Wednesday, October 11, 2017

IMAX Embracing 3D Once Again with "Star Wars: The Last Jedi?"


It has been a rocky road for IMAX the last few months in terms of ticket sales and their corporate stance on 3D.  In the summer they boldly claimed that 3D was dead and that future IMAX releases would be in 2D (with "Blade Runner 2049" being the first to forgo the third dimension altogether).  However, a funny thing happened after that though: 2D screenings were largely no more attended than 3D movies.  With the possible exception of "It," movies like "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" and "Blade Runner 2049" did just OK in IMAX, while "Inhumans" and "War for the Planet of the Apes" tanked outright.  I want to state that I personally don't believe the fact that these movies were in 2D are the cause for them not doing well.  I think these were movies people weren't as interested in seeing in general, and that reflected on IMAX tickets as well as standard tickets (and, in the case of "Inhumans," having a poor showing on TV).

Indeed, the announcement to go from all 3D to all 2D was an announcement meant to confirm that ticket sales would go up, but now that we have proof that such a change made very little impact on overall ticket sales, the company needs to go back to the drawing board to figure out what they're really doing wrong (Spoiler: high ticket costs and shrinking screen sizes may play a MAJOR role in this).  So with this idea that 3D was hurting attendance being proven untrue at this point, it's time for the company to do what all companies do when they realize they made a bold claim they can't back up with facts: back peddle.  That is why "Thor: Ragnorok" is going to have both 2D AND 3D showings split evenly down the middle.  The same will likely happen for "Justice League."  What stands out most though is what the company is doing with "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."  Now, for those who are unaware, tickets for the movie went up for pre-order a few days ago.

It was announced by IMAX Corporation that the movie would be shown in IMAX 2D, IMAX 70mm (which is also going to be in 2D), and IMAX 3D.  So right off the bat they announced that 3D was going to be one of the experiences viewers could choose, the only question remaining is how much?  With two formats available in 2D it seemed like the company was going to give preferred treatment to two dimensional showings...until they didn't.



Although ticket pre-ordering is still early for the movie (and more showings are bound to be added), what is interesting to note is that almost all of these preview showings are in 3D.  In fact, from the two pages worth of theater listings that are currently available in my area, only ONE is showing the movie in 2D!  That screening is happening at the TCL Chinese Theater (which, for the record, has a FANTASTIC IMAX screen), where the 10:00m and 1:45am showings are being shown in 2D!  That said, it should also be noted they have a 'fan event' to kick off the (what looks to be an all night) string of screenings is in 3D, which means that theater may believe 2D is the more profitable of the two formats, someone bigger is pushing the 3D version as the opening act because they believe this is the format its meant to be seen in.

Which makes a lot of sense.  "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" was one of the biggest 3D success stories in the past five years, and the lack of a BluRay 3D release was so strong at Disney that the company caved and gave it an elaborate special edition release several months later.  Also, George Lucas was in the process of converting all the previous Star Wars films into 3D formats, so there's that fact for whatever its worth.  What is going to be interesting about this specific release is how much more screen showings the 3D version of 'The Last Jedi' receives and how well it does.  Will it be big enough to get IMAX to change course on what was (at the very least) a misguided idea?  How big of a success will it be?  I have no doubt this will be the biggest success for IMAX this year.  There's almost no way it can't be.

The big question, I suppose I have, is that if this is a huge success DESPITE the lack of 2D showings, wouldn't that prove my point that 3D isn't in and of itself the problem with their ticket sales?!  Does that mean IMAX will just have to completely back peddle?  Or, what if we get closer to the release and the screenings are split more down the middle between 2D and 3D?  Will it mean more or less ticket sales for IMAX?  Will it be noticed if there less ticket sales this time around when the movie (possible) does better business overall?  Which version will have had the lower sales?  Will the 70mm screenings be more profitable than the digital screenings were like "Dunkirk" was earlier this year?  I guess we'll just have to wait and see.  Whatever version you see though, may the force be with you...always.

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