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World warms slowly to 3-D

Where do different countries stand with the format?

The U.S. leads in digital adoptions and, by extension, the upgrades needed to show 3-D features. But experts expect the “U2 3D” demo at Cannes, as well as 3-D content announced by the studios, to spur conversions around the world.

“Right now, we have 705 installed, and 60 of those are international,” says Real D CEO Michael Lewis . “Between Asia and Europe, it’ll be a horse race to see how widely they adopt 3-D.” In the meantime, where does the world stand on embracing the format?

ASIA

Enthusiasm for digital cinema in Asia is high, but penetration by digital 3-D is still developing: Disney’s “Chicken Little” played in 3-D on only two screens in Japan, while Sony’s “Monster House” played on less than 20 in Korea and only three in Japan. (By contrast, “Polar Express” earned $4 million on 10 nondigital Imax screens.)

Local productions might help gather momentum. Seoul-based RG Animation’s feature “Mug Travel” took the “best film for children” award at this year’s Bimini animation fest. In India, where digital 3-D cinemas are soon expected to be fixtures in the majority of shopping malls, Tarantella Pictures is now producing “Om Ganesha,” the life story of the elephant-headed god Ganesha.

Japanese production and management company Micott & Basara are skedded to release the “Appleseed” follow-up “Ex Machina,” produced by John Woo, in October. Unspooling in December next year will be “Yona Yona Penguin,” a $12 million toon being helmed by Rintaro (“Metropolis”) and jointly produced by Tokyo studio Madhouse Entertainment and France’s Denis Friedman Prods.

EUROPE

Apart from specialist large-format venues, roughly 40 European cinema screens have been equipped for digital 3-D so far, with particular interest from Germany (which boasts 22 screens alone) and Portugal, where Lusomondo has been an early adopter with eight 3-D screens. “Meet the Robinsons” and other pics have performed well in 3-D, with word of mouth and limited screens sometimes even driving B.O. up in the second week of release.

Dolby U.K. is developing a 3-D presentation system that will aid the possibility of wider rollout in multiplexes. According to Jason Power, the company’s marketing director, “I think it will become fairly standard for any cinema complex that has digital projection to have the capability to show digital 3-D.” By 2009, Power expects 30%-50% of the region’s digital screens to be 3-D-ready.

Only significant European-based 3-D project on the boards is animated “Fly Me to the Moon” from Belgian 3-D specialist nWave, which plans to release pic exclusively in 3-D this year.

SOUTH AMERICA

Brazilian moviegoers are reacting well to the 3-D releases (except for the fact that some people want, and actually try, to keep the special glasses) on limited screens. Real D has licensed three venues in South America so far. By the end of 2007, about 10 3-D screens will be in operation, estimates Gonzaga de Luca, institutional relations director of the Ribeiro Group (which operates one 3-D screen in Rio de Janeiro).

De Luca expects the transition to digital in Brazil to be slow because exhibs and distribs have not yet agreed on a business model to share the transition costs. For now, exhibs are covering all costs associated with this first wave of digital installations.

AUSTRALIA

Only 16 sites currently have 3-D capacity Down Under, where a wait-and-see attitude toward digital cinema puts 3-D on the back burner. Distribs are eager to realize cost savings of digital distribution, but exhibitors (Oz’s two majors comprise 75% of the market) are in no hurry to embrace technology that’s due to become cheaper and better in just a few years. Aussie filmmakers, unable to make a handful of forays into Imax production pay dividends, have so far shied away from 3-D.

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