Thursday, April 26, 2007

A 3-D Glut?

Meet the Robinsons is cleaning up at the neighborhood Imax, Jeffrey Katzenberg is going to make all of DreamWorks future animated films in eye-popping 3-D, James Cameron is going to spend gazillions of dollars on his movies -- all done in 3-D.

Which seems to be leading to a multi-vehicle pileup of triple dimensioned entertainment:

Both 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. have chosen [Memorial Day 2009] to release what each hopes will be its first 3-D blockbuster. DreamWorks' "Monsters vs. Aliens" will be up against a potentially scarier creature: "Avatar," a science-fiction thriller from James Cameron, the director of Hollywood's biggest blockbuster, "Titanic."

The nation's largest exhibitors, however, say they won't have room for both. As many as 5,000 screens are expected to be equipped to show 3-D movies by 2009, up from 700 today. But DreamWorks and Fox each want all of them. DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, who has been campaigning to get theater operators to accelerate the conversion to 3-D, has told people that he needs 6,000 screens for "Monsters vs. Aliens."

In late 1952, Bwana Devil, an independent feature filmed through dual lenses in the Santa Monica mountains, initiated the three-dee craze of the 'fifties. It was quickly followed by House of Wax, Charge at Feather River, Creature From the Black Lagoon and a host of others.

The craze died out by late 1954, the victim of falling box office and Cinemascope (the 20th-Century Fox widescreen format). By that time, although big-budget pictures were getting the 3-D treatment, a number of them -- such as John Wayne's Hondo and Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder* (illustrated above) were mainly released as traditional, 2-D features.

And here we are, almost six decades later, with the craze taking root all over again: a new spate of 3-D films and a rapidly expanding array of theatres in which to show them. Will it be different this time? Probably depends on the quality (and type) of film. Three dimensions certainly helped Polar Express, but did little to salvage The Aunt Bully (although many of Bully's 3-D screens did okay business.) Meet the Robinsons has -- to date -- a $115 million worldwide gross. 3-D has helped it, but hasn't turned it into a Titanic-sized success.

If Wall Street is any indicator, 3-D features are going to be a more permanent part of the entertainment landscape than they were in the early 1950s. I'm just not sure it's going to be sure-fire steroid for box office weaklings.

*Two decades ago I saw Dial M in glorious 3-D. Unlike the garish House of Wax, which hurt my eyeballs with balloons falling in the foreground and objects and hands lurching out at you, Hitchcock's approach was subtle, subdued...and effective.


Mark Mayerson said...

Two things. First, I think you mean The Ant Bully, not Aunt, though the latter would probably make an interesting film.

Second, one of the weird things about Dial M for Murder is that Hitchcock continued to use back projection. In a 3D film, it was even more obvious than in a flat film and was very distracting.

Steve Hulett said...

Aunt Bully? What am I using for brains?

Yours in typographical errors (and Freudian slips...)

Steve R. Hewlett

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