Warner marks 85

Studio celebrates with docu, new DVD bows, reissues

The Warner Bros. studio celebrates its 85th birthday this year with a major home entertainment catalog campaign that will be highlighted by the DVD debuts of more than 50 restored films and the release of a new five-hour documentary about the studio narrated by Clint Eastwood.

The yearlong campaign begins this quarter with Warner Home Video's release of two collections: one of Oscar winners and one of gangster films. The gangster-film slate includes an Ultimate Collector's Edition of "Bonnie and Clyde," a branded marquee positioned as the Cadillac of Warner special editions. It's due March 25.

In subsequent quarters, Warner will release seven more themed collections. Coming in the second quarter are Frank Sinatra and "Dirty Harry" packages. The third quarter will find the studio releasing sets of superhero films and musicals, along with a Westerns set including a special edition of "How the West Was Won." In the fourth quarter, Warner will release horror and holiday collections, including an Ultimate Collector's Edition of "A Christmas Story."

Many of these films also will be issued on Blu-ray Disc, including "Bonnie and Clyde," which will be packaged as a hardcover book with pages of behind-the-scenes stories and photos.

Warner Home Video is partnering with two big retailers on the promotion: Best Buy and Amazon.com.

The impetus for the campaign: "You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story," a new docu produced, written and directed by award-winning filmmaker and Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel. The docu will be broadcast nationally as a three-part PBS special in September, in partnership with PBS' "American Masters" series. It will be issued on DVD that month as well, along with a 550-page companion book written by Schickel and fellow film critic George Perry.

"Our studio history is something we take very seriously," said George Feltenstein, Warner's senior vp classic catalog marketing. At a gala launch event Tuesday on the Warner Bros. studio lot, "Bonnie and Clyde" star Warren Beatty called Feltenstein "a force of nature" for his dedication to classic cinema.

"He knows everything about every movie ever made," Beatty said.

The DVD and Blu-ray releases represent "an incredibly important and crucial kickoff to the studio's 85th anniversary," said Ron Sanders, worldwide president of Warner Home Video. "This studio has such a rich history of quality."

Sanders said that while the catalog campaign clearly is a commercial undertaking, "the dirty little secret is that it's also the chance for several opportunities -- film restoration we probably couldn't afford otherwise and (the chance to) to reintroduce great classics to a new generation of filmgoers."

Beatty, in an impromptu speech, agreed. "What I'm really interested in is film preservation and restoration -- although I don't mind making a little money, as well," he said. Referring to his involvement with the Ultimate Collector's Edition of "Bonnie and Clyde," he added, "I've been giving the DVD people here a terrible time."

Beatty praised Feltenstein for his long career in bringing vintage films back to life on videocassette and later DVD, and he talked up the DVD format in general as a great way to preserve Hollywood's legacy in an easy-to-obtain and affordable fashion. "When I think back to what I had to do to get two 16mm prints (back in the 1960s)," he said. "It took me 2 1/2 weeks."

Of the 6,800 films in Warner's library, about 1,400 are now available on DVD. Among the films being restored and readied for DVD debuts this year are "All This, and Heaven Too," "Brother Orchid," "Deception," "Gold Diggers of 1937," "Kid Galahad," "Lady Killer," "San Antonio," "Thank Your Lucky Stars" and "Watch on the Rhine."

Several other notable films already released on DVD will be spruced up as special editions or Ultimate Collector's Editions, including "GoodFellas," "Heat," "Dirty Harry," "How the West Was Won" and the revamped "Bonnie and Clyde," which was part of WHV's inaugural DVD release slate in March 1997.

Warner also said that four films are going on moratorium this year, with DVD and Blu-ray relaunches planned for 2009: "Woodstock," "Gone With the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz" and "North by Northwest."