Restored, re-released and reaping profits Hollywood studios are reissuingfilms such as 'The Wizard of Oz' and 'The Big Chill' - and smiling all the way to the bank.

November 08, 1998|By Knight Ridder/Tribune

Test screenings. A huge marketing campaign with endless commercial tie-ins. A major release onto 1,000-plus screens nationwide.

All this for a 60-year-old film that is already one of the best-known, best-loved and most-seen of all time: "The Wizard of Oz."

It's the latest and most spectacular example of Hollywood studios rummaging through their vaults and re-releasing classics - or what they think might be classics. Along with 1939's "Oz," 1983's "The Big Chill," the comedy-drama about a reunion of '60s radicals turned yuppies, returned to theaters this past weekend.

They join a restored version of "Gone With the Wind," which has raked in about $7 million to date. Other recent re-releases include "The Godfather," "Grease" and the "Star Wars" trilogy, which added hundreds of millions to the financial force that is with George Lucas.

In art theaters, the Orson Welles cult favorite "Touch of Evil," Federico Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria" and Peter Weir's "Picnic at Hanging Rock" have been packing them in. Later this month, Bernardo Bertolucci's 1987 Oscar-winning epic, "The Last Emperor," originally released at two hours and 20 minutes, returns to theaters with an hour of footage restored.

The rush to re-release has proven to be a shrewd marketing move. For one thing, it means easy money. The only spending required for a re-release is the relatively small amount needed for restoration and advertising.

"The picture's already paid for, so there's no downside financially," says Michael Schlesinger, vice president of repertory for Sony Entertainment, which is handling the 15th anniversary re-release of "The Big Chill." "You already know it's a hit."

Reissues are also a good way to promote videotapes and other products related to movies. Just in time for the Christmas shopping season, a flood of "Wizard of Oz" items is coming to stores, hot on the heels of the re-release hype.

Last but not least, revivals give moviegoers - some for the first time - a chance to see films in all their theatrical glory.

"For those who've never seen a movie on the big screen, who've only seen it on video or TV, it's a chance to experience it the way audiences did 20, 30 or 40 years ago," says Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, a box-office tracking firm in Los Angeles. "It's a plus for film buffs."

Although most reissues are done on a fairly modest scale, "Oz" is coming back with huge fanfare. The restored, enhanced version of the family classic will open on more than 1,800 screens.

That's an amazing amount, especially considering that "Oz" is one of the most familiar movies ever. Besides being an annual TV favorite, it has earned $225 million in video sales in the last 10 years.

But Warner Bros. is counting on audiences wanting to see "Oz" yet again - on a big screen. Based on test screenings, the studio expects to find gold on the yellow-brick road.

The Big Chill," in comparison, will be shown on only about 55 screens across the country.

"We're approaching the millennium and thought it would be a good time to get nostalgic," says Sony's Schlesinger. "Plus, the stars of the movie are much bigger now than they were then."

Stars like Glenn Close, Kevin Kline and Jeff Goldblum. And then BTC there's Kevin Costner, who is famous for not being in "The Big Chill." He had played the friend whose funeral prompts the reunion, and his scenes were left on the cutting-room floor. They will stay there in the re-release. The film's soundtrack, full of rock and R&B hits from the 1960s and '70s, has been enhanced for the anniversary edition, however.

The next film on Schlesinger's re-release roster? A young Barbra Streisand's movie debut, "Funny Girl," slated to come out in April.

"It's gonna be like buttah!" he predicts.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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