Warner Home Vid playing the 'Essential Classics'

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Now that many of its most celebrated movies have been released as lavish multidisc collector's editions, Warner Home Video is going the minimalist route and reissuing such classics as "Gone With the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Ben Hur" in slim packs as part of its new "The Essential Classics Collections" line.

Five DVD collections will be released April 24 as the first wave in the new line, the studio said this week. Included are some of the most acclaimed movies in Hollywood history. The "Classic Romances" set includes "Wind," "Casablanca" and "Doctor Zhivago." "Classic Dramas" consists of "The Maltese Falcon," "Citizen Kane" and "Hur." "Oz," "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" and "Goonies" are in the "Classic Family Films" collection. "Classic Musicals" features "My Fair Lady," "Singin' in the Rain" and "Gigi," and "Classic American Musicals" has "The Music Man," "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."

Nearly all of these films have been released in pricey, multidisc configurations. The most recent DVD incarnations of "Wind" and "Hur," for example, were four-disc collector's editions retailing for $39.98, nearly $10 more than the $30.97 suggested list price of each "Essential Classics Collection." "Oz" last came to DVD as a three-disc collector's set priced at $49.98.

"We have our grandiose collector's editions out there, and that's a business that continues to thrive, but those are for collectors," said George Feltenstein, senior vp theatrical catalog marketing at Warner Home Video. "These are for people who might not know anything about classic movies, who might want to build their own home libraries of classic movies but don't know where to start."

And because so many of these films already have been restored and remastered for their collector's edition DVD release, the process is relatively simple, Feltenstein said.

"We already happen to have these stunning transfers and new commentaries, so it's easy to offer these neatly packaged and reasonably priced collections with scaled-down versions of the Rolls Royce editions that are already out there," he said.

Feltenstein envisions more themed "Essential Classics Collections" in the future, though no films have been selected beyond the first wave. "We're just going to continue to mine the library," he said. "Our goal is an ongoing series of releases that will serve as a beautiful primer to becoming a die-hard DVD collector."

Warner isn't the only studio to bundle classics previously available only as individual special editions. On Tuesday, Paramount Home Entertainment will release a "Best Picture Collection" of Academy Award winners the studio has produced during the past three decades, consisting of "The Godfather," "Titanic," "Braveheart," "Terms of Endearment," "Forrest Gump," "American Beauty" and "Gladiator." Each film also comes in a slim pack; the collection retails for $69.98.
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