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Avatar prompts 3D craze from all major studios

The only previous Potter picture to dabble in 3D was last year’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (SUPPLIED)

By Carl DiOrio

Warner Bros will release the next two Harry Potter films in 3D, a move underscoring the post-Avatar rush for extra-dimensional box office returns.

Studio executives around town have been scrutinising film slates for opportunities to expand forays into 3D releasing. Warners has been testing footage from its upcoming Clash of the Titans – converted into 3D by an outside vendor – and the tests have gone so well that the studio has decided to release not only Titans but also the two-part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 3D.

Warners refused to confirm the decisions, but an announcement on Titans – a co-production with studio-based producer Legendary Pictures – is expected by tomorrow. Official word on the Potter films is awaited.

Conversion expenses have been coming down, so each film will cost just $5 million (Dh18.35m) to change into 3D. Warners also will absorb an additional $5m expense per picture to pay for 3D glasses for exhibitors handling the movies.

In a related move, Warners will push back the release of Titans one week to April 2. Deathly Hallows: Part I is set to unspool November 19, and Part II is slotted for July 15, 2011. The only previous Potter picture to dabble in 3D was last year’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which included brief footage viewable in 3D in Imax venues. It was unclear whether Potter author JK Rowling had to OK the move into the third dimension.

As for the impact on box office prospects for the final two Potter sequels, consider the more imminent situation with Titans.

A remake of a 1981 film starring Laurence Olivier, Titans previously might have been expected to fetch no more than $200m domestically, and even that was an aggressive projection. Released in 3D, Warners figures to reap well north of $200m, with 2007’s $211m domestic grosser 300 considered a beatable benchmark.

Titans in 3D also is considered a safe bet to better $245m in foreign coin that Warners fetched with 300.

The Titans move is not without risk. The installed base of 3D movie screens has been growing rapidly, but it is not sufficient to release the film entirely in 3D.

That should be less of a concern by the time the next Potter hits multiplexes. But executives also are quietly confident of getting enough 3D playdates for Titans.

“I would not think it would be an issue to establish ourselves in the 3D marketplace with Titans,” a studio insider said. “By sliding it back a week, we should at least have enough screens in the major markets.”

Warners should secure upward of 1,000 playdates for Titans, which will unspool a week after Paramount bows DreamWorks Animation’s spring tentpole How to Train Your Dragon.

The Titans move might spur further reshuffling in the spring release calendar, as its new date makes for a fifth wide opener set for Easter weekend, which historically is a solid box office session but hardly one to support that many big pictures.

Other wide openers set for April 2 include Fox’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a likely PG-rated film adapted from a book series popular with middle-schoolers; Disney’s PG-rated Miley Cyrus starrer The Last Song, adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel; Universal’s futuristic action thriller Repo Men, starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker; and Lionsgate’s latest Tyler Perry picture, Why Did I Get Married Too?

Meanwhile, the move of Potter into the extra dimension could prompt other high-profile moves. Could a 3D James Bond loom?

Warners’ decision with its Potter franchise is likely at least to prompt 3D discussions between MGM and 007 producers. But unlike Warners’ incremental move with the Potter franchise – going with full-on 3D only after an initial foray into partial Imax 3D – Lion executives would be starting at square one in talks on Bond.

Still, there is the siren call of those extra-dimensional dollars – and other 3D currencies. In addition to lusting after Avatar-like box office results, industry executives have taken note of how well 3D films play overseas.

Warners 3D horror film The Final Destination overperformed internationally this summer, and Sony’s 2D Zombieland did less than one-fourth as well overseas as domestically a few months later. Perhaps by no coincidence, Sony might send Spider-Man into the third dimension with the web slinger’s next picture. (Reuters)