Saturday, March 29, 2008

Set your 3D sights on July.

When's the last time you saw a movie in 3D? If you're answer stretches your memory back past 2005, it's not recent enough to appreciate the
 explosion of 3D that is just around your multiplex's corner. There have already been a handful of 3D releases over the past three years but the real resurgence is poised for just about a year from now.
Over lunch with a friend a little more than a month ago, I bet that 3D would become the single most influential element to change movie theaters and the movie going experience in decades. We were only a month or so from the release of U2's 3D concert film (creatively titled U2 3D) and there were advance tickets for sale (to the overflow crowds who couldn't score tickets to a live performance) for Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert. Disney's Miley concert (opening on Superbowl weekend, see our post here), so dominated the available 3D equipped theaters that the planned 10 day run extended weeks beyond and all but pushed U2 off the screen. While Miley took in a startling 31.3 million on opening weekend and closed it's run with nearly 65 million in the US, U2 3D, according to Yahoo.com, made only about a tenth of that number. So there's the good news and the bad news of 3D in one snapshot, tons of potential, not enough screens.

All of that is what's changing. When Chuck Viane, President of Distribution for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures was asked about availability of screens for the Miley Cyrus release, his response was, "If there were 3000 3D screens available, would we have played them all? Yeah, I think we would." Next year, if things go as planned, that's the kind of decision he could wind up having to make. In the preceding months that lead to March of 2009, the powers that are backing 3D as a major new marketing and artistic tool for the movies, will be watching closely as about 3000 theater screens will gain the digital technology needed to go 3D. That will effectively quadruple today's number and will hopefully plant one, if not several, 3D capable theaters in your very own backyard.

So what's all the hoopla? Your next chance to find out comes this July with the release of Disney's joint venture with Walden Media and New Line Cinema, Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D starring Brendan  Fraser. The first live action entry for the new wave of 3D production, trailers for Journey have been playing with almost every 3D feature hitting screens in the last year. If you've seen anything in 3D you've likely caught it. With a July 11th release date, Journey will be jumping off 3D screens among lots of hot summer titles, including Will Smith's Hancock released just a week earlier. (Mr. Fraser will also have a 2D follow up when the next movie in The Mummy series hits conventional and far more numerous screens in August.) All eyes will be on the per screen take at the box-office and if the present trend holds, 3D screens may more than double the box-office take of their 2D counterparts.

Two weeks after Journey digs into screens, two other 3D releases are set to bow. The first, also from Disney is the broad comedy/fantasy G-Force starring the voices of Nicholas Cage, Penélope Cruz, Steve Buscemi and Tracy Morgan. The second, set for the same date, is the horror remake Piranha. Directed by Alexandré Aja, the culprit behind The Hills Have Eyes. It couldn't take very long for horror directors to jump on the bandwagon. What better way to breath new life into tiring and "seen it all" splatter flicks like the Saw series?

Take comfort, if you get caught up into seeing in 3D, you're only at the tip of the iceberg... here's a little of what's on the slate for 2009...

One year from now, Dreamworks' Jeffrey Katzenberg will likely be feeling like he's given birth. With 3D, a long gestating dream, the first born onto 3D screens will be the animated Monsters vs. Aliens starring the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Steven Colbert and others. Monsters vs Aliens is currently scheduled for March 27, 2009.

Perhaps the most talked about and highly anticipated 3D project so far, director James Cameron will release Avatar. Boasting the acting talents of Sigourney Weaver and Giovanni Ribisi, the sci-fi adventure Avatar is currently set for release in December of next year.

If waiting on Avatar will be making you crazy, there are nearly 30 other projects currently in the pipeline. Among those are How to Train Your Dragon from Dreamworks, Toy Story 3D from Disney (who expect to also release the first two Toy Story films reprocessed in 3D as well). George Lucas is said to be working on releasing the original three Star Wars films (episodes IV, V & VI) also reprocessed and Summit Entertainment will be releasing the animated adventure of some youthful bugs that sneak aboard the Apollo 11 moon mission in Fly Me to the Moon

So will 3D really change what's happening at the movies. No matter the impact, it's clear that the movie theaters will indeed be changing. The momentum to convert projection technology to digital and the need by theater owners to compete with ever more advanced home theaters, will bring assured change, from screen image to comfort to amenities. Oh, and did I mention ticket price? Speaking of... would you go to a movie theater that charged $35.00 a seat? Some people are already doing exactly that, and loving it. We'll tell you where, next on Moviedozer Dailies.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

ShoWest: Go Digital.

