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VIDEO STORES GO OVERBOARD AS 'TITANIC' RAMS BUFFALO

Just when you thought that the national hysteria that has become "Leo Fever" might finally have subsided, we are forced to report otherwise.

Brace yourselves.

The publicity machine is running at a fever pitch, retail stocks have been filled to the brim and employee hours have been extended. At midnight on Aug. 31, "Titanic" -- the largest vehicle ever constructed to carry a single actor -- is being released on home video.

According to reports, more than 20 million videocassettes of the No. 1 theatrical movie of all time will be offered for sale on Sept. 1. The price in most places is expected to be just under $20.

And, according to a report in the New York Daily News, Paramount Home Video plans to spend $50 million to push the sale of the video, especially in TV and magazine ads.

Area video stores have been preparing for the expected hordes all summer, and have planned a variety of festivities to celebrate the event.

"Let me tell you, this has taken up my last two weeks, and it's going to take up every minute of my time until it comes out," said Kelly Payne, video manager of Media Play's Williamsville store. "It's unbelievable."

Blockbuster stores have been pre-selling the double-cassette "Titanic" -- offering to reserve copies for their customers -- for a little more than a month, according to Liz Greene, a company spokeswoman.

Ms. Greene said that company policy prevented her from revealing the number of people who had paid for a reserved copy.

"Response has been exceptional," Ms. Greene said. "Paramount has projected that this will surpass 'The Lion King.' "

That film, released by Disney in March, 1995, holds the current record for biggest seller of all time, with 27.5 million videos bought for home viewing.

The release of "Titanic" has come to resemble something of a carnival. Blockbuster Video, the nation's largest video rental chain, has extended its store hours through midnight on Aug. 31. They are also running a "Midnight Sale Sweepstakes," when customers will have the ironic opportunity to win a "luxury cruise anywhere in the world."

But Media Play may have Blockbuster beat in terms of sheer hype enormity.

They've been preselling copies of "Titanic" as well.

"We have about 750 names on the list, just at this location," said Ms. Payne of the list that was started on June 15. "People are just going nuts over this movie. They have to have it. People are getting two, three copies apiece -- they don't want to open one, and they'll watch the other."

According to Brian Wassinger, a sales associate for Media Play, the Williamsville store is scheduled to receive 1,000 copies of "Titanic," not including those already reserved.

"That's about 500 more than we get for most videos," he said.

Media Play's "Moonlight Madness" sale will last straight through the night, and will include door prizes as well as a sweepstakes featuring hundreds of prizes donated by area retailers, movie theaters and restaurants.

"We're going to be open all night for this," said Ms. Payne. "We aren't going to close until 10 p.m. on Sep. 1."

By all accounts, "Titanic" fans are primed and ready for the onslaught.

"I've seen 'Titanic' three times, I love that movie," said Mary Claire Lewis, a 15-year-old sophomore at Nardin Academy. She was, she said, definitely buying a copy. "I want to see it again. It's a classic."

Jennifer Bermel, a junior at Nardin, also planned to purchase the movie, but for a different reason. "I've seen it six times already," she said. "I'm probably not going to watch it again, I'm just going to buy it to have. For, like, my grandchildren."

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