Korean X fac­tor may wipe out 3D

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODFUN - KALEEM AFTAB

IN THE TWO weeks since it launched, Grav­ity, the sci-fi spec­tac­u­lar star­ring San­dra Bul­lock and Ge­orge Clooney, has made $191m (R1.95bn) at the box of­fice. But it’s not just the size of the re­ceipts that has sur­prised movie ex­perts – it’s the fact that 80 per­cent of the au­di­ence are pre­pared to pay a pre­mium to watch the film in 3D.

To put that in con­text, it is a higher pro­por­tion than for Life of Pi or even Avatar, the film that broke all box of­fice records in 2009 and was sup­posed to her­ald the com­ing of 3D as a mass-mar­ket phe­nom­e­non.

In­deed, be­fore Grav­ity’s eye-pop­ping num­bers were re­vealed, many crit­ics had been talk­ing about the death of 3D. For film critic Ryan Gil­bey of the New States­man, the tech­nol­ogy has a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem it can never over­come – the need to wear glasses. “3D puts a bar­rier be­tween us and the screen. You need to be im­mersed in a film to truly en­joy it and all of a sud­den you have equip­ment that pre­vents that.”

But a ri­val tech­nol­ogy has emerged that could change all that. The X, the first film to use Screen X tech­nol­ogy, was un­veiled last week at the Bu­san In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in South Korea. Screen X presents view­ers with a 270º field of vi­sion that cre­ates an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence with­out the need to wear 3D glasses. It even solves the widescreen prob­lem that has hin­dered the for­mat since 3D first ap­peared in 1915.

The “golden era” for 3D took place be­tween 1952 and 1954, reach­ing a peak with Al­fred Hitch­cock’s Dial M For Mur­der. Although the film was a suc­cess in 3D, the direc­tor ad­mit­ted af­ter­wards that he be­lieved 3D to be a “nine-day wonder – and I came in on the ninth day”. At the time, ex­hibitors and au­di­ences were un­com­fort­able with 3D, pre­fer­ring to try out widescreen for­mats like Cin­e­mas­cope and Cin­erama.

Widescreen has had a habit of killing off 3D. In the early 1980s there was an­other wave of 3D headed by Jaws 3D and Ami­tyville 3D. Yet the pro­duc­tion costs were high and au­di­ences were un­con­vinced by the plas­tic glasses that had one red lens and one green.

The for­mat re­mained niche even with the in­tro­duc­tion of Imax, as the cost of build­ing new cin­e­mas to sup­port the tech­nol­ogy has al­ways been pro­hib­i­tive.

The holy grail has been to de­sign a for­mat that is both widescreen and im­merses the viewer in the film with­out the need for spe­cial glasses nor for com­pletely new au­di­to­ri­ums.

En­ter Screen X. The South Korean com­pany be­hind the tech­nol­ogy, CJ CGV Screen X, be­gan devel­op­ment work in Jan­uary last year. CJ En­ter­tain­ment is South Korea’s most prom­i­nent pro­ducer and dis­trib­u­tor of films, and runs the CGV chain of cin­e­mas. Screen X has been im­ple­mented at 23 the­atres in Seoul on 47 screens, where au­di­ences have al­ready had a taste of the tech­nol­ogy through ad­ver­tise­ments run­ning be­fore films.

The com­pany says the sys­tem can be im­ple­mented into nearly ev­ery ex­ist­ing theatre run­ning to­day at a cost of be­tween R1.5 mil­lion and R2m, de­pend­ing on size.

In an effort to show­case the tech­nol­ogy, Screen X com­mis­sioned The Good, The Bad, The Weird direc­tor Kim Jee­woon to di­rect a half-hour film, The X. The bud­get of just $900 000 in­cluded some re­search and devel­op­ment costs.

The film was shown to the pub­lic for the first time at the Bu­san fes­ti­val. The plot is trans­par­ently an ex­cuse to show off the tech­nol­ogy.

I found the view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence over­whelm­ing. It be­gan with the ac­tion on the front screen and then sud­denly I was com­pletely im­mersed in im­ages from both front and side, with mo­tor­cy­cles crash­ing be­side me.

Screen X works best when the im­ages con­tain a lot of com­puter-gen­er­ated im­agery (CGI), but as a pro­to­type, the po­ten­tial for the tech­nol­ogy to dis­place 3D is im­me­di­ately clear.

The suc­cess of the pub­lic screen­ings of The X means that Screen X will be fur­ther tweaked and im­proved on. A plan for a fea­ture-length film is in the works. – The In­de­pen­dent

Grav­ity,

EYE-POP­PING: San­dra Bul­lock in

which has made R1.95 bil­lion at the box of­fice.

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