3D Is the Future: Real D Scores Big with ‘Journey’

The success of Warner Bros’ Journey to the Center of the Earth will likely pressure exhibitors and distributors to find ways to roll out digital presentation systems more quickly. Journey delivered an opening weekend gross of $20.58M, with 57 percent of the gross coming from theatres equipped to show the film in Real D 3D.

This Brendan Fraser family action film is the first live action, narrative Digital 3D film, and the movie performed 3.1 times better in 3D than it did in traditional 2D presentation. I spoke with Real D Chairman/CEO and Co-Founder Michael V. Lewis on Sunday, and he says that Journey delivered an estimated Per Theatre Average of $12,000 in Digital 3D this weekend compared to just $4,000 in 2D. Given the success of 2007’s Beowulf (Dreamworks/Paramount) and the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour Movie (Disney) early this year, it is fair to question why only 1,400 Real D 3D systems have been deployed.

In order to show a film in 3D, a theatre must first upgrade from traditional to digital projection then add the Real D 3D technology. “We have 5,500 theatres under contract with Real D because it is very affordable,” says Lewis. “Digital conversion is slowing down the adoption of 3D. The big question is ‘Who will pay for the cost of digital?’”

Distributors, exhibitors and third party digital projection providers (like Kodak and Technicolor) continue to wrangle over how much each side is willing to pay to complete digital conversions. Studios are offering virtual print fees to help fund the rollout. Essentially distributors will “virtually” pay the amount that they would normally have spent to strike a print to help subsidize the digital projection systems over a period of years. Digital conversion remains a large investment major exhibitors and a huge, if not impossible, leap for independent theatres and remaining “Mom & Pop” houses.

Real D will be a big winner as more and more locations go digital as the company has 90 percent of the 3D market share presently. “We’ll have 4,000 3D screens by the end of 2009, but the caveat is that the pace of digital conversion must increase,” says Lewis. “Journey to the Center of the Earth has exceeded my expectations. We had our best-ever opening weekend ratio of 3D business to 2D business even though we had more screens with Real D. There was no cannibalization.”

The next 3D film to hit the market will be Fly Me To the Moon (Summit/nWave), a new animated film due August 8. The whimsical movie about three houseflies who sneak aboard the historic Apollo 11 flight features an all-star voice cast, including Ed Begley Jr., Kelly Ripa, Nicolette Sheridan, Robert Patrick, Christopher LloydTim Curry and astronaut Buzz Aldrin as himself. Fly Me will be released in 3D only, so it will be limited to 800 or so locations (resulting in what should be a very strong Per Theatre Average), but there are huge films on the horizon that could really suffer if the pace of digital conversion does not pick up dramatically.

Dreamworks will release Monsters vs. Aliens, its first 3D animated feature, on March 27, and this would-be blockbuster needs as many 3D screens as possible. Jeffrey Katzenberg has been 3D’s No. 1 fan for the last few years, but it will be impossible for Monsters vs. Aliens to reach the 4,100+ locations that Dreamworks’ 2D Kung Fu Panda opened on in June. Also due in 2009 are Dimension’s Piranha 3D from director Alexandre Aja in July, Disney’s animated G-Force also in July, a 3D version of Pixar’s Toy Story in October, Robert ZemeckisA Christmas Carol, featuring Jim Carrey, in November and the long-awaited Avatar from James Cameron in December.

If you have not yet seen one of the new state-of-the-art 3D films, go buy a ticket for Journey to the Center of the Earth. Whether you love the film or not, you will likely be amazed by Real D’s 3D presentation, a far cry from those paper glasses with red and blue cellophane lenses. Some of Hollywood’s brightest talent (Katzenberg, Zemeckis, Cameron, Pixar) are committed to this exciting new technology. Here’s hoping that distributors and exhibitors focus on making deals quickly so that that the widest possible audience can see upcoming 3D titles the way their filmmakers have intended.