3-D: soon to be better than specs

Category: 300 News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 30, 2005 | Publication: The Times (London) | Author: James Christopher
Publication/Article Link:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,266-1962444,00.html

The era of the hologram is upon us, says JAMES CHRISTOPHER -as are the nearly instant releases of DVDs and movies in all formats How Hollywood responds to new technology and falling box-office figures will determine the way movies are made and distributed, perhaps for ever. The surprise is just how quickly this is happening. The day when you can download your favourite films on to a mobile phone is not that far off.

The DVD is the current medium of choice for all but the most avid film fan, and the gap between the theatrical release date of a movie and the launch of the DVD is narrowing by the hour. Once upon a time a respectable film could expect a cinema life of at least six months. The average is now four. By January 2007 it may be a matter of weeks.

Respected auteurs such as Woody Allen are increasingly cynical about Hollywood's passion for technology. Allen, whose own film Match Point opens on January 6, recently lamented the lack of a "real, cultivated film industry".

But a quick scan of next year's slate shows no lack of artistic faith in feature-length documentaries, script-led dramas and high-wire stunts without a pixel in sight.

Steven Soderbergh recently signed a deal to release his next six independent projects simultaneously: in the cinema, on DVD, and on cable network television in the United States. This might have seemed bizarre 12 months ago. It may turn out to be de rigueur by the end of 2006. Significantly, the big studios, including Disney, Warner's and 20th Century Fox, are ruling nothing out.

Despite the much-vaunted era of guerrilla film-making -hand-held cameras and Apple Mac editing suites -I don't think the real business of selling movies has got a cent cheaper. That said, the many ingenious ways in which films are made is changing as quickly and fundamentally as the technology we use to watch them.

Sceptics laughed at Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004), the first studio feature to be shot entirely against a blue-screen backdrop with the scenery added later by computers. Now there's a blizzard of these blue and green-screen films on the horizon.

The financial logic is irresistible. The "shoots" with live actors are remarkably quick; the movie sets are digitally painted around them; and the budget is a fraction of what it would cost to create and construct an entire fantasy world.

Futuristic films are obvious winners. Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's Sin City was the blue-screen miracle of 2005. The sequel, due out next autumn, is widely expected to be even more "realistic". Before that, there is Dave McKean's spooky fairytale MirrorMask, to be released in the spring, a picture that was done and dusted for just $4 million. But I suspect the acid test for the new technology will come when Zach Snyder throws the Spartans into battle against the Persians in his epic action adventure 300, scheduled for next Christmas.

What's less easy to predict is how Disney's startling 3-D revolution will fare at the box office. The unpromising debutant is the animation film Chicken Little, which marks the start of this new technological offensive in February. A holographic effect is created on screen using a trademark process known as Disney Digital 3D, a technique that may spell the end of those loveable tinted cardboard specs.

The company has plans to install the necessary projecting equipment in at least 100 cinemas in America and about a dozen in Britain in 2006. Could this giant step towards the first hologram movie point the way towards the holy grail?

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