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Mike Reyes, aka Mr. Controversy, has considered himself a writer ever since he was a child. He wrote for various school publications from about 1995 until 2006, and currently runs both The Bookish Kind and Mr. Controversy, which is an offshoot of the regular column he wrote in High School. He's also a film journalist/critic for Cocktails & Movies and CinemaBlend, as well as the author of several short stories such as "The Devil v. George W. Bush". Any inquiries for reprinting, writing services, or general contact, should be forwarded to: mikereyeswrites@gmail.com

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Last Temptation of James Cameron, Part III

(This is Part III of a three part series. Here's Part I, Part II, and the prequel. Yes, this post is massively late, but I think it's worth it. I must also disclaim that I am part of the IMAX Film Crew, and as such I have been given free prizes from time to time as rewards for my participation in promoting the IMAX brand. All that are interested in doing the same are welcome to visit www.facebook.com/imax, and sign up.)

So it's been a while since Avatar Day, and the reception was been mixed at best. Some were still on the "game changing" bandwagon, and some were not so impressed. Whatever the opinion, after that day two major forces had factored into the equation.

- The number of IMAX theaters has increased...sort of.

A lot of people after Avatar Day have gone on to say that IMAX 3D really changed their perspective on the film more than the standard 2D trailer did. This should be both encouraging and disheartening to IMAX fans. First, the encouragement: the number of IMAX theaters will increase, as IMAX is currently in a major partnership with AMC Theaters. Technically, this could be seen as a carry over from their commitments with Loews Theaters (seeing as AMC bought Loews not too long ago); but no matter how you see it this spells big news. However, the discouraging part is that most of these theaters will probably be "Digital IMAX", or "Fake IMAX" as some have come to call it. Take for example, the New Brunswick AMC Theater on Route 1 in New Jersey. They've currently renovated one of their standard theaters into a new Digital IMAX, and after looking into the process it's easier to see how some might not be so happy.

Basically, the main difference between a "Digital IMAX" and a traditional IMAX film is the method of presentation. Traditional IMAX is one projector that uses the IMAX 70mm celluloid print, which is shown in a specially built IMAX theater that can house a full sized IMAX screen. Digital IMAX, however, is only slightly bigger than a traditional screen (and comparatively smaller than a Traditional IMAX screen) and uses two 35mm digital projectors to create an image that seems like IMAX, but really isn't. (This article from the LF Examiner explains a lot of the difference) Even picture quality is better on a traditional IMAX screen, which begs the question, "Why even continue to build Digital IMAX screens?". The answer: Avatar.

A lot of people can't make it to "traditional" IMAX screens, and for a film everyone is going to want to go see (especially in IMAX 3D) AMC would be at an advantage to offer it in their Digital IMAX format. For those who know better, they'll steer clear of said format and either go for the Traditional IMAX or stay home. For those who don't (which is a lot of people), they'll be happy with Digital IMAX and think they're getting the full monty. Either way, this format (while inferior to the real thing) is still being charged at the same rate as a Traditional IMAX, and as such will help boost the box office take if promoted correctly. (And judging by the way they're promoting it at the New Brunswick theater, it's being promoted correctly.) Still, one could present the argument that "Digital IMAX" should be its own brand, and thus charged at slightly less than IMAX per ticket, but that's an entire article in and of itself.

- James Cameron has to make sure that film isn't a "theater only" experience.

It's a well argued point that this film might not be the theatrical juggernaut everyone hopes it'll be. This isn't "Titanic 2.0", but it's not destined to be "Ferngully: The Second Coming" either. This movie IS going to rack up some decent numbers, and people will be tripping over themselves to see it. And with IMAX rumored to be booking the film for an unprecedented three month release window (Star Trek was lucky to get two separate release windows of two weeks a piece, with an already built in fanbase. The average IMAX film in 2009 had about a month to two months solid.) the studio is anticipating this to be a great big shining star.

