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Warner Pulls Plug on Upcoming 3D Harry Potter

October 19, 2010

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Warner Bros has cancelled release of the penultimate Harry Potter (HP) title in 3D, citing a lack of time to properly convert the movie into 3D, for its worldwide theatrical release next month (November). The studio will, however, continue with plans to release the final instalment in both 2D and 3D in July 2011, by converting the original 2D into 3D in post production. Warner in tandem with Imax previously converted 20 minute sections of two earlier HP titles to 3D, so were already familiar with process of 2D to 3D conversion, but the cancelled 3D version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (HP 7) would have marked their first feature length live-action conversion together.

As the studio responsible for the widely slated Clash of the Titans conversion, Warner arguably could not afford to risk another poorly received 2D to 3D conversion. U-turn shows how the market for 2D to 3D conversion technology is still in its infancy with varying level of expectations or results, even between post-production houses. There are so far a small but growing number of companies with a proven success rate in the field and therefore limited capacity to meet demand. Warner engaged post-production firm Prime Focus to turn around the conversion of Clash in under ten weeks and will also use its services for its subsequent move to render two further past HP titles (HP 5 and 6) in 3D. While Warner's 3D reversal is so far unique, it could, however, influence the outcome of other Studio 2D to 3D conversion projects particularly if a rapid turn around is also required for the theatrical calendar.

Nonetheless, the withdrawal of HP 7 as one of the most high profile 3D releases of 2010 calendar, represents a set back for exhibitors who have invested heavily in upgrading to digital 3D equipment. It will also feature as a loss of earnings for other industry providers such as RealD, whose business model is partially based on 3D ticket sales. It will nonetheless provide more breathing space on the still restricted 3D screen base for competing titles during November including DWA's Megamind and the five 3D titles scrambling for screen space in December such as Disney's Tron and two live-action titles from Fox, also 2D to 3D conversions, including first 3D variation of the Chronicles of Narnia franchise. Warner's final 3D release this year will now be Yogi Bear (December), following lower than expected box office for both animated titles Cats and Dogs 2, as well as Legends of the Guardians: Owls of Ga'Hoole, the latter an October release.   

There is a clear commercial rationale to distribute a version of a major title in 3D; Screen Digest research shows premium prices for 3D tickets can boost box office takings by an average 20 per cent. Warner will now, however, forgo incremental theatrical 3D revenues in order to alleviate potential longer term damage to the Harry Potter brand by appearing to lower production values and therefore risk alienating long established fans.

Following a subsequent gold rush to attempt to emulate the success of Avatar, Studios are beginning to entering a process of rationalisation to ensure fewer, higher quality and better executed 3D projects make it through the pipeline. Nonetheless, and in view of its subsequently announced decision to convert HP 5 and 6 to 3D for Blu-ray release, Warner will likely finish the conversion of the imminent HP, albeit at a later date, in order to pursue the growing momentum for 3D in homes and potentially even a limited later re-release in 3D in theatres.

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