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They're Off to Sell Their Treasures--Again

Studios are repackaging and re-pricing items from their vaults and fitting them out with extra footage, THX sound, letterboxing and other enticements to buyers.

July 28, 1996|Donald Liebenson | Donald Liebenson is a Chicago-based freelancer who writes about home video

A new generation of consumers presents a marketing challenge for the video industry. In a business driven by the newest releases, how do you stimulate interest in long-available classic titles? For major studios with deep vaults, the answer is to release them again--for the first time.

Some of Hollywood's most beloved movies are getting yet another chance to find a home on video. They have been re-priced and repackaged. They have been remastered for definitive sound and picture quality. For the film buff or neophyte collector, they include what the industry terms "value-added" bonus features that range from original theatrical trailers to the restoration of deleted scenes.

Warner Home Video's Warner Bros. Classics line is one example of how studios are aggressively reinvigorating so-called catalog titles. The collection has been established as a showcase for the studio's post-1950 movies and was launched last month with four reissues: Elia Kazan's director's cut of "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Rebel Without a Cause," "Bonnie and Clyde" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Dial M for Murder." Each retails for $19.98.

"Rebel Without a Cause" features 40 minutes of archival footage, including screen tests, an alternative ending and "Behind the Camera" segments from the 1955-56 TV series "Warner Bros. Presents" in which Gig Young interviews crew and cast members--among them Natalie Wood ("the kind of fresh young face and macaroni-proof young figure the movie industry is always seeking, and who isn't?") and, in the now-infamous sequence that was withdrawn after his death, James Dean, who urges youngsters to drive safely.

A "new" classic will be released on the first Tuesday of each month. "The Great Race" is scheduled for August, with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" to follow in September.

The Warner Bros. Classics line will also be used as a vehicle to introduce titles to the marketplace. "The Old Man and the Sea," starring Spencer Tracy, and Robert Wise's "Helen of Troy" have already made their video premieres.

"This is our first big shot at generating interest in older titles," said Tom Lesinski, vice president of marketing for Warner Home Video. "There has been a fairly significant increase in people collecting videos, and this is a real opportunity to let customers know about, and keep them interested in, these movies."

Turner Home Entertainment recently introduced TCM Video, an extension of the Turner Classic Movies cable network. The initial releases are culled from Turner's RKO library, which was pulled from the video market last year.

"The Hunchback of Notre Dame," starring Charles Laughton, was released last month to piggyback on the release of Disney's animated feature. The first full slate of TCM titles will arrive in mid-August. It includes Hitchcock's "Suspicion," Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Ambersons," "Fort Apache," "Swingtime" and "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House." "Clash by Night," starring Barbara Stanwyck and Marilyn Monroe, will receive its video premiere as part of the collection. Each will retail for $19.98.

Warner Bros. Classics and TCM Video will vie for shelf space with several established video lines, among them MGM/UA's Vintage Classics, FoxVideo's Studio Classics, MCA/Universal Home Video's Universal Studios' Monsters Classic Collection and Columbia TriStar Home Video's Studio Heritage collection.

Uniform box art design and deluxe packaging are instrumental elements in fostering consumer awareness and promoting collectibility. TCM videos, for example, come in boxes with book-style flaps that contain background about the film and feature original lobby card art.

"The true growth area in home video is the sell-through side as [video renters] become owners," said Richard Pinson, vice president of marketing for Turner Home Entertainment.

"The long-term goal is to establish TCM Video as a definitive classic movie line. We've taken a lot of time and effort to customize the content of the videos," he said, referring to introductions by film historian and Turner Classic Movies on-air host Robert Osborne, original trailers, interviews and "making of" featurettes.

Another way in which studios are courting video collectors is to re-release titles in the letterbox format. The popular nature of these initial offerings suggests an attempt to make the format accessible to more mainstream viewers.

Paramount Home Video has already released "Widescreen Editions" of the seven "Star Trek" features and "Apocalypse Now." In August, it will unleash Mel Gibson's Oscar-winning "Braveheart" in letterbox for $24.95 retail, with "Forrest Gump," "Congo," "Top Gun," Franco Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet," "The Hunt for Red October," "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger" scheduled for September.

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