Industry Report: Digital
The Third Dimension
by Elisabetta Brunella
11/01/2011 - In 2004, only the bat of an eyelid away, there were thirty digital screens in Europe. Today they have grown to almost seven thousand: has the digital revolution taken place? Yes and no, considering that despite the undeniable boom starting in 2009 and continuing throughout 2010, four fifths of the Continent’s total screens still rely on 35mm.
What certainly has come about is the “3D revolution”, in view of the fact that, out of all the screens that have changed to the new technology adopting 2K or more recently 4K, almost 80% have also equipped themselves for 3D. Of the over five thousand 3D installations, more than three thousand five hundred are located on the six leading markets - those that count a yearly average of at least a hundred million spectators. France, which in 2009 sprang to the lead in the digital transition, is responsible for the lion’s share with almost 900 units, followed by the United Kingdom (over 700) and Germany (over 600). Next come Italy and Russia, both with over 500 installations, and Spain (a little over 400). Sustained by the availability of products from the US film industry, which respected the calendar of releases initially announced, the rush to 3D has been the engine of digitalization in the past two years.
The key to change for this phenomenon was the hearty welcome given to the new development by audiences, prepared to pay more for tickets to this type of film and, basically, finance the purchase of the new equipment. Thus, whilst we shall still have to wait some time for digitalization in the strict sense of the term, i.e. for the digital conversion of all the screens in a complex, and above all to find the necessary resources to include even the less profitable theatres in the process, 3D is already immediately available in a large number of venues, whether multiplexes or not.
A passing phenomenon? There are those who, mindful of the past, in other words the recurrent but short-lived bouts of interests in 3D, remain fairly sceptical. Others, instead, in view of the amount of capital invested both in production and in the theatres, believe that three-dimensional films, whilst not managing to replace 2D, will become a regular part of the cinemagoer’s “diet”. Amongst those who hold this view, for instance, is the Director of the Venice Festival, Marco Müller, who, when talking about the 3D creative award instituted by his festival, declared: “3D technology cannot be labelled a passing whim; fortunately 3D is here to stay.” And if, up to now, films “made in America” have dominated the international 3D scenario – with rare European exceptions, such as the precursor Fly me to the Moon – 2010 saw a significant number of titles from the Old Continent adopting the new technology to try out different languages and genres. And, most importantly, obtain international distribution.
Thus the range covers a documentary exploring the depths of the ocean, such as the French-Swiss-Spanish co-production Océans, to the British Streetdance, an enormous audience success focusing entirely on dance, to cartoons such as the Finnish Moomins and the Comet Chase, the Belgian Sammy’s Avonturen and the recent Winx Club: Magic Adventure from Italy, not forgetting horror, where the Dutch co-production Amphibious 3D takes its place. Moreover, this passion for 3D is one of the elements which demonstrates that the digital shift means far more than simply replacing one type of projector with another.
It is, in fact, true that the movie theatre and what it offers its audiences are undergoing a transformation. We have witnessed this with the success of visual music on the big screen – whether opera or the latest rock concert – with the worldwide attraction of live sports events in every continent and we can see it with 3D, which once again makes movie theatres into the favourite place for enjoying a show that cannot be reproduced on the small screen at home or on a laptop.
What is more, 3D itself is far more than just the addition of special effects to “normal films”. In the video interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist for the latest Biennale of Architecture in Venice, Wim Wenders, commenting on his 3D film, which takes the audience to discover and, above all, “listen to” a magical building – the Lausanne Rolex Centre – said: “3D is a language. In the near future it will invigorate the documentary, giving it body and volume.”
And addressing new artists he continued by speaking of the extraordinary opportunities offered by digital technologies and the Internet: “Today there are enormous opportunities for creation. My dream is that in the 21st century communication tools will increasingly be in the hands of the people rather than in those of the old powers.” This is the challenge facing theatres and European cinema, too: that the new technologies should increasingly transform them into a space for creativity and for the expression of cultural diversity.