"We just won't have time."
That's what "Clash of the Titans" director Louis Leterrier told MTV News in January when the possibility of an 11th-hour 3-D conversion for his Greek mythology epic was first raised. Any worry about a rushed 3-D-ification were dismissed when Warner Bros. decided to convert "Clash" in just 10 weeks and capitalize on the chance to sell premium-price tickets.
After the film grossed $61.4 million during its opening weekend despite widespread criticism of the film's 3-D, it's hard to argue with Warner's business decision. And it raises a compelling question: Does good 3-D not matter? In a post-"Avatar" world, will audiences pay money to see anything in three dimensions, regardless of quality?
"Right now, with the catalyst that was 'Avatar,' studios and exhibitors are flexing their 3-D muscles, and audiences are in awe," said Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations.
Indeed, the record-breaking, $2.7 billion worldwide haul of "Avatar" continues to climb, and the three major 3-D releases of 2010 — "Alice in Wonderland," "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Clash" — have all opened in the #1 box-office spot. "Avatar" was shot using 3-D cameras, and "Dragon" was natively converted to 3-D during the computer-animated process, in each case leading to highly regarded 3-D effects. Meanwhile, "Alice," like "Clash," received its third dimension during a post-production process that delivers a finished product many compare to a pop-up book or watching a movie through a View-Master.
It would seem, then, that the process of how a 3-D film is made is less important to moviegoers than the simple fact that it's in 3-D. So it should come as no surprise, as Carolyn Giardina wrote in The Hollywood Reporter, that "3-D conversions are fast becoming an accepted option for both studios and filmmakers."
Yet hitting the #1 spot does not tell the whole 3-D box-office story. David Poland of Movie City News points out that the $60 million-plus gross of "Clash," even benefiting from the premium ticket-price bump, was likely a disappointment to Warner Bros., which had been trying to match spring 2007's $70 million opening of "300." What's more, "Alice" out-grossed "Clash" by a whopping $54 million, and "Dragon" failed to match DreamWorks' 2009 3-D entrant "Monsters vs. Aliens." The takeaway is that 3-D, while it can goose the bottom line, is not some box-office panacea.
"We are basing the idea of 3-D as a 'can't miss' based on two movies — 'Avatar' and 'Alice' — while disregarding the middling performance of 3-D over years past," Poland said.
3-D is certainly a boon to studios and distributors, but it's hardly a failsafe mechanism to drive audiences to the theater. Story still matters, and based on the 30 percent critical rating of "Clash" over at Rotten Tomatoes, the movie's story seems to have left folks underwhelmed. And in the midst of the native-3-D-vs.-converted-3-D debate, there's the very real possibility that when audiences do show up to the theater, they might not know beforehand if they're about to see a film with beautiful 3-D or cardboard cutout-style 3-D. Word-of-mouth about crappy 3-D might only become apparent after opening weekend. Will the second-weekend gross of "Clash" plummet more than that of "Avatar" (1.8 percent drop), "Alice" (46 percent) and "Dragon" (33 percent)? And going forward, will audiences begin to wise up on opening night itself?
"If we continue to see inferior product like 'Clash of the Titans,' theatergoers won't be wowed for very long and certainly won't continue to pay the premium," Bock said. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. This is a gamble that paid off for WB in the short term, but 3-D fatigue is real and we will probably see it soon."
Did you see "Clash of the Titans" this weekend? What did you think of the 3-D? Let us know in the comments below!
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