Phones fossil-itate ‘Jurassic’ B.O.

The dinosaurs arrive late tonight and seats for “Jurassic Park” are already rapidly becoming extinct. A concerted campaign for advance ticket sales has resulted in many sold-out opening weekend showtimes.

“We have never seen advance purchases like this before, and we’re told it’s by far the biggest response to a movie ever for the Movie Fone and other theater telephone services,” said Nikki Rocco, Universal senior VP of distribution/marketing liaison. “We’d love to be able to give a number, but there’s simply no way to collect the information from the different sources quickly enough and still be accurate.”

Movie Fone president J. Russell Leatherman confirmed Rocco’s info. “There are many, many showtimes for the upcoming weekend which are already sold out,” he said. “We can indicate the sellouts, we can give a sense of how sales are going, but to be able to give a precise number is impossible. It changes hourly.”

Movie Fone operates its own 777-FILM operation nationally in addition to running services for most of the major theater chains.

A rep for one chain confirmed that “Jurassic Park” phone sales will set a record for his company.

He said experience on “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” have seen opening weekend advance sales of roughly 30%. He estimated that Manhattan sales for the first three days of “Jurassic Park” have reached 50%.

“It’s a great service to have,” said the exhibitor. “For the blockbusters that you know will sell out, it determines such things as the number of (box office staff) you need for pre-sold tickets as opposed to those selling available seats. In a multiplex, it will determine on which screen a film will play and whether you should open up another screen.”

“Jurassic Park” aside, the exhibitor said these services are catching on with patrons. The assurance of seats to a specific film is a major plus in urban centers. Still, it doesn’t guarantee where the seat is or whether moviegoers can find two seats together.

“That option probably is right around the corner,” Leatherman said. “These operations are only a couple of years old and have grown enormously in the past year. On ‘Jurassic,’ we’ve had people phone up requesting 200 and 300 tickets at a time. That’s a first. But the credit-card companies will only allow us to sell a maximum of six tickets per transaction.

“This weekend is extremely well-organized. Universal has, in the nicest possible way, created the fear that you won’t get into ‘Jurassic Park’ if you show up at the last minute. And it’s true. On the opening weekend of ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula,’ there were no tickets to be had in prime theaters in most metropolitan areas.”

Leatherman said U used the full benefits of the Movie Fone service. For starters, it sponsored a sweepstakes with a Caribbean vacation as top prize for anyone who bought seats by phone. But most significant was its ability to provide showtimes four weeks before opening.

“Without showtimes, you cannot start the advance-tickets process,” he said. “This is the furthest out we have ever been able to sell a movie.”

Advance sales for Columbia’s “Last Action Hero,” opening a week after “Jurassic Park,” will go on sale only a week before its release because the studio was unable to set schedules earlier.

Another source noted that virtually all merchandising on the Amblin production is in stores and that this has had an additional positive effect on the heat to see the film.