Tomorrow is another day for 'Gone With the Wind'

June 25, 1998|By Bernard Weinraub | Bernard Weinraub,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

HOLLYWOOD -- "Gone With the Wind" has been released in theaters eight times since 1939, has been shown numerous times on television and has been a top rental at video stores for the last two decades.

So why spend $10 million to $12 million to painstakingly restore and reissue the Civil War drama, which opens tomorrow in 200 theaters around the nation?

The restoration project is largely the result of Ted Turner's passion for the classic. "Ted just loves this movie," said Turner Entertainment president Roger Mayer. "He's the force behind it."

What spurred its restoration was not just Turner's affection for "Gone With the Wind," which the Atlanta-based media mogul acquired when Turner Broadcasting purchased the rights to the MGM film library in 1986, but more important, the huge successes of James Cameron's "Titanic" and the re-released "Star Wars" trilogy.

"It motivated us to consider another theatrical release of 'Gone With the Wind,' " said Mayer. The hope is that moviegoers, especially in the summer, might crave a lavish, escapist saga.

Another motive was, quite simply, to one-up "Titanic": "There was all this talk about 'Titanic' being the most successful picture of all time. We knew if you updated the grosses to today's dollar, then 'Gone With the Wind' would have, in fact, grossed more and been seen by more people than 'Titanic.' We wanted to point that out. It was fun."

In 1939, "Gone With the Wind," at 3 hours and 40 minutes, was the longest movie ever made, and the most expensive, costing $4.25 million.

An adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's saga about the old South, it starred Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland and was produced by David O. Selznick and directed by Victor Fleming from a screenplay by Sidney Howard. The score was by Max Steiner.

The film went through four directors, two cinematographers and 11 writers and, like "Titanic," was initially derided in Hollywood as a disaster. The costs and various crises on the set stirred rival executives and others to call it "David's Folly."

Yet the staying power of the film, which won 10 Oscars, is underscored by the fact that nearly 60 years after it was first released, the movie's ticket sales, if adjusted for inflation, would make it the all-time box office champion. And just last week, the American Film Institute placed it fourth on its list of the 100 best American films.

Ron Jarvis, the president of Technicolor, which provided the nascent film-processing technology and revived the dye-transfer process to restore the film, said: "The images are sharper than they've ever been. The colors are more true. These prints are better than what people saw in 1939. In fact, look at it -- it looks as good or better than most of the stuff that we see today."

As Jarvis spoke, he sat in a screening room at his offices in Universal City watching a dual screen that depicted scenes from an older version of the movie, a classic Civil War drama and love story, and from the new version.

The differences were pronounced. Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett (Clark Gable) -- as well as hundreds of Civil War soldiers -- are simply more vivid, almost three-dimensional, and far less grainy. The colors -- especially reds, greens and blues -- are sharp, almost brilliant.

Over the years, ticket sales for the film have reached an extraordinary $192 million: it is in 25th place in domestic revenues. But none of the 24 films that preceded it were made earlier than 1975.

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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