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Warner classics dance over to DVD

Catalog slate includes vintage Astaire, 'Baby Jane'

Warner Home Video will dust off more than 200 catalog titles for debut on DVD this year, with some to bow on next-generation high-def discs simultaneously.

The DVD newbies run the gamut from vintage Astaire and Rogers danceathons to Busby Berkeley pics, “Knute Rockne All American” and John Frankenheimer’s “Grand Prix.” Many other catalog titles have received digital upgrades for upcoming releases, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” “Forbidden Planet” and “The Searchers” among them.

Warner homevid execs unveiled their catalog slate Monday while making a case for untapped riches in the segment, which faltered slightly on price erosion last year. But studio execs pointed out that sales volume was up even though total catalog revenue dipped slightly.

Execs also pointed out that sales of multi-title releases — be they double- feature discs or box sets with four or five discs — are booming. “People are gobbling them up by hundreds of thousands, I’m happy to say,” senior veep of theatrical catalog marketing George Feltenstein said of the box sets.

Not too surprisingly, the studio plans even more box sets this year, with a “Taylor and Burton” set built around a new special edition of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” among the creative examples.

Warner is releasing its first high-def titles in April and has already started to slim down packaging to address retail concerns about shelf space, according to senior veep-G.M. of theatrical catalog Jeff Baker. Studio plans to back both HD DVD and Blu-ray technologies.

Meanwhile, Warner keeps investing in catalog DVD — Feltenstein estimates it poured $600,000-$700,000 into restoring “The Searchers” — even as the bow of the dueling formats looms. Feltenstein, for one, brushed off concerns that high-def releases would slow catalog DVD sales.

“I think they will have peaceful co-existence — something I wish would have happened with laserdisc before it was killed, too early in my view,” Feltenstein said.

Rival studios show no sign of slowing down on the catalog DVD front either. An extended edition of “Dune” bowed Tuesday from Universal Studios Home Entertainment and a special edition of “Midnight Cowboy” — the first and only X-rated picture to win an Academy Award — arrives Feb. 21 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Also on the way: an unrated “Sliver” March 28 from Paramount Home Entertainment and disco-era “Thank God It’s Friday” April 4 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The Weinstein Co. will release its first DVD, “Derailed,” on March 21 in an unrated version via its homevid distributor, Genius Products. Sony homevid’s “The Dying Gaul” arrives with an alternate ending and deleted scenes on the same day, while “Howl’s Moving Castle” hits DVD with featurettes and storyboards March 7 courtesy of Walt Disney homevid.

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