Music Video Makers Bet on ‘Moonwalker’

Times Staff Writer

When Vestron’s “The Making of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ ” sold more than 500,000 units in the mid ‘80s--when the home-video industry was starting to boom--video companies started jumping on the music video bandwagon.

But the long-form music video--primarily just a compilation of the kind of promo clips made famous by MTV--never caught on. Now music videos are just a tiny segment of the home-video industry, which is dominated by major-movie rentals.

However, the long-form music video seems poised for another breakthrough.

The leader of the new wave? Jackson again.


His 94-minute “Moonwalker” (CBS Music Video Enterprises, $24.98)--an eclectic anthology of related musical segments--is due out Tuesday. It could help revive interest in the long-form music-video. “Moonwalker,” featuring songs from his “Bad” album, some new music and a version of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” was released as a movie last fall in many foreign countries.

There have been some music-video hits in the home-video market recently, such as Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet: the Video” (190,000 units) and Def Leppard’s “Historia” (170,000 units). But “Moonwalker” is in a different league.

CBS will ship 300,000 copies to retailers and distributors. That’s about the size of the initial shipment of rental copies of the latest hit movie.

The winter music-video boom will continue with Bruce Springsteen’s long-awaited long-form video debut on Jan. 31--"Bruce Springsteen Video Anthology/1978-88" (CBS Music Video, $24.95). It’s expected to sell well, even though it’s not loaded with the new footage fans expected. All of the 18 clips--including some concert performances--have been previously shown, though three haven’t been seen in the United States.

That’s not all. Though there has been no official announcement yet, it’s an open secret in the home-video industry that Paramount will put out U2’s concert film, “Rattle and Hum,” next month, reportedly at a price in the $20-$30 range.

These music titles figure to be big sellers in chain stores, such as Tower, Music Plus and Wherehouse, that market videos as well as records, tapes and CDs. Referring to “Moonwalker,” Music Plus executive Mitch Perliss predicted: “It will sell big in stores like ours. But it won’t do as well in the video specialty stores, because they deal mainly in movie rentals.”

According to Perliss, the audience for “Moonwalker” will be mostly kids and teens. “Some kids will watch it over and over, like their favorite kid-vid tape,” he said. “But people 20 and over won’t be embarrassed to watch it either.”

The “Moonwalker” shipment would have been considerably larger if it had been released in time for the Christmas shopping season. That was the plan, said CBS Video vice president Deborah Newman, but it was foiled by Jackson’s meticulousness:

“He was making changes in it up to the last minute. They were minor changes, but we couldn’t put it out until he was completely satisfied with it.”

To capture some of the Christmas business, CBS launched a “Moonwalker” gift certificate campaign. But apparently that didn’t do so well.

“Many stores didn’t want to be bothered with gift certificates,” Newman said. “They were too busy dealing with the heavy holiday traffic. Selling a gift certificate was just a nuisance to them.”

Co-producer Dennis Jones had trouble explaining what “Moonwalker” is. He made it sound like a cinematic hodge-podge, bounding from a retrospective of Jackson hits to the movie-like “Smooth Criminal” segment--presenting Jackson as a crime-fighting hero--to a new version of the “Bad” video to a claymation (animated clay figures) sequence.

Though it doesn’t conform to any standard video or movie form, foreign fans seem to like “Moonwalker.” According to movie trade journals, it’s attracting respectable crowds around the globe.

But the word in home-video circles is that it wasn’t released as a movie in this country because distributors didn’t think American audiences would pay to see such an avant-garde effort--even if it did star Michael Jackson.

Jones, though, dismissed that as gossip.

“Michael couldn’t get the kind of distribution deal he wanted within a certain time frame,” Jones explained. “When he couldn’t get an adequate distribution deal within this period of time he decided on video.”