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THE MORNING BUZZ: Two Rings to Rule Them All

5 Aug, 2002 By: Stephanie Prange

The two versions of New Line Home Entertainment's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring begin the journey to video today, with the theatrical version hitting first and the extended director's cut coming in November. New Line expects many Rings fans will buy both versions, and execs say they are confident of the reissue strategy.

Still, studios seem to be cognizant of the fact that they are treading on dangerous ground.

New Line has been careful to position the extended director's cut version -- which includes more than 30 minutes of extra footage including new music recorded specifically for the added scenes -- as a completely different experience. Indeed, a poll on the Home Theater Forum site showed fan support for purchasing both versions.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment's Pearl Harbor got similar treatment, with a theatrical version streeting Dec. 4 and a “Vista Series” version featuring a director's cut and more extra features Jan. 15. The studio added more historical and special effects extras and audio commentaries on the second version; the “Vista Series” is positioned as the “definitive version” of films and a “collaborative partnership” with the director. Some DVD fans were skeptical of two versions for a film that garnered some critical pans. But I, for one, have not yet seen the Vista version and would love to delve into the historical information on the second release.

Early in the DVD life cycle, studios released vanilla or non-anamorphic DVDs and then later rereleased the titles in beefed-up versions. Some studios have singled out certain titles for reissue treatment, notably Fox with its “Five Star” line and Columbia TriStar with its “Superbit,” enhanced picture and audio series.

Reissues have come under fire on DVD Web sites, and critic Richard Roeper, co-host of the TV show “Ebert & Roeper at the Movies,” has knocked the practice on the air. To try and ameliorate the issue, studios and retailers alike have considered and sometimes instituted rebates to consumers who buy the first version. Indeed, Wherehouse is considering such a program on Rings.

Ultimately, consumers will vote with their dollars. Fans may decide to purchase multiple versions of a film favorite even if they aren't happy about it. They'll most likely eschew future versions of films they never liked in the first place. But studios must tread carefully. We don't want consumers to resist their impulse to buy titles when they come out, for fear a better version is coming in the future.

I think New Line execs are smart to offer a significantly more elaborate reissue. And if I know Lord of the Rings fans, they'll snap up any version they can get.

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