Bugs Out, 3-D Pops Up Again As TV, Film Eye Spectacles

Three forthcoming pop-culture events – a women’s wrestling match on pay-per-view this April, the classic John Wayne Western “Hondo” in tv syndication in June and the new “A Nightmare On Elm Street” theatrical with Robert Englund returning as Freddy Krueger – are heralding what could be the most propulsive trend toward 3-D since the early 1950s.

“The success of Lucasfilm’s ‘ Star Wars’ launched a whole wave of special-effect movies that gave audiences great pleasure,” says John Scheele, head of the Chandler Group, a Hollywood lab that’s trying to use the latest technology to improve the quality of 3-D. Applying that technology to the production of quality movies, tv shows and special events “could do the same for 3-D,” he says.

Scheele says the most interesting work being done in 3-D today is the so-called “theme-park short subjects,” such as Steven Spielberg’s “Captain Eo” with Michael Jackson and the just-completed “Kermit The Frog Presents Muppetvision 3-D,” both of which run less than 30 minutes. Scheele calls these “trial balloons that could be extrapolated into feature-length movies.”

But the Walt Disney Co., the producer of “Eo” and “Kermit,” shows them only at the Disney theme parks, where it can precisely control the projection for maximum 3-D effect. That kind of special preparation would be impossibly expensive for a theatrical movie released to more than 1,000 theaters. Scheele says the west coast 3-D labs are spending much of their time working on the creation of 35m prints that would project a high-quality image even on the screen of a “zero-advanced-preparation” multiplex.

The advantage of the Disney theme park, or any one-screen theater, is that one projectionist can devote full attention to the two projectors needed for the most advanced 3-D image. In a multiplex, one projectionist is responsible for as many as 12 screens at a time. Thomas Marks, a sales executive with Global Entertainment Intl., the distributor of” Women’s Wrestling Championship In 3-D,” says: “Wrestling has become boring on pay-per-view because you’re doing similar things over and over again. So to keep the audience overstimulated, we taped a series of 90-minute women’s matches in 3-D.”

The p-p-v window for the women’s wrestling is April 20 to 28 on Viewer’s Choice, Request and cable systems that want to make ad hoc deals with the distributor. The p-p-v subscriber pays a suggested retail price of $3.95, plus $3 to call an 800-number to get the 3-D glasses mailed to his address.

Among the women wrestlers performing in 3-D are Shalima the Barbarian, Killer Kat, Hard Hat Jane, Suzie Slammer and two tag teams: The Clones and Total Insanity.

Marks says the most avid viewers of women’s wrestling are males between the ages of 8 and 25. Not so coincidentally, the males in that demographic “would sell their souls for a 3-D picture,” he says.

Republic Pictures TV, which is distributing the 3-D version of the 1953 “Hondo,” is banking on a much wider audience draw because the Western genre, and actors like John Wayne, James Arness and Ward Bond (three of the stars of “Hondo”), are not exactly in vogue with the age 8 to 25 male.

Chuck Larsen, president of domestic tv distribution for Republic Pictures, says that in only two months of selling he’s lined up more than 120 tv stations, for a U.S. clearance rate of about 80%. WWOR-TV New York, KTLA-TV Los Angeles and WGN-TV Chicago are among the stations on board.

The stations don’t pony up any cash. Instead, they agree to give up 12 of the 24 commercial minutes in the two-hour telecast to Republic for sale to national advertisers. (Under the terms of the contract, that telecast has to go in primetime between June 24 and 26,1991.)

If the rating comes anywhere close to the 15 national Nielsen that Larsen is predicting, “Hondo” could gross $1 million for that one telecast.

Dan Symmes, president of Spatial Technologies lab in L.A., says all of the majors with old 3-D movies in their vaults will be watching the Republic experiment with more than a passing interest. For example, Warner Bros, is dusting off what could be the most famous 3-D movie ever made, “House Of Wax” (1953), with Vincent Price, and may put it out in syndication along with such other successful early 1950s pictures in 3-D (“Phantom Of The Rue Morgue,” “Charge At Feather River” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M For Murder”).

In the theatrical arena, New Line Cinema is hoping the 10-minute, 3-D climax of “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare,” now in post-production for release in October, will engineer a rebound from the disappointing grosses of “A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child” (1989).

“We’re using a process that’ll make it easier for the moviegoer to watch,” says Aron Warner, the producer of “Freddy’s Dead.” “It’s high-tech all the way, with computer-generated imagery. Instead of all those gory makeup effects, we’ll be relying on 3-D visual effects – the stuff will really be coming out of the screen right at you.”

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