Lower-budget titles try on 3-D

Britian's 'Mortician' among growing digital pack

3-D is moving downmarket.

While in the 1950s 3-D was often associated with genre pics and B-movies like “The Creature From the Black Lagoon,” the current generation of digital 3-D features mostly has been limited to big-budget CGI toons and live action pics such as Warner’s upcoming “Journey 3-D.”

Last week, though, came the announcement that British thriller “The Mortician” is slated to be shot and exhibited in 3-D. That makes it the second low-budget thriller among the still limited number of 3-D projects, joining Hyde Park Films’ “Dark Country,” slated for release later this year.

For 3-D evangelists, this is both good news and bad.

Good news: There is growing acceptance of the digital 3-D format.

Bad news: The arrival of low-budget 3-D indies could undermine efforts to position 3-D as a premium format that can command higher ticket prices.

“The Mortician” is budgeted at just £2 million ($4 million), making it perhaps the lowest-budgeted digital 3-D feature announced. “Dark Country” is believed to be budgeted around $7 million. Pic is the helming debute of thesp Thomas Jane.

Both are dark, moody stories with a hallucinatory feel.

Film noir “Dark Country” follows a honeymoon couple who must deal with a dead body they find in the desert on a night drive to Las Vegas.

“The Mortician” follows an autistic undertaker whose memories and emotions are provoked by a tattoo of Botticelli’s Venus on the body of a murdered young woman.

“The cost increases generated by going 3-D are not so scary to necessarily be prohibitive,” says “Mortician” producer Carlo Dusi, adding that “camera and post costs rise by about 25%.”

Dursi called 3-D a “valuable promotional tool” and U.K. numbers from the female teen-skewed “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus” concert film support him.

The pic recently pocketed $478,404 at just 65 screens in Blighty, for a location average of $7,360, which trailed only the opening of “10,000 BC” ($8,896).

Cyrus is no household name in Britain, and some surprised local bookers attributed the punchy bow partly to the appeal of 3-D.

Axis 3-D is a partner on “The Mortician”; the partnership should help offset some of the additional costs.

Don’t look for ultra-low-budget 3-D features yet, though. Dusi says “there is currently little economic sense making a 3-D film for less than £2 million.”

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