July 21, 2006

3-D “Monster House” seeks to lure moviegoers

By Gina Keating

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The debut on Friday of Steven
Spielberg's animated thriller "Monster House" is part of an
explosion of 3D films that Hollywood studios and exhibitors
hope will bring people back to the movies.

The Columbia Pictures film will debut on the largest number
of digital 3D-equipped screens ever, in a nod to the
unexpectedly robust results shown last fall by the Walt Disney
Co's 3D release of "Chicken Little."

"Monster House," a tale of three preteenish pals desperate
to prove that the decrepit house across the street is possessed
by a toy-stealing, people-eating spirit, features the voices of
Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal and TV's Kevin James.

U.S. box offices are enjoying a rebound this year -- ticket
sales are up 7 percent year-to-date and attendance is up 3.8
percent -- after a deep downturn in 2005 that had Hollywood
pondering how to compete with home entertainment offerings.

"This industry is crying out, 'Make it special,"' said
Chuck Viane, Disney's head of distribution and a proponent of
3D cinema. "(3D) is the greatest delineation between us and
home entertainment."

Several other 3D films are slated for release this year,
including "The Ant Bully" from Warner Bros. on July 28 on Imax
3-D, Sony Pictures' "Open Season" and Disney's rerelease of
"The Nightmare Before Christmas" in 3D in October.


The leading 3D company, REAL D, has deployed 218 screens
and has contracts to install more than 130 more, said REAL D
Chairman Michael Lewis. Lewis thinks he can get commitments for
1,000 screens by the end of 2007.

Why the rush?

"Chicken Little" in 3D boosted the per-screen-averages in
the 81 U.S. theaters where it appeared to three times the
domestic screen average, and patrons attracted by 3D screens
but unable to get tickets spilled into the complexes' 2D

The 3D "Chicken Little" screens themselves grossed 2.5
times the average of 2D screens, and allowed theater chains to
charge a premium of up to $4 on each ticket.

Those statistics propelled a run on 3D systems, bringing
the number of 3D screens for the debut of "Monster House" to
more than 215.

The 3D run of "Chicken Little" began as an idea tossed out
during a screening of the film about four months before the
film's November 4, 2005, release, said Viane.

He went on the road with representatives from REAL D and
Dolby, which made the digital 3D playback systems, with the
goal of installing 100 3D screens for the film's debut.

Nearly every theater chain that installed 3D screens for
"Chicken Little" added more screens for "Monster House," and
Viane hopes Disney's October release of the 3D version of
"Nightmare Before Christmas" plays on as many as 250 screens.

Disney plans a 3D roll-out next spring for its animated
time-traveling adventure film "Meet the Robinsons," and is
looking for live-action candidates for 3D rendering.

"My dream is to find a release out in the near future where
we are on 1,500 REAL D screens only," Viane said.

But what has changed 3D movies from a gimmick to a
commercial art form is the number of serious filmmakers --
Spielberg, James Cameron, Tim Burton, Robert Zemeckis -- who
are now embracing the technology as a storytelling tool, said
Chuck Goldwater, president of Christie/AIX and former chief
executive of the Digital Cinema Initiatives.

"There are ... a growing number of distributors and
directors who are looking at digital cinema and 3D and the
creative appeal that they can bring to their storytelling,"
Goldwater said.

And what about those headache-inducing red-and-green
glasses with cardboard frames? No more. Modern 3D patrons wear
sturdy plastic polarized glasses, similar in size to
sunglasses, with clear or slightly tinted lenses.