This month, video dealers face a proposition they don't like much: Putting up with the very long movie.
Wednesday, MCA/Universal released Hector Babenco's "At Play in the Fields of the Lord," which runs 3 hours, 6 minutes, and on May 20 will come Warner's "JFK," which lasts 3 hours, 8 minutes.
Each movie is on two cassettes, and that makes store owners nervous. Double-cassette films can turn off customers, retailers say.
"One cassette is a prime-time sitting," said Gary Messenger, owner of the eight-store North American Video chain, which is based in Durham, N.C. "Two cassettes mean two sittings to many people. Single cassettes go out every night. Double cassettes basically only go out weekends."
A tape of a hit movie typically averages 4.5 rentals a week, industry figures show. Mr. Messenger predicted that "JFK" will average 3 to 3.5.
Of many two-cassette films, the biggest recent example is "The Godfather Part III," released by Paramount in October. The movie disappointed many dealers because it didn't rent well during the week.
More fondly remembered is "Dances With Wolves," a 3-hour, 10-minute film packaged in a single cassette released in August by Orion. To squeeze it all in, Orion used thinner tape stock, which tended to spill off the hubs and jam in the cassette. The problem was quickly corrected, and the movie went on to become a top renter.
At 2 hours, 50 minutes, "The Godfather Part III" was shorter than "Dances With Wolves," but dealers said the two cassettes made the Francis Ford Coppola film seem more of a project to viewers.
" 'Dances' went out every night of the week," Mr. Messenger said. "It didn't matter how long it was because it was one cassette and people did it in one sitting."
Other dealers said they thought "Dances With Wolves" did better because it was lighter fare than "The Godfather Part III," which, they say, was slower-moving and more difficult to watch.
"It has more to do with how the movie is accepted than its being on two cassettes," said Brad Burnside, an officer of the Video Software Dealers Association and the owner of Video Adventure in Evanston, Ill.
Dealers generally classify "JFK" with "Dances With Wolves" as a popular entertainment, and many said they wish it would also appear on one cassette.
A spokesman for Warner said that the problems with Orion's "Dances With Wolves," however short-lived, created the perception that something could go wrong again, and for that reason two cassettes were a necessity.
"My guess is that 'JFK' will be more rentable midweek than 'Godfather,' Mr. Burnside said.