The first step into three dimensions for movie theaters is digital, and ShoWest, the industry insider's annual trade show for Cinema Exhibition and Distribution, this year became a showcase for studios, theater owners and technology companies, to broker landmark deals to begin the largest initiative to convert existing theaters to digital technology to date. If you're just a casual movie fan you're likely about to stop reading, a "big whoop" speeding to the front of your thoughts. But wait, this is a "big whoop" and you're going to be the recipient, first hand, of a little good news/bad news if you're planning to spend anytime at all in a movie theater over the next couple of years.

First, a first hand impression of the significance of sitting your butt down in digitally equipped verses analog (read old fashion projector and film reels, sprockets and celluloid being pulled past a really bright lamp) theater... it's really good. Of course, that goes along with the quality of the film you've elected to sit through, but the fact is, digital projection has the ability to put a cleaner, defect free, brilliant image onto the screen and though you'll come to accept it as ordinary, the first few times you'll be noticing the things you notice on your neighbor's HD flatscreen.

My first experience watching a digital movie print came some time ago when I had the opportunity to see Disney's animated Tarzan in a Texas Instruments test equipped theater at AMC's Pleasure Island complex at Walt Disney World. Having seen the film projected with standard analog equipment a week earlier, I wondered if I would notice any real or significant difference. As the opening frames bathed the screen, there was a noticeable breath from the audience. Not a gasp, but a certain appreciation and recognition of the vibrancy of the colors and detail in the image. Throughout the screening, the clean, crystal clear brilliance of the pictures made for a more enjoyable experience than the first screening I saw and set the bar at a level I hadn't imagined possible in movie theaters previously. Since then, I have often been appalled at the poor quality of movie prints I've paid full price to see. Most recently, at a screening of No Country For Old Men, the print was as scratched and dull as the Texas landscape the film was shot in. A major disappointment that may soon be going the way of VCR tapes.

So there's the first reason you should care. ShoWest, just wrapping up a few days ago, became the platform for a series of announcements that will wind up committing companies and dollars to retrofitting as many as 10,000 theater screens to digital capability. (And you thought that new home theater would keep you're kids home on the weekends.) The work has already begun and finding digital screens bowing in your neighborhood will definitely be in your future. It also means that studios from Disney to Universal will be flooding the market with digital content, which makes your days of watching defective film prints happily numbered.

But is this really something to get fired up about? Can you say 3D? You know how we go on and on about 3D on these pages. The fact is, theaters need to say digital before they can say 3D, and once the first conversion is complete, the 3D conversion can begin. And there's a ton of news about 3D coming up in our next column.


But hey, wasn't there something about "bad news" in there? Let me put it this way... Jeffrey Katzenberg, the animation guru of Dreamworks and perhaps the industry's biggest cheerleader for the future of 3D, while addressing ShoWest, said this about the digital delivery of movies to theaters: "It is nothing less than the greatest innovation that has happened for all of us in the movie business since the advent of color 70 years ago". Statements like that don't get made over technology that comes cheap. Estimates indicate there are some 1.1 billion dollars poised to finance this first wave of the new era in movie theater entertainment experience. Might as well start prepping yourself now for a little box-office ticket price shock. Keep your fingers crossed, maybe they'll improve the popcorn while they're at it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Would you elect a Commander & Chief on the advice of this guy?


Since the politics have gotten a bit nastier we thought we'd remind you of the ad we wrote about early this month. Nicholson's endorsement commercial for Hilary Clinton stands alone in the pantheon of celebrity political endorsements for being downright absurd, and Hilary stands alone for her detestable political scheming. We're hoping she'll be standing alone at the Democratic National Convention as well.
It's becoming obvious that those two smiles pictured above may not be all that different. To jump to the original article from March 2nd and view the commercial, just click here.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Iron Man set to soar over '08 box-office.

