April 20, 1987 12:00 PM

No videotape, of course, can capture the ambiance of a three-ring circus, with its barely controlled frenzy and constantly swirling colors. This 110-minute tape does a good job, however, of providing close-up views of the main performers. Few people in an arena, for instance, would be likely to see the alert flash in the eyes of animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams when at the extreme range of his peripheral vision he sees one of his tigers make an unexpected move. Gebel-Williams is the star of the circus as he is of the tape, which was shot in 1986 at performances in the Richfield (Ohio) Arena. In addition to Gebel-Williams’ tigers, elephants and horses, there are clowns, motorcycle riders (inside a steel globe), acrobats and a ceiling full of aerial acts. The youthful ringmaster, Kristopher Antekeier, holds things together in nobly stentorian fashion, even managing to keep a straight face while introducing the Posso Brothers, a high wire act, as those “pyramiding paradigms of the silver strand.” It’s too bad that the tape was made when the circus was featuring its “unicorn,” which turned out to be a goat with an artificially implanted horn. For one thing, the creature didn’t even look like the classic image of a unicorn. For another, the whole business lends an air of fraud to the circus, which in most other ways really provides the thrills and laughs it promises. (The circus dropped the “unicorn” from its current edition.) The animal also figures in the flimsy plot line, apparently used because someone decided, wrongly, that the acts themselves needed help to keep things moving. The plot features two youngsters at the circus with their uncle, roaming around looking for the “unicorn” they’ve seen advertised. As the children, Ricky Braun, then 11, and his sister Neecha, 9, are competent little actors. (They’re the children of dog trainer/clown Eric Braun, but they wander around backstage without purpose.) The actual circus sequences are first-rate, tightly shot and edited under Don Spielvogel, who gets producer credit for the tape. Watching it won’t substitute for a visit to the circus, whether it’s the mammoth Ringling Brothers version or a smaller production. This would be a good way, though, of offering a preview to a small child about to see his first in-person circus, or giving a souvenir to someone who has already been there. (IVE, $89.95)

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