Early DVD release of 'Alice in Wonderland' and potential savings don't hit home

Johnny DeppThe controversy over Disney's plan to release "Alice in Wonderland" on DVD a month early appears to be a tempest in a tea party for movie fans.

The experiment presents a chance for cinephiles to save big bucks by avoiding the cineplex, knowing that the wait would not be as long for store purchase and Netflix. That's the fear of theater owners, some of whom have threatened to boycott the film if Disney follows through.

But not one among the dozen or so movie fans interviewed by WalletPop in Brooklyn, N.Y., last week said they would be discouraged from seeing the 3-D adaptation at the theater.

"For some films it would not matter," said Vicki Eisen, a psychotherapist. "For a film this visual, I always want to see it on the big screen."

No mushroom will be needed to help "Alice" grow at the cinema. Tickets cost $11 in New York City and averaged $7.50 nationwide in 2009, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners. Let's not forget the $10 tub of popcorn either. "Alice in Wonderland," directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, opens March 5 and is expected to be the first blockbuster of the year.

Disney wouldn't be the first to reduce Hollywood's formula of four months to three months between a first run and DVD release. But the Mouse Factory could be perceived as a potential trend-setter. Disney insists "Alice" is an isolated case, but one doesn't need to fall down a rabbit hole to imagine that if the strategy were to boost lagging DVD sales, more would follow suit.

"It's still a fair amount of time," musician Adam Armstrong said of the Disney shift. "If you really want to see the film, you'll check it out."

Armstrong, whose family buys DVDs, added that if people like the film in theaters, they might be encouraged to purchase it when it's for sale. That's good news for both exhibitors and studios.

Perhaps in deference to that possibility, Warner Bros. and Netflix agreed last month to delay rentals for 28 days after a Warners' DVD is made available at retail outlets. Sales would be maximized, the studio reasoned, and Netflix would get a better rate. Other studios are considering the move.

Actress Ilana Levine said films with a "special-effects component" are more apt to draw her to the box office, no matter the gap between theater and home release, but the economics and convenience of watching at home are often a consideration.

Others, like Margarita Sanchez, a language professor, and Marina Babakoff, an artist, said watching a big film on DVD wouldn't be an option. Event movies such as "Alice" serve as special outings with their children, they said.

A more significant test for earlier DVD distribution will likely come when it involves a film driven solely by dramatic merit, not a wow factor. That's when more budget-minded film buffs might choose to cut to the chase at home.

Isak Tiner, a photographer, said he has an old TV, but if he can't make it to the theater, "My couch is comfortable and I make better popcorn."

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