Movie Screens Get Reinvented in 3-D


Last week, a $700-million deal was announced to equip 10,000 movie theater screens with the innovative digital technology required to show movies in advanced 3-D. Meanwhile, IMAX is in the process of testing its new digital projection system, which it hopes to have in more than 400 theaters by the end of 2009. With box-office numbers sinking, Hollywood executives and theater owners alike are hoping the reinvention of movie screens will help bring people back to the cinema.

The plan for the million-dollar digital-technology makeover was revealed at ShoWest, a Las Vegas conference where studios promote upcoming films. Through the deal, digital cinema provider Access Integrated Technologies Inc., with the financial backing of Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount and Universal Pictures, is outfitting movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada with new digital projection equipment over the next three years. The digital technology is valuable to the big movie studios because it eliminates the need for expensive celluloid film, instead projecting movies in a digital format. The technology is also enticing to moviegoers because it provides a sharper picture. And, with some additional hardware and software (and a lot of glasses), the digital theaters will be capable of showing movies in 3-D.

Similarly, entertainment innovator IMAX is looking to advance its own projection technology and expand the number of IMAX theaters worldwide (currently, there are around 300). IMAX theaters feature extra large screens that wrap around the viewer with crystal-clear images and enhanced surround sound. The idea behind the technology is to make viewers feel like they are actually in the movie – shattering conventional boundaries between film and viewer. IMAX theaters also have the technology to play 3-D films. In recent years, the company has been working to remaster Hollywood films like “Apollo 13” and “Spiderman 2” for projection in IMAX theaters. Currently, seven major Hollywood films are expected to be released in the IMAX format – including this summer’s surefire hit “The Dark Knight”, the next film in the Batman series. The company believes that showing movies in a unique way gives people a reason to come to theaters rather than watch DVDs at home.

But will digital projection and 3-D movies really help drive moviegoers back to the big screens? The answer seems to be a definitive maybe. The first animated 3-D movie released, Chicken Little in 2005, made nearly double what the 2-D version made (while playing on far less screens). And the recent release “Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert” surprised everyone recently by pulling in over $30 million in one weekend playing exclusively on 3-D screens. According to Peter Brown, chairman and chief executive of AMC Entertainment, IMAX screens have been grossing about 300 percent above the industry average for a Hollywood film.

It’s also important to remember that this isn’t your parents’ 3-D. Though the technology has been around since the 1950s, it has definitely come a long way. The blue-and-red glasses are gone, replaced by more effective polarized lenses that make images appear much clearer and far less fuzzy. The technology has developed so much that a number of Hollywood heavies are even making upcoming films with 3-D in mind – a prime example being “Titanic” and “Terminator” director James Cameron’s next film “Avatar”. Still, it remains to be seen whether the new innovations will fill empty seats, or if the movie theaters will ultimately go the way of the drive-in and slowly become a relic of the past.

Source by Shad Connelly

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