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Re-Release Frenzy

6 Jun, 2003 By: Ralph T., Enrique R.

While sequels have been a theatrical standby for years, catalog DVD re-releases are becoming a big part of the video business.

There have been 249 different movies given a DVD makeover through the week ended May 16. And this doesn't take into account multiple versions of the same movie generated as a result of “video tweaking” -- separate widescreen and full-frame SKUs -- or Columbia TriStar's Superbit product line.

Also getting multiple versions unrelated to reworks are rated and unrated SKUs, sound options (such as separate DTS versions) and “retro” releases (the dumbing-down of a special edition to a movie-only version).

So what is included in that 249 total?

Some -- like New Line Home Entertainment's Seven, originally released as a “flipper” -- have been reworked to fix obvious flaws. (The Color Purple is another example of a DVD-10 “flipper” -- which required the viewer to flip over the disc to see the whole feature -- getting the double-disc treatment).

Other titles have been redone to add new material, usually a commentary track or other elements not included in the first go-round. In some cases it's because of a milestone (10th anniversary, 25th anniversary, etc.) or the launch of a new product line (the Vista Series from Buena Vista is an example).

Then there's the reintroduction of a title to the market after the distribution rights have changed hands.

Regardless of the reason, consumers and retailers can expect to see more of the same. June 3 Warner Home Video reintroduced The Right Stuff (a longtime “flipper”) with the delivery of a double-disc special edition. Both Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment and MGM Home Entertainment are revisiting recent war films. Columbia TriStar's Black Hawk Down arrived June 3 as a three-disc set with commentary, and MGM's Windtalkers bowed May 20 as a three-disc set with commentary. July 1 20th Century Fox unleashes a special edition reworking of There's Something About Mary.

By Christmas there could be as many as 300 reworks.

While some consumers and industry observers have groused about re-releases, Geoffrey Kleinman, editor of the Web site DVD Talk, said they are acceptable under some circumstances -- though some studios carry it too far. For instance, a reworked edition would be welcome if the new one has new material or a new cut of the film. One such example is MGM's Dances With Wolves, a May 20 two-disc release Kleinman said supercedes Image Entertainment's earlier, now-discontinued edition. MGM's edition contains not just an extended cut of the Oscar-winning film, but substantially more supplementary materials as well -- which is not always the case with other reissues.

“Sometimes titles are just churned from one place to another, and there can be very little value or anything of a huge difference in the disc,” he said. Consumers will buy a title only so many times before they throw up their hands in frustration, he said.

“One is good. Two is fine. Three times you're pushing it,” he said.

Another problem associated with this trend is a proliferation of SKUs for one title, said Todd Zaganiacz, owner of Video Zone in South Deerfield, Mass.

For instance, Universal Studios Home Video is repackaging the previously released American Pie and American Pie 2 special edition discs with an extra “Beneath the Crust” disc for each that has supplemental material. It's tied to the studio's upcoming theatrical release of American Wedding, the third installment in the teen gross-out comedy series, he said. This is on top of the ‘R'-rated and unrated cuts the studio had already put out for parts one and two, he said.

“When you're talking about seven SKUs of a movie, it confuses the consumer,” Zaganiacz said.

Like Kleinman, however, Zaganiacz thinks the practice has merit if a new DVD edition of a previously released title has plenty of new material. “It's got to be worthwhile for the consumer,” he said. “There has to be additional footage to make it worthwhile.”

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