WHV slims down classics lineup

'Essential' titles go from big sets to lean, mean series

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 "GWTW," "Casablanca" and "Doctor Zhivago." "Classic Dramas" consists of "The Maltese Falcon," "Citizen Kane" and "Ben-Hur." "Oz," "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" and "The 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 "GWTW" and "Ben-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."

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.

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