Wednesday, 1 June 2011

3D cinema. Is Hollywood starting to pay for inferior conversions and weak films? Failure to play the long game could be costly.

I think that Hollywood, as is too often the case, has been far too short sighted with a lot of its collective decision making lately. There really isn’t enough long game thinking. James Cameron, who is a very long game kinda guy was right (as was I ahem) Hollywood are in danger of killing the golden goose, and throwing it on the fire for a feast, waking up and waiting for the bones to lay some more eggs. I think kids will be learning about how not to run a business 10 years from now, using filmmaking as a guide. You get this wonderful new tool, stereoscopic 3D; finally films can look almost completely like the fabled "window on the world". People see in 3D, now the films look 3D. Just as colour and surround sound it makes the whole experience more lifelike. Sure a few hacks will gimmick it up by just throwing things at the screen, but all tools get abused by hacks. Emmerich can't even direct a reverse zoom properly! (Dolly zoom is another term, The Jaws thing :) ). Then, as if from the gods, two films come out that the world goes crazy for. Avatar, the best shot 3D film, and Alice in Wonderland, a conversion, but one that was given sufficient time and enough money. Close to $4b on those 2 movies alone. What does Hollywood do? Shorten the DVD win on Alice, taking an event film and cheapening it so people are feeling a film they spent a week's wages going to see a few weeks ago is now available to buy at the cost of what? 1 ticket a drink and popcorn? Baaad move; also gets the cinema chains recall pissed off, as if the mood there wasn’t sour enough already. 3D is kicking ass in theatres? Let's get it into the home market! NOW! Cheapen the experience some more, Sony & co can’t wait to get 3D Blu-Ray into people’s homes! Video on Demand releases for films BEFORE they hit the cinemas is a whole other blog too.

Let’s forget that you’ve just made going to the movies special again and BANG, another reason to stay at home. That big 3D movie will be on 3D Blu in 12 weeks and it’ll only cost the price of 2 tickets! No petrol, no parking, no food and drink that cost 4 times what I can get it for in the supermarket. But wait as Capt. Kirk said “...Please let me know if there is some other way we can screw up tonight!” Yes there is Hollywood; I call it ‘Clash of the Titans’! Let’s take a film that we’ve seen and know is a bit crap and save ourselves a bath by charging extra for 3D! All the suckers are lapping that shit up! Converted over the weekend by the cleaning lady's nephew on his Xbox (not 360, just an Xbox) even other filmmakers (like Cameron) and me thought it was a bad idea that could only do harm. Not to be outdone the studio behind the live action version of acclaimed (and wonderful) toon, The Last Airbender were in similar peril. They too had a fantasy film that was guaranteed a big start but which was also absolute garbage. So they chose the same escape route that WB did with Clash; a rush job 3D conversion to milk every last penny from unsuspecting fans of the other Avatar. Unfortunately the cleaning lady’s nephew was busy so the executive producer had to download a 3D maker app for his ipad and do that way.

So the cheapening of the new 3D continued with either poor 3D conversions or 3D films that were rubbish or both; and throughout this time there were precious few films SHOT in 3D and using it properly. Coraline, How to Train Your Dragon and, oddly enough, Resident Evil 4 are examples of the better use of 3D. Coraline was arguably the best with the director, Henry Selick, playing with the depth of field to make scenes more claustrophobic or rooms seem bigger and friendlier.

3D films were doing amazing things, despite being on around half the screens films were making as much as 70% of their money from 3D. For reasons unknown Hollywood seemed to think that figures as high as 60% or more would remain forever! I mean, even if they weren’t doing their best to cheapen the experience with subpar conversions and films that were piss poor but “who cares it’s in 3D?” there’s no reason to expect that to continue for many reasons. The least of which is this. How long can you reasonably expect people to pay more for an experience because it is special, before people start to think it aint special anymore; Even if the quality remains high? Furthermore you’re paying more for something different, but there’s a new “different / special” event film out every week, so special is the new normal right? How much extra are people willing to pay for normal? Nothing! Let’s not forget that you’re spending a week’s wages taking your partner and 2 kids to the cinema, and that’s if you sneak food and drink in! Heaven help you if you actually want to buy “refreshments” there, it is 2nd mortgage time folks. If I want to take 2 kids and another adult to see Kung Fu Panda, in 3D, at 10:00 on Saturday it would cost us £30! ($49.40)! That’s with a family discount too! If we didn’t have 3D glasses we’d have to buy some at 80p a pair, bring the total, just to watch the movie to £33.20! ($54.65). What’s worse is that those prices are actually a fair bit cheaper than our next big cinema where it’s £32.60 and £1 each for glasses! ($53.65 + $6.58 = $60.23) That’s a hefty price to pay every month, let alone every week.

