times what the film cost to make and more than what "Batman Returns" or "Lethal Weapon III" brought in for an equivalent period.

In the United States, where it opened in February, the film has so far grossed $120 million and was cited as the main reason Paramount earned $28.3 million for the first quarter ending April 30. Earlier this month, only two weeks after the film's release as a video, it jumped to the top of the Billboard video rental chart.

The big numbers have silenced film executives who initially criticized Paramount Pictures Chairman Brandon Tartikoff, former chief of NBC Entertainment Group, for mixing media by attempting to translate the "Wayne's World" television success to the movies.

But not only did "Wayne's World" successfully spin off "Saturday Night Live" to the big screen, another television outlet, MTV, was one of the main vehicles used to promote it.

To complete the cycle, the television show "Saturday Night Live" is being aired for the first time in Britain, all because of the cinema success of its offspring, "Wayne's World." The polygamous media marriage of movies, music and television had never been more successfully consummated.

But the most pleasant surprise for the American film industry has been the international performance of "Wayne's World." Paramount spokesman Harry Anderson observed: "It has done as well internationally as we hoped initially it would do domestically."

Although American films dominate the world market, comedies and youth films traditionally have not done well overseas. "Teen-age revelry films generally hit a wall when they come to Europe," Smith said.

In addition, because of the private, teen language employed by the "Wayne's World" characters, the film's promoters had the extra challenge of giving an intensive international Berlitz course in 10 languages for Western Europe's 330 million people. Glossaries and pocket-sized dictionaries were printed in major European languages, including German, French, Italian and Spanish.

"We'd never attempted anything this language-specific before," said Paramount Motion Picture Group President Barry London, who made the decision to take the film to Europe.

After watching the success of "Wayne's World" among American teens, London said he was convinced that the "universality in its hipness and youth appeal could translate into foreign territories."

The decision was made to start with the English-speaking countries of Britain and Australia.

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