The New York Times is reporting that movie goers have started to become disenfranchised with 3-D with the percentage of overall sales dropping consistently below 50% for the first time since it suddenly became popular after the success of Avatar. As predicted, Hollywood doing constant poor post-production conversions on films that do not benefit in any way from 3-D has resulted in the public getting tired of paying out extra money for little benefit. The hope seems to be that Transformers: Dark of the Moon will remind the public of what 3-D can do. Considering Paramount spent an extra $30 million for real 3D, causing the budget to hit $195 million, they have a vested interest in 3D sales.
As anyone has gone to 3D movie is aware, between the glasses and the 3D effect, the result is often darkened view that can result in a loss of detail. Michael Bay has spoken about it in past interviews and decided to take action. He has been calling the chief executives of major theatres that they need to show the movie in a brighter and sharper way. The side effect is it will burn out projector bulbs at a much faster and therefore cost theaters more money. Bay is also demanding a Digital presentation whenever possible rather than typical film reel.
He told the Times, "If this was having my name on it, I was determined to make it technically perfect. We’ve spent an enormous amount of time making sure the eye is transitioned from shot to shot. If you pan too quickly it will give viewers a jittery feeling."
While Michael Bay's intentions are ones I agree with, it seems that Paramount has stepped in and made further demands that is angering the theater executives according to Deadline. While Bay seems to want Digital for best possible display, Paramount is refusing to provide 35mm Technicolor 3D prints if the theaters have a Digital theater. On top of that, they are demanding that it play in the Digital theaters for at least four weeks. This is a move to lock out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2 from as many 3D screens as possible while also giving Paramount a chance to again lock down those theaters when Captain America is released on July 22nd. If you are a theater owner, locking up critical hi-tech screens like this is not going to go over well, especially since there is a good chance Harry Potter will take the U.S. box office crown with DOTM a close second.
Considering Harry Potter 7 Part 2 is a post converted 3D film (aka not Real 3D) that already has a very dark color palette, Paramount might be unintentionally helping movie goers from wasting their money. I suspect by the end of July critics will use DOTM as 3D done right while Harry Potter 7 will be the poster child on why movie goers are abandoning the 3-D format as being an unnecessary extra expense.
From Deadline, "Instead of working together on the 3D situation where the public is seemingly growing apathetic, Paramount takes the 'every man for himself' attitude. Real smart. That’s why exhibitors are going to take every opportunity to dump all over them when they can. Watch what happens in November. In a 4-week span you have 7 films from different studios all jockeying for 3D. Paramount’s line will be 'Katzenberg [Puss N Boots] & Scorsese [Hugo Cabret] are insisting on Digital theaters” and the other 5 will be beating their brains out to get whatever dates they can. Should be fun to watch."
The solution to the 3D "wars" is very simple. If the movie studio isn't willing to pony up that extra $30 million or so for a film to be designed and filmed in mostly Real 3D, than chances are it doesn't need to be released in 3D. It should be something that practically announces "this movie is special". As 3D has been abused over the last year, all it really announces is this movie needs a gimmick. My advice on 3D remains if it isn't Real 3D (like Green Lantern and Harry Potter 7), just watch it in 2D. A corollary to the 3D rule is by default all animated CGI films (like Kung Fu Panda 2) are Real 3D by default because they are created in 3D in the computer anyway and more or less "post-converted" to 2D.
So what does this long article mean to you? Honestly not a whole lot. You are probably not going to know if your local theater has Digital or 35mm film nor if they followed Bay's advice to crank up the brightness. Just consider this a way of being informed when trying to decide if paying that extra $3 or $4 for 3D is worth it to you.
Update: An article from /Film indicates that for the digital print of the film, Paramount is issuing a print that is "almost twice the brightness" compared to standard 3D prints in effort to compensate for brightness issue. Also, a post from Alamo Drafthouse Theatre Tim Teague gives a little perspective on why theaters tend to not kick up the brightness as those bulbs do not come cheap. The Drafthouse has spent $23,000 on bulbs in just the past four months. If you like really technical explanations, here are some numbers.
Standard brightness for a 2D digital cinema system is 14 foot-lamberts, measured off the screen. About 75%-90% of the light is lost in 3D, so the informal standard for 3D systems is 3.5 FL, measured through the glasses. That’s the light level for which 3D pics are color graded. The special DCPs for “Transformers 3″ have been graded for 6 FL, almost twice the brightness of the usual 3D standard. By comparison, the dual-projector Imax Digital system averages only 5.5 FL for 3D.