Thursday, May 13, 2010

3D Movies: Profit or Piracy

So, we've all seen the increase in the number of movies getting a "3D-Treatment" lately. Just in 2010 alone, we've had the following movies (released or upcoming) in "3D" regardless if they were originally intended for 3D or not:

Alice in Wonderland
Clash of the Titans
How to Train Your Dragon
Shrek Forever After
Toy Story 3
Despicable Me
Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
Step Up 3D
Piranha 3-D
Legend of the Guardians
Alpha and Omega
Jackass 3D
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Tron Legacy

With many more to come in 2011.

But the question that seems to come to everyone's mind lately is: "Is this necessary?"

Well, some would argue that "Yes, it's necessary. We need the profits." But if that's true and the latest trend of 3D movies is simply because of profits, then why are they limited to the number of theaters that can show 3D movies?

Do we (The viewing audience) really have access to the 3D theaters that people tend to think we do? Most of the theaters aren't equipped to show 3D in really good quality because they are physically designed to show 2D movies. The seating, the sound system, the size of the screen, the projection equipment. Most of these items are still designed to project (and view) a flat-image (2D) on a screen. Sure, they might be nice and comfortable and even highly enjoyable theaters in their own rights, but they are physically limited to show 2D movies for now. Not everyone has the projection equipment to properly show a 3D movie, especially now that a lot of projectors are digital. While their image quality is sharp and detailed, they just aren't quite sophisticated enough to project the image properly to get truly 3D images. It's one of the things that made Avatar's film-making techniques so interesting. The cameras were designed to take into account the limited abilities of the projectors that were going to be showing the movie in 3D.

(It's getting so bad, that even playboy is going 3D

But it's also a matter of "coverage" as well. If the main reason that people are looking forward to 3D movies to make a bigger profit from movies, then why are they limited in the areas they can show 3D movies? IMAX is one of the biggest 3D theaters, but they aren't everywhere. In fact, if you look closely at the IMAX theater locations you see a massive disparity regarding their ability to show a movie to everyone. I'll use Charlotte NC as my example of what I mean. Charlotte NC, is reportedly the biggest city between Atlanta GA and Washington DC (Some say Baltimore). Yet, there are a total of 3 IMAX theaters within 50 Miles of the center Charlotte, and only 2 of those are capable of showing 3D movies. Raliegh (State Capital of North Carolina) only has ONE IMAX theater, and yet it's the second biggest city in the state. Clearly, if they are looking for 3D movies to earn a bigger profit for the movies, they can't rely on IMAX theaters to get the money.

So, is it really profits? Movie theaters have raised their prices for various reasons. The economy is something that has to be taken into account with ticket-prices, as are a variety of factors. But everyone's assumption from movies like Avatar, Up, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and others, appears to believe that a movie in 3D is justified in increasing the ticket-prices to see the movie.

But maybe there's something more than just "making a profit" in regards to 3D movies. Maybe it's more to do with the fact that 3D movies are harder to pirate than your typical 2D movies. As it stands right now, a 2D movie can easily be pirated and leaked onto the internet without any problems with image-quality or wasted "conversion time". However, when you have a 3D movie, it makes it a little more difficult for pirates to get a good quality-image of the movie and leak it to the internet. Or rather, it's going to be of a "lesser quality" than the one you will see in the theaters, making the pirated copy seem even less enjoyable (or likely to be viewed online).

As good as the current equipment is for pirating movies, they don't have the technology available to properly take into account the 3D conversion for now. Their images seem to be either blurry or fuzzy, or in some cases doubled due to the 3D technology to convert the image. Back in the "older days", this was better seen with the Red/Blue image-overlap that required the old 3D glasses to watch the movie. When someone tried to copy that image without the glasses, the image was often going to cause people headaches. Today's technology includes such features as "filtering" the image (Removing the need for the Red/Blue glasses) or by "synchronized" projection (different frame rates that are filtered through the glasses) or by "depth projection" (controlling where the image is focused in relationship to the screen itself). Because of these factors, it's virtually impossible for a person to copy the converted 3D digital film to a basic 2D image without loosing some picture quality.

So, which one is it? Is 3D being used to make a profit because movies like Avatar and Up were really big successes that people paid to see? Or is 3D used to prevent pirates from leaking a movie onto the internet early, as was saw Iron Man 2? Or is it really a combination of the two factors? Is it possible that by using 3D movies, you have a lower chance of having someone pirate your movie and get a bigger profit when it's shown in more expensive theaters?

Well, honestly I can't answer for Hollywood directly. Personally I do think it's a little bit of "both" options. They use 3D to help cut back on piracy of films while getting a bigger "opening" in theaters upon it's release. As we've seen with movies like Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans and others, that "opening weekend" is really needed. Because as it is now, more movie tend to have great opening weekends and then drop in box-office figures. Although, in some respects I think that has to do more with the movie itself than if it's in 3D or 2D. If the movie is good, it's going to stick around and make money. If it's not that great, it's going to open big and then drop off after everyone who wanted to see it has finally seen it.

But for now, expect more movies in 3D --- even if they don't need to be in 3D to begin with.

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