Today is the street date for the Blu-ray release of The Last Unicorn, the 1982 Rankin/Bass-ITC Entertainment animated film version of Peter S. Beagle’s classic 1968 fantasy novel, for which Beagle also wrote the screenplay. After a poor-quality DVD release in 2004, which came from inadequate masters and was presented pan & scan, Lionsgate Entertainment released an excellent two-disc DVD in 2007 as a 25th Anniversary Edition. Now that version is making the leap to 1080 lines of resolution for the new generation of Hi-Def presentation.
But, if you plan on purchasing either the new Blu-ray disc (which includes a DVD copy) or the still available two-disc DVD, please buy them through Conlan Press, the company owned by Connor Cochran, Peter Beagle’s business manager.
Why? As Conlan Press explains on the page for the 25th Anniversary DVD:
Except for the copies that were purchased through Conlan Press via this website, or at Peter’s sales table at various conventions, none of the other Last Unicorn DVDs have ever paid him a cent. That’s right — at least 1.5 million DVDs have been sold around the world since 1999, and only the 4,000 copies sold here have earned him any money. From all the rest, Peter has gotten absolutely nothing.
The reason for this situation is a long legal tangle between Beagle and Granada International, the British company that currently owns the rights to The Last Unicorn, over non-payment of royalties from the movie and its ancillaries. A vocal outcry from fans across the world pushed Granada International into talks with Beagle and Conlan Press to resolve the situation. However, like many legal snares in the entertainment world, the progress is slow. Conlan Press reported in 2008:
There is a possible solution on the table, but it isn’t an easy one to pull together. In fact, it is really, really difficult, as witness the fact that we’ve spent more than a year on it so far without making any clear headway. And we can’t talk about it publicly without jeopardizing any hope of progress. So please be patient with us — we’ll post the news (either pro or con) just as soon as there is something definite.
But for the time being, there is a way for Mr. Beagle to receive compensation from some of the sales of The Last Unicorn on home video. Lionsgate Entertainment allowed Conlan Press in 2007 to sell copies of the DVD through their website, with over half the money from each sale going to Peter S. Beagle. As of mid-2009, over 4,000 copies of the DVD have sold through Conlan Press. A nice number . . . but only a fraction of the 800,000 sold through other outlets in the same time period.
When I heard about the upcoming release of The Last Unicorn on Blu-ray, I wrote to Conlan to ask if they would also sell the new format with the same benefit to the author. I received a response that they would, and it is already available for order on the website—although they don’t have their copies as of yet.
The Last Unicorn is one of my favorite fantasy novels, and the movie version looms large from my childhood. I haven’t owned any of the previous home video versions, so I am thrilled to get the chance to see it presented in the Blu-ray format and support Mr. Beagle at the same time.