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DVDs may have a different package …

But it's just more money, same pic

If Arnold keeps reinventing himself — from bodybuilder, to actor, to politician — then so do his “Terminator” DVDs.

Specifically, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” The second installment of the Schwarzenegger futuristic action series has been released three times on DVD.

First, Artisan Home Entertainment released the basic version in 1997 with a few bells and whistles. Next came the “T2: Ultimate Edition” ($23.98) with more than six hours of new content. And lasts summer came the “T2: Extreme Edition” ($29.98), which can be viewed in high definition on Windows Media 9-equipped personal computers, making it the first HD-DVD.

The total retail price for all three DVDs reaches $104.94 — all for the same film. Home entertainment toppers say they’re not gouging the public, just supplying movie fans with what they want: more commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage, alternate endings and various other bonus material.

“What I want to be clear about is that these DVDs are done in response to new technologies that allow us to present a movie in a unique way,” says Artisan Family Home Entertainment prexy Glenn Ross. “It’s in response to what consumers are buying and what they’re interested in.”

Sales figures back him up. The second “T2” DVD sold more than the first, and the third more than the second.

That’s not to say there aren’t some who are a bit miffed with the constant oneupsmanship of DVD releases. One studio publicist was griping recently about having to continually shell out for his favorite Scorsese pic: first on VHS, then laser disc, then DVD, then special edition DVD.

When DVDs first hit the market in 1997, studios released many titles in “vanilla” form — just the film and maybe a trailer or deleted scene or two. They did it almost like a test balloon, wanting to see if the public would bite.

“When DVD was trying to establish itself as a format, we released a lot of movies to create a critical mass — to gain format acceptance,” says Alex Carloss, senior VP of marketing at MGM Home Entertainment.

The strategy worked. While there were only a couple million DVD players back when studios started cranking up production of discs, current estimates peg household penetration at about 50 million — and the numbers are growing quickly. According to estimates, at the end of 2003, the DVD business will generate $22 billion.

Peter Staddon, senior VP of marketing at Fox Home Entertainment, also suggests that neither studios nor consumers wanted to plunk down money on DVDs in the late ’90s.

“People weren’t sure about the format and didn’t want to spend a lot of money,” says Staddon. “As soon as DVD crossed the threshold, then any money spent by the studio was seen as a solid investment.”

So, with DVD now a huge revenue source, re-releasing films today as special edition DVDs isn’t all that unexpected. Where George Feltenstein, senior

VP of the classics catalog at Warner Home Video, draws the line, however, is the liberal use of the term “special edition.”

“It’s become abused,” Feltenstein says. “I think there comes a time when you’re reaching.”

Warners just released a four-film Charlie Chaplin box set as a special edition, as well as the 1938 Errol Flynn pic “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”

Undoubtedly, these are worthy choices. But there are others, according to Feltenstein, that don’t — and shouldn’t — make the cut.

“There are certain films that don’t warrant a special edition double disc. You don’t want to rip off the consumer,” he says. “We’re judicious in what we do and apply our efforts carefully.”

Justifications for special edition treatment vary widely among the studios. For example, when Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment first sought to capitalize on the theatrical success of “Black Hawk Down” in 2001, director Ridley Scott was unavailable to help with a tricked-out DVD version of the film, studio officials say.

Thus, their strategy: First release a bare-bones DVD, then come out with the special edition after Scott was available.

And then there are also anniversary releases, timed to when the pic originally hit theaters. Universal just put out “Scarface,” tied to its 25th anni, and Warners just released a special edition of “Casablanca,” timed to its 60th anni.

“It’s all about how special the movies are,” says Craig Kornblau, prexy of Universal Studios Home Video. “You ask yourselves, ‘Can we come up with content that has integrity and isn’t just bulking up space on the DVD?’ “

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