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Film industry seeing double in 3-D

How intense is our new love affair with 3-D movies?

Intense enough that changing the release date of just one title could set off a chain reaction of panicked rescheduling by distributors desperate that there be enough 3-D screens available for their movies.

And intense enough to create massive headaches for exhibitors trying to allocate their 3-D screens (usually only one or two per megaplex) among an avalanche of new products.

Undoubtedly reacting to the huge success of the 3-D “Avatar,” Warner Bros. announced that its upcoming remake of “Clash of the Titans” – a fantasy about the greats of Greek mythology – would be released in 3-D.

“Titans” wasn’t filmed in 3-D. No problem. It’s a relatively small matter to take the film’s computer-generated scenes, which from the beginning were rendered in a 3-D digital environment, and transform them into full-blown 3-D.

As for the live-action passages featuring star Sam Worthington and others, Warner brought the actors back last month to reshoot certain scenes.

And Hollywood for some time has had the technology to retroactively turn 2-D into 3-D. There’s been talk of a 3-D “Casablanca” or “The Wizard of Oz,” though our first exposure to the process probably will be “Clash of the Titans.”

Along with its announcement that “Titans” would be in 3-D, Warner pushed the film’s opening date back one week, from the last weekend in March to April 2.

One week. No big deal, right?

Actually, it’s a huge deal if you’re another studio with a 3-D movie in the pipeline.

And if you’re running a theater, you’d best get accustomed to making some hard choices.

The “Titans” change in opening dates gives the computer jockeys a few more days to get the 3-D right, but of even greater concern was the fact that another 3-D movie – DreamWorks’ animated “How to Train Your Dragon” – already was booked for March 26. There’s no way Hollywood can open two 3-D movies on the same day.

Imagine you’re a theater manager on April 2. Obviously you need to give one of your two 3-D screens to “Titans.”

But what do you get rid of? “Dragons,” which has been playing for only a week? Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which opened on March 5 and is still doing business?

And what about “Avatar”? If it wins the best picture Oscar on March 7, its business should pick up.

And here’s something else to consider: The longer a film plays, the more of each ticket dollar is kept by the theaters. By early April, “Avatar” will be pure gravy for exhibitors. They might be reluctant to let it go.

The reason exhibitors have to make these uncomfortable choices is that there aren’t enough 3-D auditoriums to meet the demand. There are just 4,000 in the entire country.

Converting a film auditorium to digital 3-D costs something like $80,000. In this economy, that seems like an unsure investment.

And yet the public has spoken. Given a choice between “Avatar” in 3-D and in a flat version, we go for the 3-D by a margin of 2 to 1.

Plus, theaters charge $2 or $3 more for 3-D presentations.

Also consider: More than a dozen 3-D films are scheduled for release between now and the end of the year, which is about one every three weeks.

Now, in addition to “Titans,” Warner Bros. is turning the next “Harry Potter” and “Cats and Dogs” sequels into 3-D. There could be more if other studios follow Warner’s lead and begin converting 2-D productions to 3-D.

What’s a theater owner to do?

Increasingly, the answer will be that they’ll bite the bullet, cough up the money and convert more auditoriums to 3-D. They can’t afford not to.

And what if our intense love affair with 3-D flames out?

Let’s not go there.



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