Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=159763
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Alexa Harrison/MEDILL

AMC Entertainment Inc. has 17 theaters in the Chicago area and recently acquired Kerasotes Theatres LLC, based in Chicago, in January.


AMC theaters adds more 3-D screens to Chicago

by Alexa Harrison
March 05, 2010


The 3-D wave will hit the Chicago area as AMC Entertainment Inc. plans to install RealD Corp. 3-D technology into six screens by the end of March. Out of AMC’s 247 screens in Chicago, only 20 are already 3-D capable.

Box-office success “Avatar,” which was released in early November and earned $284 million domestically by the end of 2009, has sent film studios into a frenzy trying to release 3-D films in order to increase revenue.

The three largest movie theater chains plan to update 14,000 screens with digital projectors, which in turn prepare them for 3-D installments. However, the investment could be risky, especially when compared to “Avatar.”

“Avatar has spoiled everybody,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office division of Hollywood.com LLC. “I mean once you see ‘Avatar,’ it has set the bar so high for 3-D that any other movie that is in 3-D now better have a good story to back up the visuals.”

“I think the future is solid for the theater business, but there’s a lot of uncertainty too, and you’d have to be naive to think there aren’t risks involved,” he said.

Dergarabedian thinks this is as good a time as any to invest in 3-D, even if it fails to be popular in the future.

He explained, “The risk is if you invest in all this equipment and then all the attendance tapers off, then you’re stuck with a big bill for the upgrade. The upside is at least you have the digital equipment.”

If ticket sales are any indication, the popularity of 3-D will not dissipate any time soon. It is promising to studios because 3-D tickets cost more than regular tickets.

Hollywood.com box office surveyed 14 films released in 3-D in 2009. The films grossed $1.6 billion domestically in both 3-D and 2-D presentations. The 3-D versions grossed $1.0 billion alone. Of the 14 films, 10 were offered in both formats, with 64.5 percent of the total gross attributed to 3-D.

“Obviously there’s a greater demand for a movie in 3-D,” said Harry Medved, head of public relations for Fandango Inc., a leading online ticketing service. “The real test is ‘Alice in Wonderland’ this weekend. According to our ticket sales, Disney is passing the test.”

As of Thursday, Medved said 88 percent of all ticket sales on the Fandango Web site were going towards “Alice in Wonderland” and mostly in 3-D. Walt Disney Co.’s Disney Studios released the film, by director Tim Burton, on Friday.

The Web site polled more than 1,000 Fandango moviegoers and 81 percent said it was important for them to see the movie in 3-D, but while the technology is a large aspect, the top two reasons to see the film were because of the director and actor Johnny Depp.

Dergarabedian agreed with the poll results. “‘Alice in Wonderland’ is going to be a huge hit this weekend because of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton," he said. "The visuals are actually quite amazing, but again, ‘Avatar’ set the bar so high that all films after are going to be held to a different standard.”

The studios know and the numbers prove that 3-D is a viable product to create more revenue, but ultimately it is up to the studios to make consumers happy by continuing to perfect the technology.

Not all movie watchers are on board. Sam McConnell, a 20-year-old Calvin College student saw "Alice in Wonderland" Friday but, as a huge fan of the Lewis Carroll novel, he was disappointed and thought the plot strayed too far from the original storyline. He also believes the 3-D did not enhance the film.

“I kind of find [3-D] distracting. It makes it hard to ever have your eyes focus on what’s going on. And it looks actually less realistic than a normal non-3-D film,” he said. “Maybe if it was done incredibly well with better 3-D technology, but 3-D technology as it is, it’s really just distracting.”