Disney's imminent re-release of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D has many wondering if others will tap their film libraries for extra-dimensional opportunities, but it appears less a matter of if than when.
Executives on lots all around Hollywood acknowledge discussions about possible 3D re-releases. At Lightstorm Entertainment, insiders suggest it will be less than a year before a 3D re-release is announced for a little film called Titanic.
We are certainly interested in exploring the opportunity to re-release some of Lightstorm's past films in 3D, Lightstorm partner Jon Landau said. I don't think it's too far into the future. We're pretty far down the road.
In fact, Lightstorm has done 3D tests on James Cameron's two most successful movies: Titanic and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Still, though several Hollywood majors also might tread that path eventually, only select projects are likely until 3D home entertainment takes hold, perhaps five years down the road. Only the most well-known film classics would merit the considerable costs of converting 2D pics, not to mention the marketing expenses of 3D re-releases.
The still-skimpy installed base of 3D movie screens is another consideration, though Landau is heartened by the steady increase in those numbers and is confident a more robust 3D footprint will be in place soon.
Family films are the most obvious candidates for 3D re-releases, as tots often know classic family titles from DVD but haven't seen them on the big screen. CGI-animated family titles top the list, as an average $8 million or so in remastering costs can be halved thanks to inherent technical advantages in the format. But even well-known action films such as those in the Star Wars franchise are expected to get 3D re-releases eventually.
I know we're all watching this to see if there's something there, Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. The uniqueness of 3D definitely brings something different to the table. But right now it's wait and see.
RETURN VISITS WELCOMED
Disney releases the 3D versions of 1995 franchise original Toy Story and its 1999 sequel October 2 on about 1,600 screens. The reissues serve as franchise reminders in advance of the June 18 bow of Toy Story 3, also in 3D. Theaters will program Toy Story and Toy Story 2 back to back, but patrons also will have the option of hanging on to tickets to return another time within the films' two-week run.
It's a huge value proposition for the audience, Disney distribution president Chuck Viane said. It's a great day for the family because they can go out and enjoy two movies and have a ball.
A likely second motivation is the prospect of eventually releasing the remastered titles in the home entertainment market, but that's not likely for several years. Until then, some say, theatrical re-releases demand a cautious approach and could require as much as $25 million in related marketing.
It's economic suicide, a top studio executive groused.
Even Disney hasn't committed to its next 3D re-release.
We continue to look at past properties to see if we have the right vehicles for this format, Viane said. But we want to see what happens with these.
At Fox, distribution boss Bruce Snyder said the studio has looked at some titles that we could think about maybe doing in 3D.
Nothing in that vein is already in the works, but Snyder believes more than just family films could see 3D re-release eventually.
You've got older teens and early-20s males who are rabid about technology right now, he said. So it has the possibility of expanding from the family audience into that audience.
SECOND LIVES FOR HITS
The new versions of Toy Story and its sequel offer a new visual depth, thanks to their conversion into 3D. But don't expect anything to fly off the screen; even Pixar's summer hit Up kept the lid on overt 3D gimmickry.
The Toy Story conversions follow an earlier similar project at Disney, which in 2006 remastered Tim Burton's animated creepfest The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D. Nightmare has rung up $24 million from theatrical campaigns staged each Halloween since then.
Pixar handled 3D chores on the Toy Story pictures. On Nightmare, Disney hired Industrial Light + Magic to do the work, with ILM licensing a 3D-conversion program developed by In-Three.
Westlake Village, California-based In-Three has worked primarily with studios to create 3D masters for new movies being released in a mix of 2D and 3D theaters. Its executives believe other studios will follow Disney's lead and re-release their own classics in 3D, once the installed base of 3D screens grows.
Everybody is worried about the number of 3D screens, In-Three marketing vice president Damian Wader said. If you take a legacy film like 'Star Wars' or 'The Matrix,' you can't re-release it in 2D, only 3D.
Until recently, there were fewer than 2,000 3D screens in place domestically.
Meanwhile, Landau has some advice for industryites bullish on 3D. Noting the costs of conversion and the inevitability of 3D dominating the theatrical landscape, he said: If you have the ability to shoot something now in 3D, shoot it in 3D. Then you won't have to convert it.