3D films

Cineworld have responded to customer feedback on recycling and environmental wastage, concerning 3D glasses. As such we are now encouraging customers to reuse their glasses.

From the 26th of March 2010, we have altered our pricing structure for 3D film to the following surcharge, on top of the ticket price:

  • £2.10 Adults
  • £1.50 Children and Unlimited
  • £0.80 3D glasses

Customers, who have kept their 3D glasses from previous 3D presentations, are invited to reuse them to start making an immediate saving. Customers, who haven’t kept their 3D glasses will have to purchase glasses, if required, separately at a Retail counter.
Orange Wednesday and Bargain Tuesday customers to pay the relevant 3D uplift

So on the one hand you have prices that are too high in the first place, yes people shelled out millions to see Avatar and Alice In Wonderland. They even spent millions being disappointed by Clash of The Titans and The Last Airbender but taking such a high percentage from 3D screens was never likely to be a long term thing for several reasons. The cost is of course one factor, but as the number of 3D films increases not only does it lessen their “must see in the cinema” factor, but the extra charge, which always rankled even when people were storming the 3D screenings, starts to seem more and more arbitrary. If so many of the big films are in 3D then surely by now the price for all films should be the same right? Surely the cost should have been absorbed with a slightly higher than normal annual increase and either not extra charge for 3D or a minimal charge, say 10% of the ticket price at most.

So perhaps the figures we’ve just seen for Pirates 4 and Kung Fu Panda 2 in North America, around 45% of the gross for those films was from 3D screenings, is simply closer to a realistic figure. Maybe the 60% mark was never going to  last and something like 50 / 50 is where we’re heading? Well I’m not sure. Leaving aside the fact that 3D continues to boom all over the rest of the planet (and no it’s not THAT more of a novelty there as some condescending American journos have tried to say) and the worrying “trend”, , is nonsense for 2 simple reasons. First of all look at the films we’re talking about here. Pirates 4 is the first of the series to be filmed in 3D and whilst the series was still more popular than the media would have had us believe,  , the fact remains  the last film was not as well liked as the as the others so some people would obviously be more cautious about going to see this movie. Some would probably not go at all, waiting for the opinions of friends and family to see if it was worth shelling out for; others would pay more attention t reviews than usual, and the film had awful reviews, especially for its director’s amateurish use of his 3D tech. So they would either not go at all or if they did, they certainly wouldn’t pay 15% - 30% more a 3D or IMAX ticket. Kung Fu Panda 2 is a little harder to get. The first film was extremely popular and the sequel has received reviews mostly on a par with the first film. There’s possibly an element what I mentioned above (certainly friends I have in America and on Facebook have had many discussion with their friends, family and co-workers about how it simply costs too much to take your kids to the movies these days and that’s before the 3D bonus fees!) with the cost being too high. If you’ve been to see Thor 3D and Pirates 4 3D already, as a family of 4, you’ll have spent anything between  £65 - £120! ($120 and $200!) TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS for two movies! There’s a reason right there that 2D would be the weapon of choice for Panda 2, if you’ve got any money left for it at all.

But what I’ve just said leads me into reason 2. As quickly as screens are being built and / or converted for 3D more and more films are being released in 3D. So much so that Panda 2 wasn’t able to get into IMAX at all, because Thor, Pirates 2 and Born 2 Be Wild had filled them up. DreamWorks stated that had they been able to get Panda into IMAX it would have had a 55% 3D share. (More on Panda 2’s woes here )

The final point to make here is that there are 3 major films currently playing in 3D in North America. All 3 are in the top 5 and the first of those films, Thor has made the “standard” 60% of its gross from 3D screens. So why are people getting all worked up about the 2 films that have dipped, especially when there are so many mitigations other than that people have suddenly stopped caring. Wait and see what Transformers does, not Green Lantern because how well that film will do is anybody’s guess; buzz is so all over the place and one moment it looks ok another it looks as though they still need a year and another $10m to sort the effects out, so people being willing, or not, to stump up 3D bucks for that film is going to be very specific to that movie. If they don’t pony up for Transformers, maybe it’ll be time to fret. Even then it’ll still likely be 3D finding its natural level.


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