Oct 17, 2011

Now in 3D!!!

A couple weeks ago, we all went to see Lion King 3D during its "Not As Limited As We First Thought Engagement."  My wife and I were huge fans of the original.  I remember seeing it in the theater when it first came out.  I was home from college during the summer of after my sophomore year.  It was maybe the only movie I ever saw with both of my parents in the theater.  I loved it.  My mom wasn't that big of a fan of it.  I don't remember what my dad thought.  I bought the soundtrack and had the movie on VHS when it came out.  I had hoped my kids would like it too.  We have the DVD and they've watched it before.  But the chance to see it on the BIG SCREEN - and in 3D!!!  Plus we had some Disney movie vouchers and ten bucks on my AMC Stubs card.

My wife and I were taken in all over again.  The movie is so majestic and incredible.  The score and soundtrack and phenomenal.  And the story is very powerful - with elements of Star Wars and Macbeth woven throughout.  It was beautiful in 3D.  But it reminded me of those old Viewmaster discs that made a "three dimensional" picture that looked suspiciously like a pop up book.  It worked better than some newer 3D movies, though.  It didn't resort to cheap tricks like things flying at the screen.  But it didn't take me in like I was hoping.  It probably was because the film was a 2D classical animation, and you just can't make that completely 3D.  The other reason is because Lion King was about the closest thing to a 3D movie as you could get without it really being one in the first place.  The attention to detail and the depth of the original film was already engrossing.  Scenes like the animals coming to see the newborn Simba, with Zazu flying overhead was already powerful.  In 3D it was even cooler.  But I didn't walk away saying that it improved the movie that much.  I would have enjoyed seeing the original on the big screen anyway, so the 3D was kind of icing.

[Side Note: Josiah loved the movie.  Natalie didn't like it because it was too dark and violent.  Gabe didn't care for it at all and spent most of the movie crawling all over us and playing on Heather's phone.  I had forgotten just how dark the movie was.  That's probably the reason I liked it so much.  Of course, I was 20 the first time I saw it.  Soooooo....]

It made me think about 3D movies in general.  Lion King 3D was a runaway success.  It took in 90 million dollars during its brief run.  New movies would kill for that kind of box office.  This was a movie that had been out for sixteen years and was coming on Blu-ray three weeks later.  Disney spent about $10 million on the 3D transfer and maybe another $10 million on promotion.  So a $70 million profit isn't a back month for the Mouse.  That doesn't count the increased sales of the Blu-Ray packs that came from the new generation of fans from the re-re-release.  (It had previously been re-released on IMAX in 2002 and took in $15 million there.)

We have been inundated with 3D movies.  The reason why is obvious.  It's all about the green.  The average movie can be transferred to 3D for between $2 million and $5 million.  Movie theaters charge an extra $4 per 3D ticket.  So that means that a movie can generate an extra $20-$50 million from that small investment.  The problem is that most of these 3D titles aren't delivering on the added cost.  So we are seeing the box office of 3D movies dropping.  Movies that were expecting boffo 3D money are underperforming pretty consistently.  Many in the industry have wondered if it is the death knell for 3D movies.  I don't think it is.  Have you ever known Hollywood to leave money on the table?  Even an underperforming 3D movie (think Harry Potter 7.2, Pirates 4, Green Lantern, Green Hornet) can pull in an extra $20 million from that small transfer.  Would YOU give up $20 million?  Yeah, neither would the movie studio.  [Another Side Note:  I'm not saying Harry Potter 7.2 underperformed.  $1 billion worldwide box office is NOT underperforming.  Its 3D numbers were disappointing to Warner Brothers.]

From what I've seen, there are three types of 3D movies coming out right now:  the 3D Film as Investment, the 3D Film as Experience, and the 3D Film as Event.  To me, the breakdown is probably about 70/20/10 for those three categories.  And that is probably why we are seeing such a backlash against 3D movies in general.

The 3D Film as Investment is the movie where the studio executive is saying, "You know, we could do a 3D transfer on this movie and make an extra $30 million.  We're already going to make a lot.  Let's make more and improve the movie's bottom line.  Maybe I can buy another BMW."  These are movies like Captain America, Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans, Harry Potter, Despicable Me, Gnomeo and Juliet.  The movie doesn't really get any better through being in 3D.  It may have a few extra moments that feel cool.  There are some 3D gimmicks thrown in.  But your feeling for the movie isn't going to improve much wearing those glasses.  In fact, it may actually HURT the movie.  Take Captain America.  I saw this movie twice this summer - once in traditional format and once in 3D.  And I saw them in that order.  I loved the movie.  It really exceeded my expectations.  I liked the performances, the characters, even the look.  The 1940s scenes had an old time hue to them.  It almost had a washed, sepia tint that you didn't even notice until the 2011 scenes.  The whole movie looked different.  It was a nice visual element.  In 3D, though, I kept noticing the annoying stuff.  When Cap was racing on top of a train, it looked like an action figure on a toy train.  It made all the FX look faker.  It actually made the film LESS believable.  I probably would have not had such a high opinion of the film if I had seen it in reverse order - 3D first and 2D second.  Actually, I may not have seen it twice at all.  If that had been the case, the theater really messed up their accounting.  Getting two tickets is better than getting an extra $4 on one ticket.

