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Movie theaters begin to test the waters of 3-D.

Byline: Lewis Taylor The Register-Guard

More than 50 years after the film "Bwana Devil" promised a "lion in your lap," 3-D movies are back.

Just as the first wave of stereoscopic films were an attempt to make the movie theater experience new again, the latest set of 3-D comes at a time when theaters are still feeling the hangover of last year's box office slump and facing increasing competition from DVDs, video games and cable and satellite TV.

"I think 3-D is really a technology whose time has come," said Paul Dergarabedian, a Hollywood box office analyst and president of the industry group Exhibitor Relations. "The theatrical moviegoing experience has to distinguish itself more and more from the home theater experience. This is one way to do that."

In Springfield, theatergoers at Cinemark 17 have been getting a peek at the new technology. The theater recently installed a new 6,000-watt digital projection system in one of its screening rooms, allowing it to screen the new animated film "Monster House" in 3-D. Several people who have seen the film say it's well worth the extra $1.50 per ticket that the theater charges for the experience and the Buddy Holly-style glasses.

"It was 100 times better (than the old 3-D movies)," said Sara Bazzi of Eugene, who brought her kids Savannah, 9, and Eric, 11, to a matinee screening on a recent weekday. "It made me want to reach out and grab something."

"Monster House" isn't the only new 3-D film. A slate of movies that jump off the screen are coming to a theater near you, including the recently opened animated feature "The Ant Bully," which is being offered in 3-D at some IMAX theaters. Other upcoming films include the IMAX 3-D films "Open Season" and "Happy Feet," and the forthcoming films "Meet the Robinsons" and Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," both of which implement the same Real D format used by "Monster House."

At least six films will be released in Real D in 2007. IMAX has been talking to producers of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" about creating several scenes in 3-D, and George Lucas has announced his intention to remaster his Star Wars films in 3-D.

Until a couple of weeks ago, it wouldn't have been possible to view new 3-D movies in Eugene or Springfield. Just days before the July 21 opening of "Monster House," Cinemark installed the new digital projection unit that allows it to screen films in Real D. The theater also replaced its white theater screen with a silver screen to optimize the viewing experience. Instead of arriving in giant reels, digital films arrive in what looks like an external hard drive unit about the size of a book. Cinemark can screen non-3-D films in the theater and, eventually, it may have the capability to receive movies beamed by satellite, spokeswoman Terrell Falk said.

While Vincent Price's "House of Wax" and other 3-D features from the past were notorious for leaving viewers with headaches and nausea, the newer technology is supposed to be easier on the eyes. The newer method of screening 3-D films doesn't require the use of two projectors, and the lenses of the polarized 3-D glasses are clear instead of red and blue.

"There's nothing gimmicky about it," Cinemark spokeswoman Terrell Falk said. "You feel like you are there. It's a very solid, wonderful looking 3-D."

The picture does look clearer through the new 3-D glasses. In "Monster House," the decrepid old house that's a central character in the film buckles and splinters and appears to project out into the audience. At least one 9-year-old viewer tried to reach out and grab the air in front of her.

Although 3-D films enjoyed a brief renaissance in the 1980s, the new wave of 3-D films didn't begin cresting until around 2003 when James Cameron released his Titanic documentary "Ghosts of the Abyss." Robert Rodriguez used the same 3-D technology for his film "Spy Kids 3D: Game Over." In 2004, Warner Bros. released its "Polar Express" in IMAX 3-D. The success of that experiment led to an encore screening of the film in the 2005 holiday season. Last year's "Chicken Little" utilized the same Real D technology used for "Monster House," and last month's "Superman Returns" featured 20 minutes in 3-D in IMAX theaters.

Whether the new 3-D technology continues to be successful will depend on whether audiences continue to be impressed, says Dergarabedian, the box office analyst. At one point, he says, the 3-D technology of the 1950s that looks underwhelming by today's standards was highly impressive to audiences.

"What will make 3-D a viable alternative and not just a gimmick or a fad is the quality of the technology and the quality of the image," Dergarabedian says. "If it's really, really good, then it's something that becomes viable and something that people will pay extra to see."

Springfield is currently one of 19 Cinemark screens in the country outfitted with the digital projection technology. The company plans to convert 150 theaters to digital by 2007.

Regal Entertainment Group, the operator of the Cinema World 8 in Eugene, has 38 screens nationwide that are capable of showing films in Real D, the Los Angeles Times reported. The company did not return phone calls to The Register-Guard about its plans for the future in Eugene-Springfield, but there is speculation that it will add at least a few digital projectors to its Regal Cinemas Valley River 15-theater complex, which is currently under construction on the southwest side of the Valley River Center.

Until then, theater No. 8 at the Cinemark 17 complex will remain the only digital projection system in town, theater manager Chuck McLaughlin said. But he sees more digital projectors on the horizon. And more 3-D.

"I think 15 to 20 years from now, there won't be film anymore," McLaughlin says. "I think this is the beginning of the end for film."
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Title Annotation:Entertainment; Theatergoers at Springfield's Cinemark 17 get a taste of the new digital technology
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 31, 2006
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