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Does Controversy Have Legs by the Time a Film Reaches Retail?

1 Jul, 2004 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Controversy never hurts. There's a good chance Michael Moore's latest quasi-documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, would have never gone beyond a limited art-house run had there not been a wave of publicity over Disney's reported mandate to Miramax to keep the film in the closet. Similarly, the uproar over The Passion of the Christ probably had more to do with the film's amazing theatrical success than the fervor of believers.

Both films are scheduled to hit video later this year, and it makes you wonder — does controversy have legs? Will the same crowds who flocked to theaters for a look at Fahrenheit 9/11 out of curiosity over Disney's lockdown actually run out and buy it, three or four months later? And will The Passion of the Christ become as much a phenomenon on video as it was in theaters, now that the slings between Mel Gibson and those who believe his picture unfairly portrays Jews as brutal persecutors have been largely grounded?

As I said, it makes you wonder. It also begs the question of how our own home entertainment industry's little controversies will affect sales of upcoming DVD releases. Two specific cases stand out:

• The original Star Wars is finally coming to DVD this fall, and there's been a lot of negative buzz about computerized changes to the film, most significantly Hans Solo no longer shooting first. Is this negativity going to stymie sales? Honestly, I don't think so — at least, not significantly. Fans may grumble all they want, but in the end they're still going to buy the film.

• The much-maligned Showgirls is now out from MGM in an elaborate VIP edition, complete with such nonelectronic extras as a pair of shot glasses, pasties and a lap-dance tutorial. This film was wildly lampooned as the worst movie ever made; and yet now MGM is hoping to turn the tide of bad press into a tidal wave of interest, even going so far as to quote one critic on the back calling the film “an instant camp classic.” Will the strategy work? I believe it will — heck, I can't wait to get home with my copy, although I'm not quite sure about the pasties.

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