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Hollywood's 3-D Revolution Faces Pushback

| 14 Jan 2009 02:23
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With over 30 3-D films currently in production, movie theaters lag behind in adopting the technology while others repeat the mistakes of the past.

In August 2008, DreamWorks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg called the new breed of 3-D technology, "the greatest innovation to occur in the movie business in 70 years." Academy Award-winning director James Cameron waited a decade to begin production on his upcoming film, "Avatar," as technology caught up to his original vision, one of the pieces of which is the current crop of 3-D projectors. With some of the brightest minds in Hollywood backing the future of 3-D film making, why is there such a rotten feeling in the air?

Chances are good that if you read any news pertaining to last weeks Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas it had something to do with the return of 3-D viewing technology. Whether it's Panasonic trying to bring 3-D cinema into the home or Nvidia showing off a version of Guitar Hero that pops off the screen, the entertainment industry as a whole seems convinced that 2009 is the year 3-D returns with a vengeance, but it can't succeed in the home were it not to take off in the cinema.

The New York Times reports that currently, only about 1,300 of North America's roughly 40,000 movie screens support digital 3-D films and overseas, where films tend to generate 70 percent of their theatrical profits, only a few hundred are setup with the new equipment. With major releases typically opening on more than 4,000 screens nationwide, the math may not be there to support the new technology.

That is, of course, unless they place a premium on ticket prices for 3-D films, which is exactly what has already taken place as recent 3-D releases such as Disney's "Bolt" and "Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds" have run as high as $25 per person, which may not be a sustainable business practice in an economy where consumers are trying to stay at home and save where at all possible. The current economic climate has caused theater chains to hit the brakes on their upgrade plans, as four of the six major film studios had previously agreed to use $1 billion in debt financing to outfit upwards to 15,000 theaters with the new projectors. Unfortunately, their plans came together just as the credit market froze up.

It's not just studios like DreamWorks Animation being forced to debut their new release, "Monsters vs Aliens," on half the amount of screens its originally anticipated, but the public perception of 3-D films and the industry's apparent need to perpetuate the stereotypes. To your average movie goer, 3-D brings to mind cheesy cardboard glasses, second-rate flicks and the terrible migraine that ensues from inadvertently crossing your eyes for 90 minutes at a time. With the new breed of 3-D having evolved into a pain-free and largely dork-free experience thanks to seamless visuals and plastic glasses, the only deterrent now could be the films themselves. Opening this week, Liongate's "My Bloody Valentine 3-D" reeks of the same old, gimmicky film making, complete with obnoxious advertising as though the world has never changed and 3-D is still just about throwing objects directly in viewers faces.

Regardless of how the revolution plays out, there's no denying that the current crop of 3-D films from "Avatar" to Pixar's "Up" have the ability within them to turn the tide of public opinion. The real question is will both parties, consumers and proprietors, pony up the cash and resources to ensure that this time, 3-D isn't just another fad.

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