Our guess at Moviedozer is that the ubiquitous movie trailer, as an advertising element, has the highest impact in convincing moviegoers to peel a ten out of their wallets and see this weekend's big new release. Television ads are for the most part an extension (or more accurately an edit) of the clips of art and sometimes artless clips we see in movie theaters, our very presence likely due to the barrage of trailers we saw on our last visit. As the editor and writer for Moviedozer, I have to admit to a genuine fondness for that moment when the big screen commercials stop, the lights fade to dark and that big green bar comes across announcing that the following trailer is acceptable for all audiences. The thought always settles over me that I love trailers. And with that said, I wanted to share my new favorite.
In the current climate of political full disclosure, I'll quickly point out that neither Moviedozer nor Moviedozer Dailies receives compensation or consideration for the content of it's columns and posts (oh, that we did!), so our purpose here is just to swing a spotlight onto what we think is a job well done and a summer movie that is going to be one of the big stories for the 2008 box-office. We've had our eye on this particular project from many months out, and were suitably intrigued after watching it's original teaser. Superbowl Sunday came along and as the first Blockbuster film advertised, Paramount Studios showcased a specially cut preview trailer designed just for the day. That ad spurred us to include the trailer in a column on these very pages. The movie we're talking about is Iron Man and here's what we said back in February: 

"Marvel meets Robert Downey Jr. I love the whole idea of this. Paramount even had the class to cut together a special TV trailer just for the Superbowl. Could this be a studio actually confident and excited about what they have in store for us? The trailer barage of special effects, great art direction and perfect-take, understated lines ("Yeah, I can fly"), just looks like what every big budget super hero flick should look like (and what none of them looked like last year), pure, wall-to-wall, high concept FUN. Iron Man is scheduled for it's opening weekend on May 2. Mark it in your calendar. For movie fans, this will be the start of summer."

After seeing the newest trailer for Iron Man this past week, we feel even more certain that it will be the first film of the season to race toward that gold standard of 300 million dollars at the US box-office. Why's this any more than just a good trailer? It really goes back to what we said earlier, this film looks like a blast. It's what last year's Transformers might have looked like if the source material hadn't been so dated and if the target audience hadn't been so young. Marvel, on the other hand, seems to offer the magic of pulling in an older male audience that remembers their comic books with only slightly less reverence than their muscle cars. It's also where Super Hero movies have begun to differ. For a lesson in three parts, take a look at the Spiderman trio of releases between 2002 and 2007, the much darker and brooding Spiderman 3 leaving audiences with much less enthusiasm than the two earlier installments. Where the original Batman movies went from garish and silly to, well garish and even sillier, 2005's Batman Begins created a compelling new sense of story and setting that created a great base to rebuild. The danger that confronts this year's The Dark Knight is it's very darkness. We think it will fare well, but our bet's still riding on Robert Downey's smirk to deliver charm and excitement right through all the metal.

With all of that said here's a peak at the new Iron Man trailer through the viral magic of YouTube:



This is so what a summer movie should look like. If you're curious to get the full effect you can click here and check out the official movie site. If you've got the processing speed, it's well worth the time to go the HD route and see the trailer in as much glory as your computer rig can dish out. There's an HD version available on Apple's Quicktime site by clicking here. You can even check out our Moviedozer review of the trailer (as well as some of the other upcoming summer titles) by going to Moviedozer's Trailer page. You got all that? Have fun.

Next up for us at Moviedozer? 3D is getting a lot of press and now it's about to get a lot of investment. Told you so. We'll tell you more, next at Moviedozer Dailies.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Viral Trailer

If you're a regular reader of Moviedozer.com or Moviedozer Dailies (and we hope you are), you already know that we're big on certain trends in the movie business. 3D is one of those, and as that format continues to shake out we'll be watching for the next step in it's evolution to becoming a major factor in the way theaters present entertainment and the way that studios support non-traditional movie products. Limited release is another hot button around here and after watching studio after studio hedge their bets on less than star-power product by counting it's first run theaters on two hands, we'll be watching the successes and failures of limited release strategies throughout 2008.
We'll be watching too as High Definition makes it's stand as a viable and increasingly popular way to view home video. For now it looks like so called "first adopters" of high-def technology have already been split into winners and losers by the likes of Sony and Toshiba, the standard-bearers of Blu-Ray and HD DVD respectively. For now it looks like Sony and it's consortium of Blu-Ray backers will walk away with the prize, but our caution would be to keep an eye on the internet and the purveyors of digital download. As other forms of entertainment follow music into the world of 1's and 0's, television and film are squarely pointed toward the looking glass of the future where proprietary formats are controlled by the likes of Apple, Amazon and Microsoft. Blu-Ray beware.

