Monday, May 14, 2012

So Now With 3D Conversion Essentially Validated By THE AVENGERS - What's Next For Marvel's Box Office And 3D?

THE AVENGERS have passed THE DARK KNIGHT ($1.0019 billion) as the top grossing superhero movie of all time with $1.0021 billion in an astounding 19 days!

Clearly the rule of thumb here is that if you want to rule the box office and hit the top 5 movies of all time you need to either A). Make it 3D -or- B). Make it with James Cameron. Four out of the top five movies of all time are 3D (if you count the conversion of TITANIC) and will be soon joined by THE AVENGERS in potentially a 3rd place showing. 

Has 3D conversion hit the level of achievement where audiences can't really tell the difference - or perhaps more importantly don't care whether it's a native 3D or 3D conversion? Call it 2.9D if you want to, but clearly conversion is in a different place than it was 2 weeks ago. 

To the educated eye you can clearly make out the subtle differences between the two with native 3D coming out on top, but in the eyes of the average theatergoer - does it matter? Probably not at this stage. That's a good thing for conversions. And a good thing for 3D because there won't be any more CLASH OF THE TITANS out there coming from the studios (well - let's hope not anyway!) and so 3D will not be getting any more black eyes from a dismal conversion.

Keep in mind that native 3D is also getting exceptionally better year after year as well. Rigs are getting smaller, smarter and multifunctional. Companies like 3ality Technica and Cameron Pace Group are dedicated to the Gold Standard of native 3D; purity if you will. To me that can go hand in hand with 3D conversion and indeed HAS to in order to achieve the best possible outcome in some instances. I find that there are some shots that native 3D has a hard time capturing effectively (like bright or widely dispersed light for example) and that the best possible scenario now may be to shoot 80 or 90% in native 3D and convert the rest. This isn't really news as this has already happened with large projects (like TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON which was a native 3D production, but quite a bit of it was a 3D conversion), with different percentages of course.

Different conversion houses will have different results as well. Some companies are pouring more money into R&D than others and there are some vast differences in the number of seats that a couple of houses can throw at a conversion than the "competition". I am using quotes for "competition" because often multiple conversion companies will tag team to get a production done on time - like ALICE IN WONDERLAND mentioned below. I see the top tier conversion companies today as being Stereo D (THE AVENGERS, JOHN CARTER), Legend3D (TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, GREEN LANTERN, ALICE IN WONDERLAND), Prime Focus (STAR WARS EPISODE I, WRATH OF THE TITANS) and Digital Domain (acquired In-Three, ALICE IN WONDERLAND).

THE AVENGERS are living proof that you don't need a native 3D production to go ballistic at the box office. It's eye opening. It's great for 3D. It's quieting many, many naysayers of the technology. And for audiences, it seems 2.9D is good enough. In seeing THE AVENGERS 4 times now, I agree. I see much, much more collaboration between native 3D and conversion companies now - perhaps some M&A happening.

As I said, I consider native 3D productions superior because they are capturing actual facts as opposed to creating a second eye. The level of detail in a native 3D shot of a complex, live action, moving object is still so very evident to me. However with so much CG going into today's movies, clearly conversion could always have a place in just about EVERY 3D production. Indeed, conversion is a valid choice across the board now.

Other than some trepidation about 3D conversion back in the summer of 2010 I knew that Marvel had a winner on it's hands in this ensemble project. I posted on how THE AVENGERS could do better than SPIDER-MAN, better than THE DARK KNIGHT and better than SUPERMAN. I invite you to click that link and go back to read about those thoughts and how some readers felt about them. I did feel as though I was going to take heat for those comments so I backed off a bit by saying "ok, maybe not TDK" - but I didn't want to. I truly felt that THE AVENGERS have the characters and the creative talent to pull it off. They have with so much more to come.

Still I don't have any hesitation in saying THE AVENGERS will not catch AVATAR in total box office. $2.78 billion is just about insurmountable until perhaps AVATAR 2. It's an interesting dynamic to watch of course, with AVATAR opening to only $77 million and with less 3D screens (for that additional 3D revenue), but then again THE AVENGERS will suffer going against this summer's competition whereas AVATAR didn't encounter much. You know darn well that MIB3, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and PROMETHEUS are going to chew into that revenue. They're all spectacle movies and word of mouth is extremely important for all.

What I am thinking now is that THE AVENGERS will be the third highest grossing movie of all time behind AVATAR and TITANIC. I find it very hard to give an estimated number though on what the final tally will be for the movie. Perhaps after we see how well it performs against BATTLESHIP ($215m overseas) this weekend. What do you think? Will AVENGERS prevail and retain the number 1 position this weekend?

And as far as 3D conversions go, they are now a proven, mainstream alternative to native 3D and while still needing some improvement, audiences have embraced well executed work. I see much more collaboration taking place in the field, if not some mergers and acquisitions.

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Jim Dorey
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