Memorable movies have been in shorter supply this year than memorable misfires, such as Hollywood's failed attempt to make auto racing the screen spectator sport of the '90s. Thanks to home video, that one isn't over yet. "Days of Thunder" won't show up on many 10 Best lists this week, but it will show up in video stores early next year, along with plenty of other competition for the vroom-vroom viewer. Apparently ignoring the movie's quick disappearance amid the pack of heavily hyped summer releases, several major and independent video outfits are poised at the starting gate with racing-themed releases for the coming weeks.
Based on initial expectations for the movie, video industry watchers originally tagged "Thunder" as a likely candidate for low-priced release this fall. Then they saw the movie -- and noticed how many millions of other moviegoers elected not to. (Now Paramount's surprise blockbuster "Ghost" is the focus of industry speculation about a possible low-priced video release this spring.) Paramount is going the rental route with "Thunder" in early February, pricing the tape in the $90 range for VHS ($29.95 for Beta). Those Tom Cruise fans who want to take him home for keeps may have to content themselves with Paramount's "The Making of 'Days of Thunder': NASCAR goes Hollywood," a behind-the-scenes featurette priced at $14.95 (VHS only).
In addition, Paramount is rolling out the oil-stained carpet for two vintage racing films from its catalogue, both of which will make their video debuts alongside "Thunder": "Those Daring Young Men and Their Jaunty Jalopies," a 1969 jazz-age road rally farce with Tony Curtis, Terry-Thomas, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore; and the 1965 "Red Line 7000," with Howard Hawks behind the camera and James Caan behind the wheel. Each is priced at $39.95.
Auto racing movies were once a staple in Hollywood, and Paramount isn't the only studio that is looking for an excuse to get some mileage out of them today. The folks at CBS/Fox Video have gone back to their catalogue of unreleased films for a pair of video debuts: "Le Mans," Steve McQueen's 1971 big-screen recreation of the world's most popular racing competition; and "The Racers" (1955), featuring Kirk Douglas, Lee J. Cobb and Cesar Romero speeding around the great courses of Europe.
Those racing enthusiasts who were counting on a low-priced "Thunder" as an opportunity to add to their video collections won't have to leave the sales counter empty-handed. Media Home Entertainment has lined up "The Art of Speed" to cross the retail line one day before Tom Cruise. The 50-minute history of the sport, with special attention to the five-decade career of host, narrator and "stock car king" Richard Petty, is priced at $19.98.
Finally, and first to the fore, the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing will launch the NASCAR Video series of bimonthly video magazines next month. According to series distributor A*Vision, the diversified arm of Atlantic Records, the series will "bring the NASCAR lifestyle into the living room of stock car fans." It is interesting that NASCAR has joined forces not with Paramount -- which spent millions promoting the racing lifestyle to moviegoers last summer -- but with that studio's rival and former takeover target, Atlantic parent Time Warner. No matter how high the decibels and speeds, it seems, the corporate race remains the same.
Redgrave's 'Orpheus' Descended
Vanessa Redgrave's star turn in the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams's "Orpheus Descending" met with divided opinions among critics and theatergoers in New York last year. Next month VCR owners can decide for themselves when the film version of the production reaches video stores courtesy of Turner Home Entertainment ($79.95). Sir Peter Hall, who directed the show in both New York and London, adapted his production for the screen; the two-hour film, with the Broadway cast intact, aired on Turner Network Television this year.
Top of the Year
Hollywood has just unleashed its most competitive slate of big budget, year-end movies in years -- enough that industry analysts are concerned that the Christmas movie season may repeat the box office pattern of last summer, when a proliferation of bigger-than-big movies resulted in disappointing box office receipts all around. Maybe that's why next month's slate of new rental arrivals is so light -- the Hollywood honchos want to get us out of the video store and into the multiplex. Judging by the month's video highlights, they may get their way. Jan. 3: "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane." Jan. 9: "The Lemon Sisters," "Delta Force 2." Jan. 16: "Orpheus Descending." Jan. 17: "Young Guns II," "Mo' Better Blues." Jan. 23: "Hardware," "Criminal Justice." Jan. 31: "Die Hard 2," "Navy Seals."