Title bowing with unusually large campaign

“The Da Vinci Code” didn’t break records in France, but its 4 million ticket sales were still solid.

And Gaumont Columbia Tri Star Video firmly believes the DVD has a better shot at being a record breaker.

The distrib is launching the disc Nov. 17 — exactly six months after the pic’s Cannes Film Festival bow, in keeping with French distribution windows — on the back of an unusually pricy E2.9 million ($3.6 million) campaign.

Upping the ante, the trend in Gallic DVD sales is downward, with industry revs falling 13% in the first half of this year.

“The DVD market is not in good shape. You have to seize the opportunity with a film like “Da Vinci Code” to reach people who have a DVD player but who don’t regularly buy DVDs. We are marketing it as a must-have item,” Thierry Rogister, the distrib’s general manager, told Variety.

Strong sales in the U.K. — more than 600,000 units in week one — have fueled Rogister’s expectations that French sales will be stellar. His optimism also is based on a Gallic poll in which 28% of regular DVD buyers say they intend to buy the pic — twice the usual number for this type of survey.

GCTSV’s aim is to ship 1.4 million units in the three weeks leading up to Christmas, and another million in the first few weeks of 2007. Such a performance would help the distrib improve its third-place standing in Gallic video sales so far this year.

The “Da Vinci Code” target is ambitious. A top seller in France can usually hope to reach no more than 1 million units, which only “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” has achieved so far this year.

“All our advertisements specify the DVD is coming out on Nov. 17 — not ‘coming out soon.’ We want people to go and buy it quickly,” says Rogister, who is also banking on a high percentage of buyers opting for the $34 double -disk collector’s edition.

The uncut collector’s edition runs nearly three hours — 25 minutes longer than the theatrical version.

“No one has seen it, and it will be coming out in France before it comes out in America, so there is a tremendous amount of curiosity. We are doing all we can to exploit that in our marketing,” Rogister says.

The extra content includes full scenes that ended up on the cutting-room floor. GCTSV is also touting a $112 limited-edition DVD, containing such items as a replica of Robert Langdon’s notebook and a cryptex like the one in the film. Rogister says practically all 15,000 copies have been pre-ordered by fans.

“France is a refined market and consumers want more than just a film. People in France also give DVDs as gifts,” he says.

The topper believes that despite the growth of Internet downloads, the DVD market in Gaul is not doomed.

“We’re spending more on everything — TV advertisements, the poster campaign, which is truly nationwide — and we are able to do things that are a bit out of the ordinary,” Rogister says.

In Paris, sand-filled hourglasses marking the countdown to the DVD release will be on display throughout the city. The Gare St. Lazare train station will be decked out in an enormous billboard ad.

Still, the DVD biz remains chancy. Despite a big promo spend and 10 million theatrical tickets sold, Warner Bros.’ recent DVD launch of comedy blockbuster “Les Bronzes 3: Friends Forever” has not resulted in massive sales.

“It’s always a gamble,” says Rogister, “but I’m not doing this to end the year in second place.”

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