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Thomas the Train Gathering Steam

March 26, 1993|DENNIS HUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Barney the Dinosaur videos may be dominating the kidvid chart now, but Santa Monica-based Strand Video is mounting a Thomas the Tank Engine assault that should drive Thomas up the chart.

Some video distributors are pegging Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends videos, geared to preschoolers and priced at $13, as the year's hot new kidvid title. Strand launched the series, which now includes eight videos, in 1990.

The claymation characters are featured in short segments of "Shining Time Station," a PBS series created by Britt Allcroft and Rick Siggelkow and imported from the UK. The show was introduced there in the mid-'80s and on PBS in 1989, with a new season of shows premiering today.

The eight Strand videos are compilations of Thomas episodes--seven per 35-minute tape--from the "Shining Time Station" shows. Originally, Ringo Starr was the voice of a key character, Mr. Conductor, but George Carlin has since replaced him.

Parents, commonly using awards and journal recommendations as guides, have been impressed that the Thomas videos have been named among the best by TV Guide for three straight years and last year won the Parents' Choice Classic Video award.

Explaining the popularity of the character, Don Gold, Strand's vice president of sales, said: "It's a mellow, sweet half-hour. As a parent, we're looking for programming that's nonviolent and educational. We're comfortable with stories that are life-affirming and have nice, hopeful messages--like the Thomas videos. If I put on a Thomas video I don't have my children banging each other on the head after watching it or acting violent."

Strand's schedule is to release two new Thomas videos each year, one in February and one in September. The most recent release was "Thomas, Percy & the Dragon & Other Stories." "This was the biggest seller out of the box we've ever had," Gold said.

He wouldn't reveal figures but said video sales have increased five times in the past year and a half and predicted, "This year, we should sell at least two and maybe three times as many as we sold last year."

The mushrooming popularity of Thomas is one of the reasons A*Vision Video is releasing the "Shining Time Station" series on home video. Three tapes will come out in April, selling for $14 each. Two of them will feature Thomas segments.

Viedo Bits

If you've seen director Ridley Scott's 1982 downbeat, sci-fi thriller "Blade Runner," you may have preferred a different ending, less narration and more romantic scenes between stars Harrison Ford and Sean Young. Then be sure to check out Scott's director's cut, due May 19 at $40 on Warner Video, including these changes plus other added footage.

In the Amy Fisher video sweepstakes, Turner has moved up the date of its release of "Lethal Lolita," the NBC-TV version, from April 7 to Wednesday. Now all three video versions of TV movies about the Amy Fisher scandal, including releases from Columbia TriStar and Capital Cities/ABC, will come out on the same day.

"Body of Evidence," the racy thriller starring Madonna, got terrible reviews and racked up a disappointing gross--nearly $14 million. But the movie, due June 16 on MGM/UA, should be a hot item on home video, partly because it features two minutes of footage cut out to avoid an NC-17 rating.

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