Here's the trend that's most recently pulled our focus at Moviedozer: the wonders of viral movie marketing. After it's Valentines Day debut on ABC's Good Morning America, the Associated Press reported on March 2nd that the first full length trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in distribution on television, movie theaters and the internet, had been see more than 200 million times world wide... in just one week. That number was significantly bolstered by the nearly seven million viewings shared between the official Indiana Jones website and Yahoo's online movie site. The film, which opens on May 22nd and is certainly in the running to be one of 2008's $300 million earners in the US, will likely double that number with overseas draw. As has become the standard for summer movies, it will debut as one of the two or three films to be released this blockbuster season with those lofty expectations.

Why is the internet such an important part of the equation? In a word, familiarity. A franchise as world renown as Indiana Jones ranks way up there with brand names like Star Wars in the box-office business. But for all of us who can remember being caught breathless watching Indy running out of a cave while being chased by a gigantic rolling boulder in his onscreen debut, there are lots more young (read enthusiastic and out of school for the summer) moviegoers who weren't doing much more than playing with toys when it burst into theaters. (Just for reference, in 1989, the year the last Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was released, Sim City had just been introduced and Nintendo had just debuted the Game Boy.) 

If you want to capture that audience, sieze the web! With all of the new web technologies and popular internet social sites, that means going viral. From computers to cell phones to YouTube to Apple's iPod Touch, trailers can play 24/7 and have the cache' of being seen as free to have and distribute entertainment. Big budget entertainment at that.

In the vast scheme of things, this is a trend we at Moviedozer can embrace and believe in. In the world of watching soda and car commercials before seeing the movie you paid ten bucks to catch on it's opening weekend, saturating YouTube with Hollywood movie trailers doesn't seem the least bit inconvenient or offensive. Websites (like our own) that can grab trailer clips and links of major movie release sites, without license or fees and with no limitations or restrictions, reap tremendous benefits from movie studios who understand the market place value of internet technology and proliferation. Watch if you like, click off when you like and search out what you like. Entirely your call. The choices you make will dictate who markets to you and what they market. Better than lame product commercials, push pop-up ads and distracting animated banners, movie trailers and the studios that want you to watch, have found a happy and effective medium to spin tons of extra shelf life from their centerpiece asset in movie marketing. A 2 and 1/2 minute free tease that not only sells tickets, but gets us all in the mood for the best part of every year's blockbuster season - the return of summer! Let 'em go viral.

To check out the trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the official website (not to mention more downloadable desktops than we've ever seen on a movie promo site), just click here. You'll be dreaming of leather jackets, crackling whips and fedoras for days and you'll once again be humming that classic theme song all summer long.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

And the Oscar goes to hell.

A column about last week's Oscars? Yes, this is way late, but not everything runs on 24 hour news cycles. Fact is I was rather stumped for what I could bring to the party after having watched this year's show. Then I reread a web article I had printed and put aside...
Allow me to lift a quote: A.O. Scott, reporting for the New York Times in a February 24th article wrote this: "...I am nonetheless bothered by the disproportionate importance that the Academy Awards have taken on, and by the distorting influence they exercise over the way we make, market and see movies in this country." He goes on to say, "The Oscars themselves may be harmless fun, but the idea that they matter is as dangerous as it is ridiculous."

Moviedozer.com and Moviedozer Dailies came into being after discussing the (in our opinion) ridiculous choices of the 2007 Academy. After watching this year's Best Actress award presented to Marion Cotillard (for La Vie En Rose) in a show that also honored Ruby Dee and Saoirse Ronan with Supporting Actress nominations, and Lars and The Real Girl with an Original Screenplay nomination, there was just that more fuel for the fire. How does an Award show that recognizes the brilliance of Tilda Swinton's performance in Michael Clayton, find a nomination for pop/gospel drivel like Raise It Up as Best Song from August Rush, a film that doesn't deserve mention in a sentence that includes the word "best"? How does a performance like Javier Bardem's (or for that matter, everyone of the other Best Supporting Actor nominations, co-exist in a competition for the Oscar that included the nomination of Atonement as a Best Picture nominee? Atonement was as generic a romantic period film as any I have ever seen. Well made, well acted, beautifully photograped? Yes. One of the five best films made through the entire year of 2007? Really? 

