23 November 2005

The Digital Takeover Continues

Hey guys, it's Donnie... Last night I watched Chicken Little in the new Disney Digital 3D format. The movie itself was emminently forgetable, (it's absolutely criminal that this thing so solidly beat down Zathura, an infininitely superior film) but the 3D is really REALLY close to what it needs to be. Not only have they finally eliminated the red and blue lenses of death, but they also seem to have improved upon the polarized lenses themselves. A few months back I saw Aliens Of The Deep in IMAX 3D and, while it was fantastic, it did make my eyes go a little wonky after a while.

No such problems this time around. I sat through the whole movie without my eyes glazing over or my head splitting itself in half. Moreover, the Disney animators really had an excellent grasp of how best to use the 3D technology. Aside from one or two sequences which were clearly designed to be "3D sequences", (most notably the public panic at the film's opening and Chicken Little's attempt to get to school a short while later) the movie wasn't all about gimmicky visual tricks, i.e. trying to make it look like there are things flying towards you. And that's a good thing, because not only does nobody fall for it, but it's also the biggest weakness left in 3D. The only times where the image really gets blurry or hard to track is when there are lots of objects in very fast motion, particularly lots of very small objects, like acorns or popcorn.

The real strength of the technology is merely the simple depth of objects. Actually being able to distinguish between the foreground and the background. When Chicken Little is at the forefront and there's a chair in the back of the room, it feels like there's actual distance between the objects. If 3D is really gonna be able to catch on, it's gonna be due to the simplicities like this, the things that make you feel like the movie is actually taking place in three dimensional space in front of you. They also have to do something about the price, as regular adult admission was $11.50. Thankfully I haven't thrown out my student ID yet, so I got in for $10.

Studios must be willing to embrace this new technology and not force theaters to jack up the price of tickets even higher than they already are. The turnaround time from theater to DVD continues to decrease, (Sin City did it in about six months, but The Skeleton Key just did it in three.) and the price of upscale home theater systems continues to fall, thus contributing to the popular opinion of "I'll just wait till it comes out on DVD." Studios and theaters need to start finding new ways to get asses in the seats, and it's gonna have to be by embracing new technologies and offering something in the theaters that people can't get at home. I hate to say it, but in the age of on demand video, Tivo and video iPods, studios are dangerously close to being forced to release films simultaneously in theaters, on DVD and via online downloads, or else they're gonna end up in the same position that the music industry is still kind of digging itself out of.

Personally I think that's just shitty. I mean, I recognize the high price of gas and that popcorn costs like $14 and that there are 20 minutes of annoying commercials before the damn movie, but it will be an absolute shame if we essentially throw away the experience of going to the movies. I don't care how nice your home theater system is, there's something intangibly wonderful about sitting in that big dark room in front of that huge silver screen with 200+ other people and sharing a film together.

I'm encouraged at this morning's announcement that Sony will join Disney, Fox and Universal to start supplying theaters with digital prints of their films to go along with the 4,000 digital projectors that Christie/AIX will be rolling out into theaters across America and Canada over the next two years. Disney rolled out 100 new 3D projectors to coincide with the release of Chicken Little, thus more than doubling the number of 3D projectors already in the market. Theaters and studios must embrace these innovations in the theater-going experience. They must find new and compelling ways to get people out of their houses. Bring down prices, get rid of some of the ads before the previews, hell, maybe start offering more content along with movies. Short films, cartoons, SOMETHING! Otherwise they're essentially hanging themselves out to dry. If studios become too dependant on DVD sales (as some would argue that they have already) then the upcoming battle royale between Blu-ray and HD-DVD is gonna get even uglier than we all thought.

So I implore you: get off your duff, call up some friends, carpool, chip in for gas money and go see a movie the way it was always meant to be seen, before it's too late.


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