Thursday, March 29, 2007

Jeffrey loves 3-D

Jeffrey Katzenberg, that is (no one asked my opinion ...)

In a front-page Hollywood Reporter article (that, rather bizarrely, doesn't mention Meet The Robinsons), Katzenberg touted the potential of the 3-D format to boost theatrical revenues.

He said that moviegoers will gladly pay up to a 50% premium to watch 3-D films in a theater and that such a scenario will make the debate over collapsing distribution windows largely irrelevant. He noted that the exhibition industry hasn't used variable pricing strategies to boost its fortunes nearly to the extent that other industries have.

And one more added benefit[, he said]: 3-D movies can't be easily pirated.

[According to Katzenberg,] Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson are embracing 3-D, and George Lucas is giving "Star Wars" the 3-D treatment.

"Once the alphas start to move, the herd gets restless and others start to follow," Katzenberg said.

Katzenberg opined that Casino Royale and The Departed would have done better in 3-D. He suggested that re-releases of 3-D versions of The Godfather, The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia would be profitable. He also said Disney/Pixar is planning Toy Story 3 in 3-D, although a Disney rep refused to confirm.

Film history buffs will remind us, of course, that 3-D movies are nothing new: William Friese-Greene patented a 3-D movie process in the 1890s. In the 1950s, of course, Hollywood saw a phenomenon with many parallels to today, as Hollywood studios, faced with declining revenues due to television, touted the stereoscopic 3-D process as the savior of the theatrical feature.

At first, the so-called "stereoscopic" 3-D format was tested on B movies such as Bwana Devil and Three Stooges shorts. But by 1953 several studios were releasing big movies in 3-D such as The French Line starring Jane Russell (left) , with the tag line "It'll knock both of your eyes out!". Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder and the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate came out in 3-D.

The process was crude -- two prints had to be shown from separate projectors in perfect synchronization, and if one print was damaged the other had to be mangled in exactly the same way or both were useless. Eventually, exhibitors saw more potential in Cinerama to wow moviegoers back into theaters.

The fad faded away as fast as it had come in, and the last 3-D feature of the stereoscopic age was released in February 1955. Attempts to revive the process continued through the 1960s and 1970s, mostly in B movies and soft-core porn.

Recently, of course, we have seen Polar Express and Chicken Little in limited-release 3-D format. And tomorrow ... well, tomorrow, Meet The Robinsons will be showing in 3-D in over 600 theaters.

Is Jeffrey right? Will we see a resurgence of theatrical features due to the improved technology? Or will the prints of these movies end up in revival-house festivals alongside Cat Women Of The Moon, Flesh For Frankenstein and The Stewardesses?

Time will tell.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Instead of sqweezing the people around for a buck more,perhaps they should just try to deliver better movies.
I would rather watch a better story at lower fidelity.

MrFun said...

If you want audiences to fill the seats, what does any producer have to do? The answer is obvious. Make great movies.

I remember when this ship sailed back in the fifties. Heck, even Disney took a few shots at releasing their cartoons in 3-D. Digital 3-D is just another spin on an old idea. Its chance of success is no better than what Hollywood experienced back in the fifties.

Gimmicks come and go. Guys! Guys! Guys! Make good movies!

Anonymous said...

The biggest question you have to ask about new technology like this is "Does it help tell the story better or tell better stories?"

To me the answer is obviously no, but I suppose others have differing opinions.

When all of the studios started releasing different wide screen formats in the 50's I think it did improve the movie and story telling experience (maybe not Cinerama). But gimmicks like Stereoscopic 3D and even IMAX are more of a distraction from the story than a tool to improve story telling for me.

But I guess if you look at the top ten box office leaders on any given week, it seems like good story telling isn't always a dominating factor for box office success.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I hear about something like this, I always wonder if the guy saying it (in this case JK) really believes it. If they do, well... If they don't, it says a lot about how they view their audience's level of intelligence.

David Germain said...

There was also one Bugs Bunny cartoon produced in 3-D, Lumber Jack Rabbit (by Chuck Jones c. 1954) which almost killed the WB animation studio. Because the 3-D process was quite expensive Jack Warner thought he could save money by shutting down the animation department. Thankfully, a few months down the road when the 3-D fad fizzled, Jack reopened the studio with a somewhat reduced staff.

But, anyway, it seems that ol' Jeffrey is more easily dazzled by shiny special effects than he is in a good story. How he managed to win that Tex Avery Award a few years ago is beyond me.

Jeff Massie said...

The union rep in me wants Jeffrey K. to be right, and 3-D to be a smash success that puts tushes in seats at theaters. Tushes in seats at theaters = tushes in seats at studios.

The film buff in me wants to see Jeffrey's cut of Lawrence In Arabia In 3-D end up on a double bill with Ted Turner's colorized Citizen Kane at the Film Festival From Hell.

Anonymous said...

gimmick or not, it is creating income and studios follow the dollar. Additionally, if this is a way to temporarily battle the intrusion of better home theater experiences, then that is just icing on the cake.

Anonymous said...

Ha.. the last 3D movie I saw in a theater was "Andy Warhol's Frankenstein" back in the mid 1970s I think. Now that was a movie experience. I took a date to that movie, she never spoke to me again.

MrFun said...

I still remember Arch Obler's "Bwana Devil" back in the fifties.

Back then it was called 3-D. Now, it's called Digital 3-D. (yawn)

We need less technology and better writers. The recent "Star Wars" trilogy made that painfully clear.

Anonymous said...

What a bunch of sour persimmons this crowd is. Animation is a visual medium. It's there to dazzle the eye... if you disagree, you might be a budding novelist.

Or maybe you prefer old-time radio dramas. Far more amazing things can be done with old-time radio and the theatre of the mind than can ever be done with animation. I mean, if it's story story story all the time 24/365 why do animation at all... isn't it just a gimmick? A fad? A shiny special effect distracting people from the story shortcomings endemic to the form?

Now to me, 3D is dazzling, and works really well in a visual medium... animation is tailor-made for 3D... it's so much better than live action in 3D.

But maybe you don't personally care for 3D. That's cool. We all like different things.

But to me, 3D is another tool in the artist's pallette. Like color, texture, stereophonic surround and sensurround sound, computer graphics, watercolor, plasticine.... whatever. It's all just different tools to an artist. Use it, or don't use it.

But you sourpusses are sitting here complaining about someone else's use of the tool.

"Harrumph... it'll never work... harummmph."

Anonymous said...

Gimmicks , sigh . Mr Katzenberg loves 2D , he loves CG , he loves Nik Parks , he loves Aardman , he loves 3D , he loves puppetry, he loves you , he loves me, he loved Elton , he reads the Illusion of Life over and over ......... look, this guy , he loves anything that makes moneyok ? GIVE IT A REST FOLKS !

Is it me or could most of us care less ?

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