Warner Bros. cancels 3D for ‘Potter’ pic

'Deathly Hallows Part 2' will open in 3D

In “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” Hermione uses a “Time-Turner” to travel in time and get more than 24 hours into her day.

By last week, the brass at Warner Bros. might have been willing to pony up millions for one of their own.

Time finally ran out on efforts to create a 3D version of the penultimate Harry Potter pic, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1,” forcing the studio to admit Friday that they couldn’t complete 3D conversion to stereoscopic in time for the pic’s Nov. 19 release.

That makes “Deathly Hallows, Part 1” the first major pic to cancel a previously announced 3D release due to production problems.

Pic will go out in regular 2D and Imax as sheduled on Nov. 19.

Paradoxically, 3D pros hail Warner’s decision as an important step forward for 3D. For the first time, the argument goes, a studio has drawn a line over quality, preferring no 3D to bad 3D.

The hope is that now there will be more pressure to do 3D well than to do it everywhere.

Warner’s focus now shifts to converting “Deathly Hallows Part 2,” which the studio said will go out in 2D and 3D on July 15, 2011, as previously announced.

According to several people who’ve seen converted “Deathly Hallows” footage, quality was high but with the cut only recently locked and visual effects still coming in, the count of finaled shots had fallen well behind schedule.

Warners was unwilling to repeat the gamble they made on a quick-and-dirty 3D conversion of “Clash of the Titans” earlier this year. They had the luxury of considering that movie a test case but always understood they could not risk delivering an inferior product on the “Harry Potter” franchise, one of the studio’s crown jewels.

Moving the release date proved impractical, and the studio decided against releasing the pic with only a few scenes in 3D, as was done on the previous “Potter.” The only remaining alternative was to abandon the 3D release altogether.

Decision represents a hit to Warner’s potential grosses on the pic. The last “Potter” grossed $302 million in the U.S. without a full 3D release. If the next pic did similar business and even 30% of admissions were in 3D — on the low side % compared with recent tentpoles — it would add $45 million to the domestic gross, assuming a 50% premium for 3D tix. A higher 3D percentage and more admissions would raise that figure substantially.

Warner’s statement did not rule out the possibility of a 3D re-release of “Deathly Hallows Part 1” shortly before the release of Part 2 on July 15, 2011.

However, such a re-release would have to be limited, as the 3D release sked for the weeks leading up to that date already includes “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” May 20, “Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom” May 26, Warner’s own “The Green Lantern” June 17, and “Cars 2” on June 24.

Furthermore, the same resources needed to convert Part 2 would also be needed to finish Part 1.

Advocates of conversion say it is possible to deliver high-quality converted 3D with sufficient time and resources — Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” and “G-Force,” for example, featured converted footage, uncontroversially.

Lucasfilm has alotted 15-27 months to convert “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” for some still-unannounced release date in 2012.

“Titanic,” which is to be converted as well, is targeting the April 2012 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking, 18 months from now, for its 3D release. Pic’s producers remain mum on whether conversion work has begun on it.