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‘Dances’ Cassette Defects Still a Big Mystery

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There still seems to be a mystery as to why so many defective “Dances With Wolves” tapes turned up on the home-video market. “Lonesome Dove” cassettes--about the same length and manufactured by the same duplicating firm, Premiere--haven’t had the same problem.

The defective rate of Orion’s “Dances With Wolves,” the best-picture Oscar winner starring Kevin Costner, has been more than 5% so far. The industry standard is less than 1%.

The defect has surfaced mainly during the rewinding process. What sometimes happens, particularly when retailers use certain high-speed rewinders, is that the tape breaks, unwinds or detaches from the cassette spool.

“Dances With Wolves"--the biggest rental in home-video history with 655,000 copies on the market--is a three-hour movie that has been squeezed onto one cassette by using thinner tape and a smaller-than-usual spool. The general industry feeling is that this is the root cause of Orion’s problems.

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“The thin tape causes problems,” said Tower Video vice president John Thrasher. “It gets overheated during the high-speed rewinding process and stretches and snags. A lot of VCRs have dirty heads, which adds to the problem. Also, the sheer weight of the tape on one cassette keeps it from flowing smoothly through the machine.”

But Cabin Fever Entertainment’s six-hour “Lonesome Dove” is in a nearly identical situation--except there are two three-hour tapes. Jeff Lowenda, executive vice president of Cabin Fever Entertainment, said that his company has had no unusual defect problems.

More than 100,000 “Dove” sets are on the market, both in two three-hour packages geared to the rental market and a $100 four-cassette collection aimed at buyers.

Paul Wagner, Orion’s vice president of public affairs, said, “Maybe the problem with the ‘Dances With Wolves’ tapes--which now seems to be under control--is simply that some bad batches of tapes came out of the duplicating plant.”

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Orion has been criticized for taking the cheap way out. Using two cassettes for movies over 2 1/2 hours long is safer but more expensive, due to the cost of the extra cassette and a larger package. It’s also a headache for retailers, because the sets take up more shelf space.

Other companies are not taking chances. Andrew Kairey, MCA/Universal’s vice president of marketing, said that his company has decided to release the three-hour, 16-minute restored version of “Spartacus” on Nov. 7 on two cassettes. Paramount made a similar decision for its 170-minute “The Godfather Part III,” which is due Oct. 10.


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