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Making this cold fish hot again

'Jaws' anniversary DVD spawns a festival on Martha's Vineyard, the latest version of a glitzy premiere by the home video industry.

June 14, 2005|Elaine Dutka | Times Staff Writer

MARTHA'S VINEYARD, Mass. -- When it comes to DVDs, you apparently can go back into the water again. Just five years after releasing "Jaws" for the first time on DVD -- then timed to the 25th anniversary of the Steven Spielberg blockbuster -- Universal Studios is back in this bucolic retreat off the coast of Massachusetts to mark the film's 30th anniversary, with fans and a new DVD edition, which hits shelves today.

Until now, the town has never openly embraced the legendary "Jaws," which Spielberg shot on the island in 1974. "Like the mayor in 'Jaws,' no one wanted to play up the fact that there was a great white in the waters," said Jeff Kristal head of the local Tisbury Business Assn. "Now, we regard the movie as a promotional tool -- part of the island's identity."

So the first weekend in June, "Jaws Fest," a three-day bash, overtook the Vineyard with a series of events initiated by the Chamber of Commerce and organized with Universal.

The festival is yet another example of the kind of events Hollywood is staging to attract attention for DVDs in an ever more cluttered marketplace. The events are becoming the home video world's version of a movie premiere, often with the same star power. (For instance, for the launch of the "Shrek 2" DVD last November, DreamWorks took over Spago and redressed it like the film's Far Far Away with Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy and Julie Andrews in attendance.)

This time around it was the island coming to Spielberg. Martha's Vineyard (where show biz folk such as Spike Lee, Mike Nichols and Carly Simon have homes) contacted Hollywood in hopes that a Jaws festival could boost lagging tourism. Down to the wire, there were rumors that the director had booked a plane and would make a surprise appearance. Busy with the upcoming release of "War of the Worlds," according to his camp, the director delivered a taped introduction to the film instead.

Indeed, star power was in short supply. While a frail Peter Benchley (recuperating from neck surgery and a broken hip) made the scene, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss sent their regrets. (Robert Shaw died in 1978.)

"With a decades-old catalog title, we needed a hook," said Vivian Mayer, senior vice president of publicity for Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

Home entertainment events date back to the late 1980s when the Walt Disney Co. flew reporters to Walt Disney World to announce the VHS release of "Bambi" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Since then they've been fueled by the revenue stream that DVDs now generate.

"When the first 'Jaws' DVD came out, there were only 7 million DVD players in American households," said Benchley, 65. "Now that there are more than 70 million, events like this are very worthwhile." What DVD events do have in their corner are an existing fan base, one that studios are eager to tap into. In early June -- on a Soldiers' Appreciation Day, Sony commandeered the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base near Long Beach, serving lunch to more than 2,000 military men and their families to promote the DVD release of "Stripes." And, come September, Fox Home entertainment is taking over the Hollywood Bowl to promote the 30th anniversary of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." "Our 2004 'Harry Potter' event generated the equivalent of $7.5 million in media coverage," said Pamela Godfrey, vice president of worldwide publicity for Warner Home Video.

"Jaws Fest" was mounted on a minuscule $20,000 budget -- plus donations "in trade." (The Chamber of Commerce concedes it exceeded that sum but wouldn't say by how much.) Mentioned by a speaker from England at a tourism conference last year, the project acquired an Internet life before it became a reality. Benchley was furious when the website announced that he was a confirmed attendee, convinced organizers were leveraging his name. He e-mailed them, asking that he be removed from the list but later reconsidered. The star-challenged festivities, he realized, needed his support. And, given the growth of the DVD market, it made good business sense.

Besides, the writer added, he and the movie are inextricably linked. "Take it away and what am I -- 'a schmuck with an Underwood,' as one entertainment mogul put it. I can't get arrested in Hollywood now. I'm nobody -- too old."

Eighty merchants offered "Jaws Fest" discounts. Bookstores stocked copies of Carl Gottlieb's "Jaws Log"--the co-screenwriter's 1976 chronicle of the troubled, over-budget shoot. An Edgartown pharmacy hung an "Amity Drugs" banner -- a reference to the fictitious island in which the action was set. "Shark Attack" was the featured flavor in Mad Martha's ice cream parlor.

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