Hollywood has made an art form of the trailer, that two and a half minute exercise in film editing that is the staple piece of marketing for movie releases. As moviegoers, all of you know how often marketing and quality moviemaking diverge. But those trailers are presented as "the sell". You know that when you watch. It's an ad and no one's pretending anything more, though often those ads are art in themselves. The Academy Awards along with their precious Oscar statuette are no different. It's an ad. A come-on to drive box-office action and DVD unit sales. I can take that. I'll still watch. Knowing it's just a "sell" may even lighten things up and make it all that much more fun. But if that's the reality, knock off all of the high-brow, cinema auteur crap and reward the popular films.

No one's trying to "class-up" the MTV movie awards or for that matter the Golden Globes. If you'd rather flaunt that you're the "Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences", great. I'll peak into the theater and watch an industry reward itself, but I'm sick of you trying to have it both ways. You are a private organization that pretends to speak as the public and the press. You are an organization of select knowledge and special interest that operates behind close doors every day of the year but one, and on that day you are suddenly a marketing machine. The problem is that your narrow point of view dictates what moviegoers across the country and around the world get to see at their local theaters. You have even found the hutzpah to dictate release schedules and rereleases. You're member voting pushes publicly owned and traded studios to select styles, genres, casts and subject matter for filmmakers and producers for months and often years to come. Next to black line profits, it's fair to say that the Academy Awards influence film production more than any other factor outside of the studios themselves. In any balanced analysis, that influence seems wildly unethical.

The truth is that the Academy is 6000 people who collectively have a strangle hold on a multi-billion dollar industry. Yet, where was the Academy in assisting to broker a deal for Hollywood's writers, whose strike cost the California economy and the movie industry hundreds of millions? Where are they now, as actors have begun rumbling about their own strike? The arrogance of the Academy is the real story. How can they think, that in this age of YouTube and media driven by the masses, they can remain all powerful and exclusive? Wake up, there's a People's Academy out there finding their voices faster than you can follow. You, as a movie fan are part of that voice. If you've gone to the movies, bought a DVD or a soundtrack or bought a download, you have the real power to sway Hollywood. You also have the power to shut down the overwhelming influence of Oscar. We've said it here before, we all need to exercise our voice.

So to the members of the Academy, take a look at your ratings. In a few more years, Oscar may be taking on a look a lot more representative of the Academy itself, that of a tarnished and dull antique.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hollywood Hype goes to the Primaries.

A Reader's Note: The YouTube video of the Jack Nicholson endorsement for Hilary Clinton has been refreshed (as of March 16, '08) to a new working copy. Enjoy.

Enough! Now that Hollywood has entered the fray of the 2008 political primaries as only Hollywood could, I can't resist getting political. On all of the Sunday news shows, talk today found focus on some nifty editing of movie trailers apparently at the direction of super chic movie star Jack Nicholson. With Democratic bastion and all-around civic cause minded Rob Reiner at his side, Jack decided his endorsement for Hilary Clinton, as she approaches the well-deserved end to her primary campaign, could be best said in the words of his on-screen personas. (Sorry to say for Jack, the commercial also serves as a reminder that his best screen roles are all well behind him.)

Here's the spot:


So just to get this straight, here are the characters that Jack chose to endorse Mrs. Clinton:
1. A maniacal super-villain hell bent on drugging a city and murdering it's law enforcement.
2. A hallucinating hotel caretaker trapped in a remote lodge who is swiftly losing his mind and attempting to ax-murder his wife.
3. An alcoholic, burnt out private eye.
4. A megalomaniac sexist military officer who condones the torture and death of a soldier under his command.
&
5. A rebellious, anti-authority smart-ass.

Interesting choices Jack. Some endorsement Hilary.

Of late, Jack has become more famous for his award show appearances and his Lakers tickets than for his starring roles at the movies. Perhaps his next endorsement will feature clips of the Lakers three championship seasons? Hooray for Hollywood and their self-serving, ego-driven political endorsements.

In the words of one of Mr. Nicholson's characters...
"Truth, You can't handle the truth."