'Wolves' Keeps Dancing in Latest Incarnations

When the home-video version of "Dances With Wolves" arrived at the rental counters this month almost 10 months after its charge into movie houses, it proved again the truth in a line from another Kevin Costner movie:

"If you build it, he will come."

He will come and so will she. And they will buy. And they will rent. And they will buy again, and rent again.

Those bullish thoughts are not often expressed these days in a Hollywood gloomy with summer box-office disappointments and economic SOS messages.

But "Dances" is the kind of box-office movie that causes Hollywood's hit men to get watery-eyed.

The last dance is yet to be seen, however. The 3-hour, 1-minute home-video version, which this week moved into fourth place on the video rental chart, is only the most recent incarnation of the Academy Award-winning film. And this week it was announced that two laser versions will come out in November.

The 20th Century may end before the last version of this movie is shown.

A generation of Americans will be named John Dunbar or Stands With a Fist before the last "Dances" leaves us.

Once there was one certain reward when it came to Academy Award-winning films. They became momentarily more valuable after the award ceremonies, at least in box-office ticket sales. Earlier this year, Entertainment Data Inc., a company that tracks ticket sales, found that best-picture Oscar winners over a recent eight-year stretch made an extra $30 million after the awards.

"Dances With Wolves" is a new precedent: Win an Academy Award, set off a chain reaction at the cash registers of the world. Not only will the winner do well at home, it would likely do better overseas and then will reap further rewards with all of the secondary markets--from cable to laser discs.

We get an idea of how this works by considering a study of Academy Award winners recently done by the valuation group at the Los Angeles accounting firm of Deloitte and Touche.

Senior consultant Becky Bertrand and senior manager Steve Wagner assessed what would happen to "Dances" once it got into the video stores.

Their conclusion: 91.9% of all American households with video recorders might be expected to put "Dances" on their small screens in the next year. That was based on the assumption that everyone who rented returned the tape the next day, and that there would be no defective tapes that had to be replaced. (In practice, a number of dealers have reported tape breaks because new, thinner tapes were required to record the longish video version. In most cases, those tapes were replaced; Orion had anticipated the possibility of some technical problems.)

The Deloitte and Touche study is based on other givens:

* That 655,000 videos were shipped to stores by Orion, exceeding the previous record of 640,000 by last year's "Ghost." According to the study, 400,000 videos over the last three years were shipped for each movie that did $100 million at the box office.

* That the videocassette of "Dances," priced from $90 to $100, would first exploit the rental market.

But most revealing in the Deloitte and Touche study is the matter of turns. Videos turn from renter to renter. Each time a tape is taken out and returned the following day, that's one turn. Each "Dances" is expected to turn 20 times a month for the first four months. That would be 10 times the monthly turn rate of the average rental video. Each "Dances" will be out on rental two-thirds of every month during these first four months.

And "Dances With Wolves" is still playing on at least 172 screens in America, according to Orion. To date, the movie has rung up $184 million in ticket sales. And overseas the movie has done even better, bringing in, so far, $240 million.

About the only place it hasn't sold is in the Soviet Union, where moviegoing currently isn't a high priority. "We'll wait until after the revolution," says Jim Wilson, co-producer of the movie.

While he's waiting, Wilson is acting like a traffic cop at Tig Productions on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank. He's trying to control all signals so that the various other "Dances" don't bump into each other. Once the current video version runs its course sometime next year--possibly--it will head toward Showtime cable's pay-per-view, then on to regular pay cable.

Meanwhile, Wilson is planning to work with Costner on a four-hour director's-cut version, incorporating material left behind when the movie was edited. Wilson would like to see the four-hour version go into theatrical release eventually as an "event" movie.

He also anticipates a four-hour letter-box laser disc edition that would include the previously shown video of "The Making of 'Dances With Wolves,' " with two musical videos based on the soundtrack.

And eventually there will be a "Dances" on network television, possibly the four-hour version presented as a five-hour miniseries.

By the time "Wolves" runs its course through the video stores, pay-per-view, cable, laser discs and television, most likely some new technology will come along to extend its life further.

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