Korean X factor may wipe out 3D
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
EYE-POPPING: Sandra Bullock in
which has made R1.95 billion at the box office.