Hollywood Uses Bigger Screens to Tell Sophisticated Stories


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Hollywood is set to unleash a flood of movie spectacles shown in a 3-D or large-screen format. Matt Damon, above, in “The Martian.”

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Photo Illustration by The New York Times; Aidan Monaghan/Twentieth Century Fox

LOS ANGELES — In the literal sense, it is going to be a spectacular film season.

Though top Oscars have gone lately to tightly spun dramas like “Birdman” and “12 Years a Slave,” Hollywood’s major studios are preparing to flood festival screens and commercial theaters with an unusual, year-end wave of grown-up movie spectacles — shown in the 3-D or large-screen format that is usually reserved for action blockbusters with younger audiences.

“There is a kind of show business in the fall that we’ve never had before,” said Greg Foster, the chief executive of the IMAX Corporation’s entertainment unit. He spoke of the confluence of films aimed at adults, many in 3-D, that will be delivered in IMAX and other large (and premium-priced) formats this year, pointing toward higher seasonal ticket sales, and perhaps a significant shift in viewing habits.

Sales in premium-ticket buying have surged in recent months, but to sustain momentum, studios will have to attract more adults, especially in the United States, while regaining younger viewers who had drifted away from 3-D after an initial expansion over five years ago.

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“Point Break,” from Warner and Alcon Entertainment, reimagines Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 surf-heist thriller of the same name.

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Reiner Bajo/Warner Bros. Pictures

On Sept. 2, the Venice Film Festival will open with a 3-D thriller, Baltasar Kormakur’s “Everest,” about love and death in the Himalayas. A few weeks later, Robert Zemeckis’s “The Walk,” about Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, also in 3-D, will open the New York Film Festival.

The Toronto International Film Festival almost went the same way for its opener: Programmers flirted with showing Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” a 3-D interplanetary adventure from 20th Century Fox, at the first-night gala on Sept. 10; instead they went with Fox Searchlight’s “Demolition,” saving the space film for another of their showcase premieres.

Some film executives see potential for industry transformation, if mature viewers indeed flock to a more sophisticated lineup of event films. “The word I would use is ‘necessary,’ ” Tom Rothman, the chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s motion picture group, said of the envisioned change.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit in “The Walk.”

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TriStar Pictures

By commanding a premium of several dollars per ticket — more easily paid by adults than teenagers — the enhanced screens promise expanded revenue for the companies involved. In the quarter that ended June 30, the average movie ticket price shot to $8.61, up 6 percent from the preceding three months, partly because of premium-ticket buying for “Jurassic World.”

If adults are more willing to don 3-D glasses — among those ages 50 to 59, 3-D viewing hit a peak in 2013, when Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” was a hit — that is partly because film exhibitors and related companies have been courting them to fill newly created capacity.

This year RealD, a supplier of 3-D technology, pushed its screen count past 27,000, up more than 6 percent from last year, even as 3-D viewing among the young fell sharply from a high in 2011, when “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2” was a draw, before rebounding this summer. Similarly, the Cinemark, Regal and AMC theater chains now operate more than 430 proprietary premium large-format screens, up 34 percent from 320 in 2013.

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“Everest” Trailer

Baltasar Kormakur’s “Everest” will open the Venice film festival in September.


By UNIVERSAL PICTURES on Publish Date August 14, 2015.


IMAX, a giant-screen pioneer, has pushed its global screen count to almost 1,000. At the same time, it has urged studios to join in creating event films for adults, especially for release in a September-October period that had previously been a dead spot, short on fantasy blockbusters.

On Sept. 18, Universal will thus release an IMAX-only version of “Everest” a week before the movie’s wide release, while Sony will offer an early IMAX release of “The Walk” on Sept. 30.

“What they are doing is replacing the 70-millimeter showcase theaters that supported a David Lean or a Stanley Kubrick,” Fox’s domestic distribution president, Chris Aronson, said of large-format screens, many of which will carry Mr. Scott’s “The Martian” on Oct. 2.