Generally, I avoid this type of 3D film.  It's not worth it.  It takes your brain and eyes a while to buy into the 3D format in the first place.  Some elements don't work and seem clunky.  And the gimmicks are just insulting.  I usually will just see the 2D version of this movie.  I saw movies like Thor, Harry Potter, Toy Story 3, and Cars 2 in traditional format.  It just wasn't worth the extra money - especially when you are talking about that surcharge on every ticket (between two and five, depending on who in our family went).  I usually can tell what stuff they stuck into a movie to make it "worth the 3D upcharge."  In Harry Potter 7.1, I sat there and pointed out seven different scenes to Heather that were filmed for the 3D transfer that they ended up not doing.  I did the same thing with Thor.  I don't find that endearing.  I find that insulting.  Make a good movie.  That will suck me in.  I don't need gimmicks.

The 3D Film as Experience is a movie where your experience is actually improved by the 3D format.  You know, the kind of movie that this was developed for - the kind that they should limit 3D movies to.  Usually, this kind of movie is not transferred to 3D; it is actually filmed in 3D.  (Although that is not always the case.  For example, there was no way to salvage Pirates 4, even though it was shot in 3D.)  Movies in this class are films like Avatar.  The movie was made in 3D and was designed to be experienced in 3D.  I would argue Tron: Legacy would fall into this category.  I actually really liked that movie.  The scenes in the "real world" were shot in traditional 2D.  When they went into the computer world, it became 3D.  And it BECAME 3D.  It sucked you in and you were IN that world.  The movie was better that way.  These movies are hard to come by.  Truthfully, documentaries seem to do this better.  I will be more willing to see this type of film than the first type.  The new Amazing Spiderman 3D looks like it will fit into this category.  It is being filmed and created in 3D.  One of the goals of the filmmaker is to actually let the viewer feel like Spiderman as he swoops through town.  The first preview showed some of that.  That's a movie worth seeing in 3D - if they can pull it off.

The 3D Film as Event is the rarest of the 3D crop.  This is a movie that becomes a "must see."  You could argue that Avatar moved into this category after its release.  Everyone was seeing it.  It was the highest grossing movie of all time.  So, even though it was an experience, it became more than that.  People felt left out if they didn't see it.  (And the backlash hipster crowd refused to see it BECAUSE everyone saw it.)  Lion King would definitely be in this category.  Beauty and the Beast also fell into this group when it came out in 3D a few years back.  You often will see a re-release of a big movie fit into the Event category.  Coming up next year, you will see more films fall into this group.  Titanic is coming to 3D on April 6, 2012.  That movie was such a mammoth event when it came out that I fully expect it to do big business.  Plus, James Cameron is THE king of the world . . . of 3D.  So, expect it to deliver the goods.  Star Wars begins its trek to 3D, and its eventual release on 3D Blu-Ray, next year.  Episode 1 hits theaters on February 10.  The plan is to release the entire series, one per year.  But, recent buzz has been that George Lucas may not follow through if Episode 1 bombs.  (Brilliant strategy, leave the fate of the series in 3D to arguably the worst film of the series.  Don't start with Episode IV or anything.)  Personally, I don't know if I will see Titanic when it comes out.  I liked the movie, but I'm not in love with it.  My son and I are already making plans to see Star Wars, though.

I don't think 3D movies are going anywhere.  There is too much money in the format.  In addition, with the growing market of 3D Blu-Ray players, 3D televisions, and 3D tv stations, it just seems like it will hang on for a while - even if it doesn't deserve to.  I think we have seen a movement where moviegoers are expressing their distaste for stupid 3D releases, just like they revolted against unnecessary IMAX movie offerings.  Those special formats are best left to movies that deserve the added attention - movies that are Experiences or Events.  Those are the kinds that I go to.  I already have trimmed back my moviegoing in general.  I don't go to everything that comes out.  Lots of movies look just fine on my tv and I can handle the $1 redbox rental much easier than the $10 ticket price.  I'm not going to waste even more money on 3D gimmicks.  It's the same message we've been telling studios for years.  But some effort into your films.  Make something we want to see, that is worth seeing, and we'll watch it.  Instead of putting an extra $2 million into a transfer, put it into screenwriting or directing.  If the studios want to see their ticket sales go up, their 3D sales improve, make movies that are worth paying for.

1 comment:

Benji said...

That's funny you bring this up - I was just talking about this with Amy. We went to the $1.25 theater to see The Smurfs (no comments about how bad the movie is). My thoughts are movie theaters are hurting for several reasons - bad economy, many bad movies nobody wants to see, and the price to go compared to renting and staying home. So, movie theaters start making a bunch of 3D movies, that you can't see at home (unless you have a 3D television) in the hopes to keep the money coming.

I know the Smurfs was done in 3D, but we watched 2D (obviously if we are paying $1.25). Lots of gimmicks for 3D - I felt like I was watching the Muppet 3D movie at Hollywood Studios. I can say it does not draw me to want to go to the movies any more than normal (which is almost no-existent).

But you mentioning Star Wars does catch my interest.....