Gimmicky novelty or the future of cinematic entertainment? That’s the question being asked about the new celluloid craze in town, 3D movies. Cheerleaders in the shape of Hollywood studios are rah-rahing 3D as the new standard, urging exhibitors to invest in its costly technology. Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg calls it the “economic game-changer for movie theatres.”
But ultimately it’s the filmgoers who are asked to fork out more for the 3D experience — and they have responded positively with their wallets. Sathyam Cinemas, Chennai’s first and only exhibitor with 3D technology, has reported strong box offices for the raft of 3D movies released since their first, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
Tan Ngaronga, COO, Sathyam Cinemas, says the decision to go 3D was taken a year-and-a-half ago, while attending a ShoWest conference: “It became clear that digital 3D was positioning itself as the future of cinema — for which increasing amounts of content were becoming available.”
This is 3D’s newest flirtation with Indian cinemagoers; many of us remember the gimmicky thrill of My Dear Kuttichathan, the 1984 Malayalam film that marked India’s foray into 3D. But if 3D has been around since the 1950s, what’s changed is the technology — gone are the green and red glasses that made one feel nauseous and the cheesy special effects.
Well, ok, not quite — Final Destination4 did insist on being tacky and projecting “unscary” pointy things at the viewers. But while your head ached trying to figure out how it raked in an unbelievable US$64milion, the movie didn’t give you a physical headache. Technology has advanced — but Sathyam’s Korean 3D stereoscopic system doesn’t come cheap. Apart from the pricey 2K digital projector that costs US$35,000, additional expenses include the 3D glasses, and around Rs 7 lakhs for the purchase and installation of the customised silver screen.
Now there’s the real sticking point: the Rs. 20 rental for the glasses, which, in the case of a large family outing can add up. Ngaronga explains that the rental in part, is to recoup the costs of upgrading the technology, and in part to pay for the glasses. The glasses, which cost about US$1 each, have a short life span; after eight uses they are sent back for recycling.
Does 3D really offer more than novelty value? U.S. director Darren Aronofsky and others have been speaking up against the craze, calling it “gimmicky” and downright “annoying”. Some fail to see a real value-add in most 3D films, despite James Cameron’s famous claim, “Stereoscopic 3D is the most exciting evolution in cinema presentation since colour and widescreen.” Still, all eyes are now on the Big One, Cameron’s highly anticipated Avatar.
The urgency of the current 3D buzz has partly to do with hopes pinned on this 3D leviathan by Titanic’s director. Locally, Sathyam is planning to extend 3D capacity beyond the current 272-seater to three more screens. The impact of a Cameron blockbuster, observes Ngaronga, extends way beyond cinematic enjoyment; the industry sees in it a sign that 3D is a marketable project in this environment.
The industry’s infatuation with 3D also arises from the hope that it might help combat piracy. Katzenberg has been quoted as saying: “Ninety per cent of all piracy comes from a camcorder aimed at the screen. You can’t camcorder 3D movies.” Equally, studios see 3D as the new driver to push folks back into theatres. In the search for content, U.S. studios plan to retrofit old movies and release them in 3D format such as the double feature re-issue of Toy Story and Toy Story 2. The plan is also for these much-loved movies to whip up interest for Toy Story 3 in 2010. Online tracker boxofficemojo.com suggests 3D alone isn’t the draw, but if viewers have decided to see a particular film, chances are they will opt for the 3D version of it. It may be old wine in new bottles, but it’s the quality of the vintage that will make the sale, long after the excitement of the new bottles are over.