Wednesday, November 6, 2013

It’s In The Way That You Use It

Throughout the summer, I kept seeing news reports citing statistics of declining attendance for 3-D screenings of theatrical motion pictures. Where 3-D releases used to account for a high percentage of a movie’s box-office revenues, the current crop of 3-D pictures were barely making 30% of their money from their stereoscopic versions. In September, many media outlets once again proclaimed the end of the latest “3-D fad,” citing the box-office percentages as proof that when given a choice between regular 2-D and paying an upcharge for the 3-D version, a majority of filmgoers choose to see their movies flat.

But in October, the tune changed. Alfonso CuarĂ³n’s GRAVITY was released in 2-D, 3-D, and 3-D IMAX, and ticket sales favored the stereoscopic versions with about 80% of audiences choosing to pay extra for 3-D. GRAVITY held the top spot at the box-office for three weeks, and now has the distinction of being the highest grossing film ever to be released in the month of October - mostly due to repeat viewings in large-screen 3-D. The story of a lone astronaut (played brilliantly by Sandra Bullock) stranded in orbit after a catastrophe, GRAVITY has received numerous accolades from reviewers who applaud the 3-D as enhancing the storytelling and helping to give audiences the sensation of weightlessness in space. Even some film critics who usually go out of their way to deride stereo as a gimmick have conceded that GRAVITY should be seen in 3-D. Finally, people are starting to discuss how stereoscopic filmmaking can bring a heightened connec- tion to a compelling story told through great acting performances.

This got me thinking about something that Lenny Lipton said during his presentation at last month’s LA 3-D Club meeting. He noted that 3-D is primarily only being utilized by the Hollywood studios for CGI animated cartoons and live- action superhero movies, and that with the exception of the occasional picture by an auteur director, such as Martin Scorcese or Ang Lee, 3-D is not finding its way into a broader range of film genres (as it had in the 1950s). Lenny pointed out that it’s impossible for the studios to justify the use of 3-D for anything but spec- tacle, primarily due to the substantial upcharge at theaters for the 3-D experience. GRAVITY works in 3-D, both as grand spectacle, and as a personal, intimate story, but it seems the exception rather than the rule.

So it was a pleasant surprise to see that the American Film Institute’s AFI Fest this month is actually showing two 3-D pictures that are neither animated nor superhero based. The first is CHARLIE VICTOR ROMEO, a stereoscopic film adaptation of a stage play about aviation disasters as re-enacted from the actual “black box” recordings of the doomed flights. The second is a new 3-D conver- sion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Bernardo Bertolucci’s stunning THE LAST EMPEROR. The first feature film ever to be shot in Beijing’s forbidden city, it tells the true life story of China’s final soveriegn leader in the 20th Century, and won nine Academy Awards including the Oscar for Best Picture. These are both very personal, intimate films, and hopefully audiences will respond positively to them.

Speaking of film festivals, we are now just one month away from the club’s 10th Annual LA 3-D Movie Festival, being held December 13-15. We’re making our film selections, and will be announcing the program very soon. It’s going to be a great film fest, and I hope to see all of you there!