The final movie in the Harry Potter
series may have opened with a wizardly $169 million at the North American box office, but analysts say the outsized performance of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two
, which unspooled in 3D in “selected” theaters, doesn’t indicate particularly strong audience interest in 3D movies.
Forbes blogger Dorothy Pomerantz has been following the financial side of the stereo-3D movie business and cites estimates from BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield
, who believes Harry Potter
made only 43 percent of its money from 3D screens. Given the higher price of 3D tickets, that means a substantial majority of moviegoers elected to buy tickets to see Harry Potter take on Lord Voldemort on 2D screens.
On a movie that sells as many tickets as Harry Potter
does, the studio probably still made a tidy profit on its 3D conversion. But one expects that producers of movies that don’t expect to do that kind of business may be running the numbers again to make sure their 3D conversions actually make business sense.
Of course, the stigma of 3D conversion may be part of Potter
‘s problem. Just a couple of weeks earlier, Transformers: Dark of the Moon
did more solid stereo business — the same analyst estimated that it made 59 percent of its opening-weekend take from 3D screens. I can think of all kinds of reasons that might be the case. Maybe Transformers
benefited from being released first, inducing a kind of 3D fatigue on Potter
‘s audiences. Maybe Harry Potter
‘s audience skews younger and more family oriented, and parents are reluctant to pay a 3D premium on tickets for the whole family. (Movie City News box-office analyst Leonard Klady claims evidence shows that “the younger the ticket buyer, the greater the resistance to donning Polaroid [sic] glasses.”
But could it be the case that quality 3D plays a role, too? Harry Potter
certainly looked good in 3D, but it had problems. I didn’t notice the flat diorama effect present in some 3D movies — everything seemed appropriately round and weighty. But some objects in the frame seemed to be isolated poorly in 3D space, creating a narrow halo of depth artifacts around them, where it seemed as if the picture’s background was being pulled forward toward the audience. In a scene where our heroes light a dark passageway with their wands, the translucent glow, similarly, seemed to briefly draw elements of the scene’s background far forward in the image as the wands passed in front of them.
In contrast, I sat through Transformers: Dark of the Moon
completely happily, not once noticing any artifacts of the 3D process. (Much of the film was actually shot in stereo, although some of it was post-converted.) The 3D effects lent the giant robots an impressive sense of scale and complexity. And of course Michael Bay went on a complete charm offensive for Transformers 3
, insisting that it was 3D done right
. Maybe audiences believed him and bought their tickets accordingly.
Good 3D is really cool — another example of the grand illusions that the movies can pull off so well. But it’s not the answer to every question in this industry. The BTIG analyst Greenfield concludes that studios should reduce the number of 3D films they release while focusing instead on increasing the quality of 3D effects and the brightness and clarity of their theatrical presentation. That sounds, to me, like a plan.