Cruise pic bowing on DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray

No matter how awkward it gets, Paramount homevid can’t afford to risk precious franchise coin over a nasty corporate divorce — or any squeamishness about Tom Cruise’s off-screen behavior.

Par’s following through with its January pledge to launch “Mission: Impossible III” on three formats — standard DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray — becoming the first studio to do so simultaneously on a major new release. Breaking with tradition, the studio is bowing all three on Monday, Oct. 30, instead of Tuesday to give the debut extra sizzle, or maybe just avoid having it get lost in Halloween festivities.

Cruise is doing his part to rev up the PR machine: Last week, he confirmed his Nov. 18 nuptials to Katie Holmes in Italy, setting the tabazines into another frenzy. Never mind the fact Cruise’s knack for stoking publicity with his personal life so inflamed Viacom topper Sumner Redstone that he lashed out at Cruise’s “recent conduct” when severing Cruise/Wagner’s deal with Par this summer.

Cruise’s behavior pops up in disconcerting ways on the “MI3″ extras. A featurette on the pic’s many premieres, for example, shows Cruise laughing in the limo as he reads a sign, “You can jump on my couch anytime,” en route to one of four Gotham bows. During the commentary, he mentions the day Holmes found out she was pregnant.

Sherry Lansing originally greenlit the third “Mission” installment, but current studio chief Brad Grey renegotiated the terms (which give Cruise as much as 65% of every DVD sale) before filming began. When the pic didn’t meet Par’s high expectations at the B.O., Redstone blamed Cruise’s off-screen antics.

None of these biz machinations are mentioned in the extras, but it’s hard not to think of them when watching the disc. Tributes feting Cruise — especially the montage promoting all of his Par discs — seem especially jarring under the circumstances.

But whatever Redstone thinks about Cruise, the studio still has its catalog sales to protect. In this divorce, Par retains custody of the pics.

Par’s homevid plans for “MI3″ started taking shape long before tensions erupted, with David Naylor’s DVD Group brought onboard before the first day of shooting. Jazzy features focus on the pyrotechnics onscreen, with featurettes tackling the f/x, production design, mask-making machine and score.

Coolest of all is the “picture within a picture” commentary track on the HD DVD bonus disc, which shows Cruise and director J.J. Abrams as they talk about the shots unfolding onscreen. They enjoy a clear rapport, frequently stop the film to explain a particular shot in more detail; B-roll and deleted scenes also run in the picture within a picture.

“This allowed us to use the copious amount of coverage we didn’t use elsewhere,” Naylor says.

The enhanced commentary pushes the tech envelope; the Blu-ray disc doesn’t have it because the format wasn’t ready for it.

Naylor, who worked with Abrams on “Felicity” and “Lost” DVD sets, credits the filmmakers and Paramount for giving him free reign over the DVD production.

“It was immense,” Naylor says. “It was more access than I had ever been granted, and certainly more than Tom had ever given.”

Between juggling the different versions — Par’s also releasing a single-disc standard DVD — Naylor had his hands full. “It was probably the most technically challenging project we have ever worked on,” he says. “But we got it done.”

Warner has a different — if less awkward — challenge in its upcoming “Superman” push. Like Par, the studio signaled a major holiday push for its franchise way back in January and wasn’t about to fold its tent when the latest installment didn’t meet its high expectations. Had “Superman Returns” taken flight, the studio’s “Superman” campaign would have gained added heat; as it is, Warner will rely on affection for the comicbook franchise — and enthusiasm for previous bigscreen installments — to help drive homevid sales.

In any case, consumers will have many configurations to choose from on Nov. 28: Besides a 14-disc “Superman Ultimate Collector’s Edition” the studio will release a newly reconstructed Richard Donner cut of “Superman II.” Many of the releases will also bow on hi-def formats.

And even franchises that didn’t take off the ground — “Snakes on a Plane,” anyone? — will soon get their shot at profitability on DVD, although in “Snakes’ ” case New Line is waiting until the new year to release the disc, which execs expect to out-earn the $34 million B.O. take.

The DVD biz may have flattened, but it’s still studios’ best shot at making money back. Even if the studios and producers have outgrown each other.

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