However, movie studios have been slowly learning that films that underperform in the theaters sometimes find a better home on DVD. And undoubtedly, this film has about a 50/50 shot of performing on par with or above the hype it's built in, with the odds shifting against day by day. Also, with ticket prices rising (especially after Jeffrey Katzenberg started screaming for higher 3D surcharges) and limited availability of true IMAX theaters; people might find themselves saying, "Eh, I'll wait until it hits DVD." Though, to a certain extend, how this film find its audience in theaters will determine its DVD legs as well; simply because people are more likely to blind buy a movie they hear their friends praising. (Though one could say that even if the film does pretty well in theaters, it'd still need some strong DVD sales if they hope to even approach making the film's budget back.) Say the film grosses at least half of its projected $250 mil. budget; putting us at an even $125 mil. Now, list price on DVD's amounts to anywhere between $19.99 - $24.99 for a single/double disc standard definition version. List Price on a Blu-Ray release is around let's say $24.99 - $39.99 for a single/double disc High Def version. And because this is a pretty big film, lets assume there will be a big collector's edition DVD set with all the bells and whistles, which would probably clock in at $49.99 for Standard and $79.99 for Blu Ray.

Going by those figures, you'd have to sell quite a few copies to break even. Specifically...

- Between 6,253,127 - 5,002,001 copies of a single/double disc Standard Def version

- Between 5,002,001 - 3,125,781 copies of a single/double disc High Def version.

- About 2,500,500 copies of the special collectors edition in Standard Def.

- About 1,562,695 copies of the special collectors edition in High Def.

If James Cameron has done his job, then he's made a film that not only wows the audience in theaters, but also transcends the theatrical exhibition experience and translates just fine onto home screens. If this is the case, Avatar will be a smash hit on DVD with people who have seen it in theaters and those who will experience it for the first time. However, one major step that has to happen before said DVD/Blu Ray release is the improvement of the home 3D experience.

Currently, 3D DVD presentations are only in Anaglyph 3D, which is the traditional red/blue lens 3D. While it's still somewhat effective, it is not a format that lends itself to prolonged viewing times. Not to mention, the coloring of the lenses washes out all color detail of the actual picture; thus taking the viewer completely out of the experience and reducing the film to a collection of 3D sight gags. The bottom line is in order for 3D films to work on DVD, a conversion to Polarized 3D glasses must be made in the home video market.

Looking back, both of those points are still valid. There are a lot of obstacles standing between James Cameron and a repeat of the box office success he achieved with Titanic. However, I think this movie is still on track for some measure of success. This is mostly due to the ever increasing blend of new and old media tactics James Cameron has engaged in. With the more traditional means of media, James Cameron has increased visibility for the film through sporting events such as the World Series and NFL Sunday, as well as partaken in critic screenings and print and television interviews.

On the new media front though, Facebook and Twitter have been invaluable when it comes to breaking ground in the new media frontier. The best example of this being the MTV interview that occurred on November 30th, where Cameron, Sam Worthington, and Zoe Saldana engaged in an interview that answered questions pulled from fans preregistered to watch the event live via streaming video through Facebook. Cameron, no stranger to breaking new ground himself, was pleased with the chat and seemed to believe that it was the best way to possibly quell fan backlash.

Also, IMAX has gone out of their way to promote the hell out of this film. Not only have they created a new website where you can basically schedule & invite people for an IMAX viewing of Avatar, they've seriously laid it on thick with their internet campaign through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social medium. The crescendo for their campaign though is a 24 hour "Avatar-a-thon" that they have been holding as of 12:01 AM this morning. $250 million is a huge number to make up, let alone attempt to double; so the company is taking great strides to help boost the numbers. And what's one of the best ways to get people's attention? Free stuff, naturally; and there will be tons of it given away during this event. (If you're interested in entering for prizes, follow this link to IMAX's Facebook page.)

Indeed everyone involved seems to be pitching in something new for the Avatar campaign. Fox has incorporated new technologies such as "interactive trailers" into the marketing campaign, UbiSoft worked closely with James Cameron and his handpicked development team to create the prequel video game, Mattel introduced the web cam friendly I-Tags, and Panasonic is blazing trails in 3D televisions, not to mention there was the announcement of of polarized 3D finally making its bow on the Blu Ray market sometime in the coming year.

So in the end, even if Avatar doesn't light the way in terms of ticket sales or storytelling (the story has been slammed as "derivative" of everything from Dances with Wolves to Ferngully: The Last Rainforest) the technologies involved benefit everyone involved. 3D has been labeled as a passing craze for a while now, and for a while it did die out. But with the advents of polarized 3D, IMAX theater systems, and now home theater 3D experiences; James Cameron may have just given 3D its permanent fixture in showbusiness. Film marketing will never be the same, film making will never be the same; and most of all, moviegoing will never be the same, once Avatar makes its mark on history.

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