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Commentary: 3-D converts appeal of classic films ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Finding Nemo,’ ‘Titanic’

Courtesy of MCT

Recently, the growth of home media and the Internet has rendered the idea of re-releasing classic movies almost entirely obsolete. What motivation does a viewer have to go out to the theater when he or she can just sit on the couch and watch the movie from the comforts of home? This just about killed the re-release of classic movies into theaters.

However, recent history tells us there might be a place for this after all. It just requires some extra bells and whistles.

In theory, the re-release should be nothing but a money-printing machine. A studio or distributor can reap all the rewards of releasing a film without spending another $100 million to make it. There are still costs for advertising and distribution, but that is nothing compared to the price tag that comes with making a whole new movie.

The problem is that you still need people to go see them, and they aren’t going to unless they feel they’re going to get a whole new experience. With the recent 3-D boom started by James Cameron’s “Avatar,” studios saw an opportunity. Throw some 3-D in there and maybe people would be willing to pay to see the formerly released film. And so far, they are indeed paying.

Last weekend, Disney and Pixar re-released “Finding Nemo” in theaters after giving it the 3-D treatment. They were rewarded with a second-place finish at the weekend box office and about a $17 million gross. It’s not astronomical, but it’s more than worth it. Admittedly, “Finding Nemo” had a certain advantage because it is an animated family film, and a good one at that. Those two factors add up to box office success more often than not.

“The Lion King 3D” was a huge hit in 2011, and other recent re-release examples include Cameron’s “Titanic” and George Lucas’ “Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace.” Other episodes of “Star Wars” are already slated for 3-D re-releases next year. All of these films have been successful to varying degrees, and they suggest that we may see this trend continue for quite some time.

There are, however, some problems with this. And chief among them is the 3-D conversion. For most of these movies, the conversion is actively bad. “The Phantom Menace” in particular did virtually nothing to earn the 3-D surcharge. Family movies will probably continue to do well, but for re-releases like “Titanic” to succeed going forward, studios will need to put more effort into their product.

Or perhaps they could go a different route. On Sept. 7, Steven Spielberg’s classic adventure film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was re-released in IMAX with no 3-D conversion, and it still looked terrific. It performed moderately well at the box office for being a re-release, grossing $1.67 million over the weekend, and if this seems to be sufficient, then perhaps studios will think about taking this route.

Hollywood is always interested in making more money with the old films it has in the vault, but to do that it needs to promise audiences an experience they’ve never had before. In a world where people are watching movies on their phones, there might be some value in bringing the classics back to the big screen. That is always the best way to watch any movie, with or without the stupid 3-D glasses.

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