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Monstrous Expectations

Movies: Even if 'The Lost World' eats up the competition, will it live up to the pre-release hype?

May 20, 1997|ELAINE DUTKA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

No one doubts that "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," Steven Spielberg's long-awaited sequel to his 1993 dinosaur epic that opens Friday, will be big. The real question, according to veteran industry analysts and elated theater-owners, is "How big?"

The mega-success of "Jurassic Park"--the highest-grossing picture worldwide ever made--makes the picture virtually review-proof, they say. Just about everyone who turned out for the original will probably show up again. Still, the $75-million film could fall short of expectations, discouraging the repeat business that separates blockbusters from hits.

"I don't think that 'Lost World' will be as huge as the original," Philip Garfinkle, senior vice president of the box-office tracking firm Entertainment Data, said of the Universal Pictures release. "And only a few sequels, including 'Lethal Weapon 2' and 'Terminator 2,' have outperformed the first. But if the movie does even 60% to 70% of 'Jurassic'--a reasonable expectation--it would hit $214 million, placing it in the top 20 initial releases ever."

Adds Chan Wood, executive vice president of Pacific Theaters: "I expect 'Lost World' to exceed the $50-million figure 'Jurassic' did on its opening [three-day] weekend. Without question, it should break the Memorial Day [Weekend] record of $56.8 million set by 'Mission: Impossible' last year."

Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of distribution, has booked the sequel in a record-setting 3,024 locations, a move certain to enhance the movie's box-office performance--as will the prospect of a virtually clear playing field early on. (The film will also be sneaked Thursday at 10 p.m. in selected markets.) The romantic comedy "Addicted to Love" is the only other wide-release opening this weekend, and the comedies "Gone Fishin' " and "Trial and Error" are the only wide releases the following week. The dinosaurs are unlikely to engage in major clashes until "Con Air" (June 6), "Speed 2" (June 13) and "Batman and Robin" (June 20) come out.

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"The nice part about 'Lost World' is that it has room to breathe," said Richard Fay, marketing president for AMC Theaters, which bet big on the picture, booking between three and five prints in each of its 20- or 25-screen megaplexes.

Though Universal declines to give box-office predictions, all indicators are positive, they say. Tracking surveys, measuring awareness and the public's desire, are said to be excellent. Optimism also runs high among the theatrical ranks. General Cinema installed a new digital sound system specifically for the picture, testifying to its belief in the film.

Merchandising, of course, is central to the push. Hordes of toy, video game and apparel licensees are in place. Promotional partners such as Kodak, Hershey Foods, Burger King, Mercedes-Benz and General Mills are participating in the launch. "We hope to equal or top the more than $1 billion worldwide that 'Jurassic' did in retail sales," said Brad Globe, head of consumer products at DreamWorks, which has absorbed Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. "That's a rarefied atmosphere. Only a few pictures such as 'Lion King' and 'E.T.' have made it that high."

The strobe-light teaser trailer, paired with Universal's "Daylight" last December, got the campaign off to a rousing start, theater owners say. "The first time we ran it, people came out in the lobby to ask the manager about it," said Page Thompson, vice president of theater marketing for General Cinema. "The studio turned the auditorium into a theme park ride. We've just begun our advance sales on the movie and, so far, the only one of similar magnitude was 'Star Wars.' "

In fact, "Star Wars," which has taken in a total of $461 million in the U.S. and Canada, is the all-time domestic box-office champion, when re-releases are factored in. "E.T.," which added $41 million to its record-setting $359 million initial domestic gross, is in second place. "Jurassic Park," with $357 million in its only release, comes in third.

Howard Lichtman, executive vice president of marketing and communications for the Cineplex Odeon chain, got a firsthand glimpse of the public's thirst for a "Jurassic" sequel when he attended an exhibitors' convention in Ottawa in mid-May.

"My 11-year-old son and I were carrying 'Lost World' balloons across the street," he recalled. "Four separate people asked if they could buy them off me. There's built-in awareness. . . . That dinosaur log is embedded in everyone's mind. Every exhibitor in America wants a print of that film." In fact, of all the movies in a summer of heavy hitters, "Lost World" is the likeliest to hit the $200-million mark, says Larry Gerbrandt, senior analyst for Paul Kagan Associates, which specializes in financial analysis of the communications and entertainment industries.

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