McGinnis: 3D’s impact on ‘Avatar’Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The rules seem to be changing, again.
Twelve years ago, James Cameron delivered a $200 million picture that ran over three hours long, and everyone knew the ending. The buzz was that the film would fall flat on its face and Cameron would be in deep, deep trouble. “Titanic” would gross nearly $2 billion and win 11 Oscars. Two weeks ago, he delivered a film rumored to cost over $300 million, was nearly three hours long, and had been preceded by years of hype and expectations. Once again, the buzz was that the film would fall flat on its face and Cameron, if not in deep trouble, would find his options limited.
“Avatar” opened to a $77 million weekend, an astonishing gross for a film that was not part of an already existing franchise, and that doesn’t even take into account a snowstorm on the east coast which kept many potential moviegoers home. But the biggest surprise was yet to come. In its second weekend, the film grossed $75.6 million, down a mere two percent from its first week. In a world where a 50% drop in a film’s second week is average, this is remarkable.
But perhaps the most remarkable factor is the effect of “Avatar”‘s much-hyped 3D technology on its grosses. In its first week, the film’s 3D theaters accounted for almost 71% of its take. In its second, that number went up to 77%. This despite the fact that only about 60% of the theaters showing the film offer it in 3D, and even then, not every screen at those theaters is showing it in the format.
Locally, both Maumee and Franklin Park are showing “Avatar” in 3D — but on only three screens between them, with four other screens showing the film in traditional 35mm. The 3D screens are selling out frequently, while the 35mm theaters are usually a quarter full, if that.
“Avatar” is far from the first film to prosper in the format. Animated films have been released in 3D for years, with box office giants like Pixar and Dreamworks planning to feature the format prominently in its films from this point on. The horror genre found modest success with films like “My Bloody Valentine” and “The Final Destination” this year.
But the runaway success of “Avatar” seems to be prompting studios to embrace 3D as their salvation. 3D is unique! It’s impossible to pirate! The technology is leaps and bounds ahead of the old red-lens-blue-lens gaze! Kids love it! And we can charge more for it! Even major directors are getting into the act, as (according to The Wrap) Ridley Scott is campaigning for his upcoming “Robin Hood” to be changed into 3D.
But, much like the effect of the glasses themselves, is the hype a mirage? Is 3D really helping “Avatar,” or could it even be, perhaps, hindering it?
Consider: As noted, “Avatar”‘s 3D technology was a big part of its pre-release hype and advertising campaign. Many moviegoers, as a result, only want to see the movie in 3D; if they get to the theater and find that the film is unavailable in the format, they won’t see it in 2D, they’ll just turn around and go home. Now, as the word-of-mouth spreads that the film is a great experience that must be seen, more and more people are being drawn in — but they want to see the 3D film, which is simply not available in many areas.
David Poland of the Hot Blog points out that internationally, 3D is not nearly as readily available as it is in America — and yet “Avatar” is still doing remarkable business overseas. Its international grosses have totaled over $410 million in just ten days, without the explanation of 3D.
This indicates that the movie, on its own merits, would still be a remarkable success. And for all the moviegoers who love 3D, there are others who think it a distracting gimmick, and an overpriced gimmick, at that. Will the buzz about “Avatar”’s genuine quality as a film, outside of the gimmick, be enough to draw them into a traditional screen? Has the “it must be experienced in 3D” hype kept it from drawing in what has otherwise been the traditional film markets, domestically?
Hollywood seems to be following the money and pushing for major 3D expansion, with maybe 20 films released in the format in 2010. But are they getting behind a gimmick at the expense of a chunk of their audience? I submit that the factors that are making “Avatar” a cultural phenomenon are not the dimensions it can be seen in, but the quality of its narrative and the richness of its visuals. And those can be experienced in any format.
The rules may seem to be changing — but the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com