Before I get to the meat of this week's column, I have a little appetizer of an issue to discuss. The other day, I went to see American Gangster at a Regal theater and once again participated in the Guest Response System. But unlike my first experience, I actually had to use the thing this time. While pressing the "Other Disturbance" button over and over and over because of a loud toddler, then finally after too long a time receiving responses in the forms of, first, a security guard and, second, a crew of ushers, I eventually realized that there is no way to communicate what exactly is the disturbance you're alerting the staff about. I don't want to say the parents of the toddler were covering the kid's mouth each time a Regal employee scoped out the auditorium, but coincidentally there was no disturbance whenever someone was monitoring the audience. And so, despite my having the little complainer pager, I put up with two-and-a-half hours of a sporadically loud child who should have never been brought to American Gangster in the first place.
Okay, now that I've got that off my plate, it's time to address the main topic of the week:
On Friday, Robert Zemeckis' new performance-capture "animated" film hits 2,800 screens across the U.S. More than 700 of those screens will show the film in digital 3-D, via IMAX, Real D or Dolby systems (yes, there's three different 3-D systems). It's apparently the largest rollout of a 3-D release ever, and it could mean big things for both Hollywood and the exhibition industry. Or it could be just another 3-D movie, no more an event than when Disney's Chicken Little came out a couple years ago touted as the first digital 3-D release to hit regular cinemas. Now I'm a big supporter of 3-D. Last year I went to see Monster House in order to experience Real D's system, and I loved it. Earlier this year I even watched Meet the Robinsons because I couldn't get enough of the new 3-D format. It wasn't surprising that with every movie put out simultaneously on 2-D and 3-D screens that the 3-D version had the better per-screen average at the box office. Audiences are obviously into the new format. The fact that The Nightmare Before Christmas made more than $13 million in this year's re-release (and more than $8 million in its 2006 debut as a 3-D re-release) provides the most proof that people are excited about 3-D.
But I think there's a lot more pressure on Beowulf to be a big hit. Aside from the fact that it cost a reported $70 million, the film's success or failure could affect the immediate future of the 3-D format. If it's a really big deal, then theater owners will be more eager to purchase 3-D systems for more of their screens. Up until now the expense of 3-D hasn't seemed as worth it to theaters, which are still in the middle of working out deals to equip locations with digital projectors. The projectors are far pricier, but they have to come first. Then, the 3-D systems can be added on later. One of the issues so far, though, has been that studios are more willing to cooperate with theaters on deals to install the projectors, because the studios will benefit just as much. With the 3-D systems, the studios see less reason to help theaters with the cost.
The theater industry's apprehensiveness is likely part of the reason Beowulf is only being released on ¾ the amount of 3-D screens Paramount had anticipated. A year ago, the studio announced the film would rollout on close to 1000 3-D screens. The reality, still supposedly a record, seems relatively disappointing. If this movie does big business, though, both Hollywood and the theater industry could figure out a better way to make sure there's 6,000 3-D screens by May 2009, which is what is desired by Dreamworks for its 3-D-exclusive release of Monsters vs. Aliens. Also, coming out a week later, and needing its own lot of 3-D screens, will be James Cameron's highly anticipated Avatar.
Personally, I've been skeptical about Beowulf's chances from the beginning. Even before I saw the first footage, which I thought looked more appropriate for a video game than a blockbuster movie, I had doubts that this was the right release to carry the burden of the format's future. Something more kid-friendly would make more sense, in my opinion.
And I was going to stick by this skepticism completely throughout this column. In addition to questioning whether Beowulf would actually be a good movie, I questioned whether audiences are even interested in seeing the film. People I know may not be the best representatives of mainstream America, but people I know don't seem to find the movie that appealing. Even now that it's been directed to my attention how much Beowulf's marketing is cashing in on the popularity of 300, I don't see it actually doing as well. I can't think of many movies that have really succeeded in comparing themselves to previous hits.
But on Friday my skepticism lowered a bit, because of something I read here on Cinematical. Scott posted a fan rant about his experience seeing Beowulf, and to say he praised it would be an understatement. Scott no less than compared the experience to the first time he saw Star Wars, which is a pretty big deal unless Scott's first time seeing Star Wars was not the same as the rest of ours. Basically, Scott said seeing Beowulf in the way that he saw it was a life-changing moment. He said he felt like he was being introduced to the future of movies. Of course, he saw it in IMAX 3-D, which I would agree without seeing the movie must be the best format to see the thing in.
So, now I'm definitely going to check the movie out. Maybe not right away, but at some point after it hits theaters November 16, I will definitely be paying for an IMAX showing of Beowulf, even though I haven't changed my mind that I think I will hate the actual film. But as a follower of exhibition trends and practices, it is certainly something I will have to judge for myself. Because in addition to being the future of movies, this could more importantly be the future of movie theaters.
So, will you or won't you be seeing Beowulf in 3-D?