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Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant,” a new film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

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New Regency/20th Century Fox

Inspired by recent predecessors like “Gravity” and Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” some of the visually ambitious films will most likely figure in the annual movie awards race.

The early festival entries from Mr. Kormakur, Mr. Zemeckis and Mr. Scott are to be joined later by “In the Heart of the Sea,” also in 3-D, a 19th-century sea adventure from Ron Howard for release by Warner Bros. on Dec. 11, and “The Revenant,” a frontier action-thriller from Alejandro González Iñárritu, for release by Fox on Christmas.

Mr. Iñárritu won this year’s best picture and best director Oscars with “Birdman,” which was set almost entirely within a Broadway theater production. But he is now using natural light and newly designed digital cameras to follow his star, Leonardo DiCaprio, through a Western mountain wilderness. The film promises to be as expansive as “Birdman” was contained.

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“The Martian”

Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” is a 3-D inter-planetary adventure.


By 20th CENTURY FOX PICTURES on Publish Date August 14, 2015.


“We’re finishing the final battle scenes right now,” said Brad Weston, chief executive of New Regency Pictures, which also backed “Birdman.”

Along with the more expected 3-D and large-screen presentations of fan-driven sequels like “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” from Lionsgate and Walt Disney’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” studios will surround their big-scale festival and awards bets with another tier of 3-D or giant-screen films that appeal to adults but are rooted in action, horror or family genres.

Those include the James Bond film “Spectre” from Sony Pictures and MGM; the Peter Pan fable “Pan” from Warner Bros.; the horror-romance “Crimson Peak,” from Universal; and the caper film “Point Break,” from Warner and Alcon Entertainment.

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“In the Heart of the Sea,” a 19th-century sea adventure from the director Ron Howard, will be released, in 3-D, on Dec. 11.

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Warner Bros. Pictures

“Point Break,” which reimagines Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 surf-heist thriller of the same name, aims to transform the original story by connecting with an expanded world of extreme sports. It relies heavily on real stunts rather than digital tricks, but also capitalizes on evolving technology, including giant 3-D screens.

“You can do a lot more now with spectacle,” said Broderick Johnson, who joins his fellow Alcon co-president, Andrew A. Kosove, as a producer of “Point Break.”

For some filmmakers, the merger between special formats and adult themes points toward the realization of long-deferred dreams.

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“Everest,” with Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Kelly and Josh Brolin, will be in 3-D as well.

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Jasin Boland/Universal Pictures

“Everything I’ve done in my entire career is culminating in making this movie,” Mr. Zemeckis said, referring to “The Walk.” He spoke of advances in filmmaking technology that, to his mind, had finally erased the distinction between live action and digitally created images.

(Mr. Rothman predicted that the movie would supersede old wisdom that says films require a willing suspension of disbelief. “There is no disbelieve, you believe!” Mr. Rothman said of the movie’s re-creation of the now-destroyed World Trade Center towers.)

That makes it possible, Mr. Zemeckis added, to tell strikingly visual stories cheaply enough to let studios bet on sophisticated viewers, rather than relying on a teenager-driven mass market or a predefined fan base. “The Walk,” he confirmed, cost well under $50 million to produce, though he invested nine years in developing the project, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Mr. Petit.

For Mr. Kormakur, the grandeur of large screens should help forge a link between the spirit of his earlier Icelandic films, like “The Deep” — about a fisherman adrift in the icy sea — and a potentially vast audience.

“I wanted to match the intimacy of independent movies and the spectacle of an epic blockbuster,” said Mr. Kormakur, speaking by phone from Denmark. He added that he was “pleasantly surprised” to find “Everest,” which has backing from the family-oriented Walden Media, at the Venice festival (where “Gravity” had its debut).

Mr. Howard said he was similarly struck by a seeming paradox: That the overwhelming power of advanced screen techniques can make a film as large as “In the Heart of the Sea,” which involves deadly encounters with a sperm whale, more emotionally accessible to viewers, who seem to share the characters’ experiences.

“The more palpable and immersive the experience,” he said, “the more personal the film feels.”



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