Today Disney is bringing an old story into a new high-tech dimension: "Disney's A Christmas Carol" is the widest digital 3-D release ever. Of the movie's 3,683 theaters in the US, 2,035 are 3-D, including 181 Imax screens. The movie is also opening this weekend in 18 countries around the world, with many of those screens in 3-D.
The digital 3-D format has a reputation for packing theaters fuller than traditional 2-D showings despite higher ticket prices. The high margins and differentiation from giant home theaters make the long-delayed rollout of 3-D technology good news for both movie studios and theater chains like Regal and Cinemark. The limiting factor for 3-D films so far has been the limited number of screens. This wider 3-D release could give a sense of the potential for the December 18th release of 20th Century Fox's "Avatar", which is the most highly anticipated and hyped 3-D film ever.
Disney is investing a lot in making the movie "Disney's A Christmas Carol" a big enough hit at the theater that it can continue delivering revenue across Disney’s divisions (home video, consumer products, theme parks) for the long haul.
The movie cost a reported $175 million to produce, plus tens of millions more to market, with elaborate TV commercials that aim to capture the 3-D effects in the film, plus billboards, tie-ins, and a slew of new media applications.
There's an online game, a Facebook page, iPhone applications. The most unusual marketing piece: a five car train that carried an interactive exhibit promoting the show, through 40 cities, attracting a million visitors, and certainly costing a pretty penny.
All this investment is with the hope that Robert Zemeckis, who directed the film, will recreate the success he had with "The Polar Express." Like "The Polar Express," "Christmas Carol" uses digital animation combined with motion-capture technology. Warner Brothers' "Polar Express" features Tom Hanks while "Christmas Carol" features another big-draw star, Jim Carrey.
Warner Brothers has cashed in on "Polar" year after year, re-releasing it every holiday season, and selling more than $300 million in tickets worldwide. Disney could easily have the same kind of recurrent holiday blockbuster if the film works, it certainly had tons of success re-releasing the first two "Toy Story" movies this fall.
The big question is whether this 3-D take on a familiar tale can lure in moviegoers. Will it be edgy enough for older audiences but not too scary for kids? Disney's watching the box office for signs of what kind of franchise its new take on an old story will yield over time.
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