Coming To A Toy Store Near You

And now a word about dinosaur lip balm. The "Jurassic Park" merchandising campaign has had all the subtlety of an ice age: more than 1,000 products fly the film's flag, and executives at Universal Pictures are predicting that retail sales will top the $1 billion generated worldwide by that now prehistoric hit "Batman." McDonald's brings us "dino size" fries. Nintendo weighs in with a "Jurassic Park" video game. Kenner offers a line of dinosaur toys. MCA/Universal's merchandising slogan is "If it's not 'Jurassic Park,' it's extinct," although a better one might be "If it's not 'Jurassic Park,' it's $15 cheaper." The dino line goes on. And on. Suddenly, Barney is an underdog. "A lot of people come down on me for turning my movies into a cottage industry," says Steven Spielberg, "but it's the American way."

Few are willing to bet against "Jurassic Park" and its toy army, despite the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Last Action Hero" will open on June 18, amid a merchandising blitz of its own, spearheaded by Burger King and Mattel. "Jurassic Park" is "like nothing I've seen before," says Bob Solomon, chairman of Dakin, Inc., which is now cranking out stuffed dinosaurs and dinosaur coffee mugs. "This logo is hot. I believe 'Jurassic Park' is going to have legs well beyond the summer." More than 100 licensees have signed on for "Jurassic Park." The biggest of them bought the right to the logo months before the movie even went into production, presumably because of Spielberg's reputation and the surprising star power of T-rex et al. All of the licensees will cough up roughly 10 percent in royalties. But, says Universal Pictures head Tom Pollock, "It's not really a matter of how much money the licensees are giving us. It's how much licensees like McDonald's are spending to advertise their promotion. Advertising for the U.S. will exceed $68 million."

There's not a shadow of a doubt that Spielberg's movie will dispose of America's disposable income, but there is the shadow of a shadow. "Jurassic Park," after all, is too violent for the merchandisers' target audience-those young enough to dip into the "Jurassic Park Golden Look-Look Story Book." There's a good deal of media commotion whenever a movie is stamped with an "NC-17" instead of an "R" but, where merchandising is concerned, the real ratings war is fought on the slim battlefield that separates "PG" and "PG-13." Consider the strange case of the Happy Meal. When "Batman Returns" spread its wings over the earth last year, McDonald's whipped up a promotional campaign involving Happy Meals for kids. The film was rated "PG-13," unfortunately. McDonald's was quickly set upon by watchdog parents who thought the burger-meisters were pushing an inappropriate movie down 10-year-old throats.

"Jurassic Park" carries a PG-13, and even Spielberg, who has four children 8 and younger, admits, "I'm not going to let my kids see it for a couple of years. I know 9-year-olds I could take to 'Jurassic Park' who would see it a in and kids are more vulnerable to things that go bump in the night." McDonald's is hedging its bets by forgoing special-edition Happy Meals and making its play for older customers. But, says one advertising executive, "There is a potential for an audience backlash. The danger lies in the assumption by parents that because McDonald's is doing the promotion it's OK to take your kids to see the movie."

Where merchandising is concerned, the movie "Jurassic Park" is full of itself-its logo pops up in more than a dozen scenes in the fictitious theme park, gracing everything from aprons to baseball caps. At times, such gonzo reflexiveness looks like an ironic comment on Hollywood's commercialism ("In a way," says Spielberg, "I was kicking myself in the butt"). But other times it looks like a home-shopping network. One studio executive claims the gift-shop sequence is a dig at saturation-style merchandising campaigns: "It's a joke. We're also making the point that you don't just put these things out and try to grab as much money as you can from people." You may buy that-and you may also buy the Jurassic Park Molded Dinosaur Bubble Bath Decanter-but there's no way around the fact that the dino line will be on shelves for some time. An animated TV series is being considered, as is a "Jurassic Park" water ride for the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando.

In the end, what's so wrong with making god-zillions on knickknacks? "There is a connotation of shame around the word 'merchandising'," says Spielberg. "It's not shameful. When I was a kid, the one thing I always wanted was a souvenir. I got it with the Davy Crockett movie in 1955, when I was 7 and they were selling coonskin hats in the lobby." How he lived without the Davy Crockett Light & Sound Backpack, we'll never know.