If you're one of the millions of kids who weren't able to snag (i.e. afford) tickets to see Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus in concert, you now have an opportunity to see the next best thing. For one week in early February, a film of one of the concerts will be shown at movie theaters nationwide. And to make it seem even more like you're attending the real thing, the film is in 3D! Compiled from three concerts in two cities from the "Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds" tour, the Disney-produced film is directed by Bruce Hendricks (Ultimate X: The Movie) and was shot using 3D digital cameras rather than shot with regular digital cameras and rendered in the format later (meaning sorry, no 2D versions of this one), as has been the case with most digital 3D movies so far. By the way: the cinematographer in charge of those cameras is Transformers DP Mitchell Amundsen.
Not only is this a big deal for Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus fans, but also it's a huge deal for theater owners and their continued attempts to offer substantial alternative entertainment at their cinemas. I'm sure you all know this isn't the first concert to be shown in theaters. There have been Rolling Stones concerts, drumline concerts, Metropolitan Opera performances, Dane Cook stand-up concerts, and many other events. Some of them have even been broadcast live to theaters via satellite. Many of them, such as today's (Dec. 2) live presentation of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, are one-day-only events. Aside from concerts, companies like Fathom Events (a division of National CineMedia), which calls itself "groundbreaking cinema entertainment", are also responsible for bringing to theaters sporting events and limited anniversary engagements of movies such as Poltergeist and Dirty Dancing, the latter often serving doubly as promotions for corresponding special edition DVDs. The New England-based National Amusements has long been showing Red Sox games at select theaters, and I'm sure other parts of the country have had similar offerings related to their respective local sports teams.
All of these non-movie programs are a great concept in theory, but I've never really thought about how successful they are. Usually when I see a trailer for one of them, I'm not the only one in the theater snickering at the idea of watching a Celine Dion concert in a movie theater (hers is coming Dec. 17). The Dane Cook thing, though, took the cake as far as events I couldn't picture anyone really attending. But considering these kinds of events have been continuing since 2004, there must be people going to them.
Unfortunately, it isn't easy to see how successful or popular these events are. Their attendance and ticket sales don't seem to be tracked as publicly as are regular movie box office grosses, and when I contacted National CineMedia for information on attendance to their events, I was directed only to the earnings statements that are provided to shareholders (it's in the form of a long, monotonous audio of a conference call, which I don't encourage anybody to listen to if they actually want to acquire information in layman's terms). All that I learned from those statements is that Fathom is working primarily on expanding its live content offerings (I also learned that the company earned a per screen average revenue of $800 from events shown on a total of 1,000 sites, which doesn't sound like much -- but it's hard to decipher what this data actually means in terms of box office sales, of which some certainly goes to the theaters and the producers of the events themselves.)
Regardless of how popular the events have been so far*, though, one thing is certain: The Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus thing should be the biggest yet. I see it even putting this kind of cinema entertainment more in the mainstream consciousness than anything else prior. Why? Because the Best of Both Worlds tour has made headlines already for being both a hugely popular show and a controversial problem with the concert industry. Saying the tour was simply sold out is the understatement of the year.
Also, the 3D thing is a big step up for these events. Already a hot attraction right now, 3D is especially appropriate for concert films, because it presumably allows the audience to feel more like they are present in an actual concert arena. Merely watching a live or taped concert on a big screen is not that cool. But watching it on a big screen, and in 3D, is an experience unlike anything you'd get from watching a concert DVD at home, no matter how huge your television.
The worrisome thing is that the "Best of Both Worlds" controversy will spill over into the theaters, with more sellouts and more inflated auctioned-off ticket prices. I can't imagine that with a whole week of showings and so many theaters (and chains) participating that such a problem is likely, but I don't think we've yet seen the full extent of the Hannah Montana fandom. In fact, with tickets having gone on sale at midnight on Friday night, some of theaters could be sold out already for all I know.
So, with the success of the "Best of Both Worlds" film, we could very well expect to see more events like this coming to theaters. Maybe eventually there will even be something that will appeal to most of us moviegoers. Personally, I was looking forward to what turned out to be only a rumored plan to broadcast episodes of Lost in cinemas (I'm sure fans of other TV series would also like to see their own favorites on the big screen). I'm also looking forward to the day when more cinemas can use satellite downloads to screen classic (or just plain older) films more often, and not as a promotion for DVDs. I can't think of what kind of concert or sporting event would be great enough to drag me out to the multiplex, though. As much as I'd probably prefer the theater auditorium to the crowdedness of most concerts, I'm just not much of a live-music fan in any setting these days.
So, what kind of non-movie entertainment do you wish they would show on the big screen?
*Since posting this column, I have learned that at least one event, the Garth Brooks live broadcast, sold out in all locations.