Those end-of-the-year retrospectives, recaps and best and worst lists that keep film critics busy this time of year are likely to have plenty of references to "Dick Tracy," the would-be summer blockbuster that came closest to blockbuster status, and the focus of the most visible -- if visibly disappointing -- merchandising campaign of the year.
Much will be made of the ambiguity of its apparent success, considering that its $107 million box office take barely exceeded its combined production and advertising-promotion budgets. But the pundits who pooh-poohed the $50-odd million that Disney reportedly spent hyping "Dick Tracy" may have poohed too soon: The consumer awareness that that $50 million bought helped make "Dick Tracy" the biggest rental-market home video title of 1990.
Buena Vista Home Video delivered 476,354 copies of the "Dick Tracy" tape to video stores yesterday, knocking Paramount's "The Hunt for Red October" out of the top spot for the year in initial sales for videotapes priced at $90 and above. The news is cause for holiday cheer at Disney for several reasons -- especially to refute the widespread industry belief that a slowdown in rental market growth has ruled out initial sales of more than 400,000 (the unofficial perceived sales barrier known as "the wall") for rental titles. "This proves that there is no rental wall," says Buena Vista Vice President Richard Cohen. The timing for "Dick Tracy" does seem to be right, considering the title's scant competition for space on the new release shelf this month; the film's closest competition, the highly promoted "RoboCop 2," generated orders of barely more than 350,000 tapes.
It's too early to gauge the success of the most unusual aspect of Disney's "Dick Tracy" program -- an aggressive campaign to help retailers sell previously viewed copies of the tape at bargain prices, which includes an offer of rebates and new boxes to consumers who sign up for the used tapes. The prospect of used "Dick Tracy" tapes in 1991 may not satisfy disappointed consumers who had a low-priced "Dick Tracy" on their 1990 Christmas lists. But the promise of that assistance helped persuade rental retailers to buy more copies of the tapes than they normally would have ordered -- which should make it easy to bring home "Dick Tracy" this Christmas, if only for one night.
To Sir, Cheap Sidney Poitier built a distinguished career by playing characters who often demanded -- and deserved -- more respect than they felt they were receiving. Next month Poitier adds to his credits the distinction of being the focus of the lowest-priced home video retrospective to be offered by a major studio when RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video offers a collection of six previously released Poitier titles newly priced at $14.95 each.
The Poitier promotion represents the first thematically organized offer from a major studio in the under-$15 price range -- the budget side of the business, which is still new territory for the video divisions of the studios. The tapes included in the studios' initial tests of the budget-tape market have typically been genre movies with just enough commercial appeal to warrant a $15 investment -- and not a penny more; the studios have thus far kept their more valuable low-priced properties in the $20-$30 range. But there's plenty of value in the six Poitier re-releases arriving next month: "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "A Raisin in the Sun," "To Sir With Love," "Little Nikita," "The Bedford Incident" and "Brother John."
RCA/Columbia is positioning the Poitier push as a celebration of the actor/director's "fifth decade in film" -- strange, considering that five of the six films were released in the years 1961-70. The offer may best be viewed as a test to see how a little vintage Hollywood class fares in today's discount bins. If the films -- or consumers -- pass the test, it should bring more good news for movie lovers on a budget.
Present 'Companion' The seasonal rush of hopeful Academy Award-caliber releases often overshadows films and performances from earlier in the year that have long disappeared from theaters. Independent film distributor the Goldwyn Co., which is mounting an aggressive Oscar campaign for "Longtime Companion" star Bruce Davison, is hoping that next week's home video release of this summer's acclaimed AIDS drama will get Davison's performance out in front of Academy voters once again. An even better cause is guaranteed a boost from the tape: "Companion's" video label, Vidmark Entertainment, has pledged a $20,000 donation to a variety of community-based AIDS organizations.