- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

According to Hollywood analysts, the stop-motion feature film “Coraline” was headed for a mediocre opening last weekend, something in the $8 million to $10 million range. Instead, the movie confounded expectations by premiering with a gross of almost $17 million.

Such variations aren’t unheard of, but a gaping difference like this one suggests something is going on.

How did the experts miss so badly?

“The general tracking always seems to undercalculate family movies,” says Jack Foley, president of theatrical distribution for Focus Features. “That might have played into it.”

More important, however, is the lack of emphasis the trackers put into the grosses taken in by films screening in 3-D.

“They have to go back and see what they have to fix with regard to registering 3-D … because something really went wrong. I don’t mind saying that. Something went profoundly wrong.”

“On ‘Coraline,’ 3-D accounted for 70 percent of the box-office opening weekend,” says Rick Heineman, vice president for corporate communications at RealD. RealD is one of the companies at the forefront of the 3-D revolution; almost 60 percent of the box office for “Coraline” came from theaters equipped with RealD 3-D technology.

As a whole, 3-D outperformed 2-D almost 3-1 in terms of total box-office take.

“Coraline” is the second 3-D film in the past month to outperform expectations, and the growing acceptance of the format among consumers almost certainly provided a boost to the receipts.

“We’re in a flow of 3-D films: ‘Bolt’ to ‘My Bloody Valentine,’ it’ll go to ‘Jonas Brothers’ [in two weekends] and then into ‘Monsters vs. Aliens,’” Mr. Foley says.

“There are lots of people who saw ‘Bolt’ that are seeing ‘Coraline.’ People. Love. 3-D. Movies,” he exclaims.

“Someday the movie industry will understand that. Someday people will take Jeffrey Katzenberg more seriously than what seems to be going on in exhibition or even in the studios.”

Mr. Katzenberg has crisscrossed the country in recent months pitching exhibitors and journalists alike on the merits of 3-D. The reason theater owners have been slow to adapt is its cost: Converting a theater to 3-D runs tens of thousands of dollars per screen — but the benefit is enormous.

“We opened two screens at 42nd Street at the Empire on ‘Coraline,’ and it grossed over $77,000 over the weekend,” Mr. Foley says. How much more do you need to understand the power of 3-D? $77,000. Two screens.”

One reason demand is so high is that consumers know these 3-D films will show only for a couple of weeks because of the paucity of screens.

The fact that you’ve only got one screen in these theaters, for the most part, and they’re smaller auditoriums means two things: Demand tends to exceed supply, and theatrical runs are shorter for every title. “Coraline” will be booted from almost every 3-D screen it’s playing on Feb. 27 when “Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience” opens.

In other words, if you want to see “Coraline” in 3-D, get to a theater soon. Time is running out.

Another reason “Coraline” appeals to audiences so strongly is the artistic nature of the 3-D effect. The reviews, almost uniformly positive (“Coraline” is tracking at 88 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), drew attention to the movie’s revolutionary look.

“The decision to shoot in 3-D was made about three years ago, actually,” says Dale Wahl, chief executive of Laika, the company that produced “Coraline.”

“At that time, what Henry Selick, the director, wanted to do was to differentiate the real world from the ‘other’ world. Because we have the capability of doing both stop motion and CG animation, the original thought was to differentiate using those forms of animation.”

When that didn’t achieve the desired effect, Mr. Selick suggested using 3-D photography. “We differentiated those worlds by using 3-D as a creative element of the movie, not a gimmick or anything like that, but as a creative element to kind of build up the world,” Mr. Wahl says.

Mr. Selick’s creativity and track record also were key in attracting a diverse audience to theaters.

“I think Henry Selick really had an influential impact on a lot of the older, hipper, smart-art edgy moviegoers that loved ‘Nightmare Before Christmas,’” Mr. Foley says. Their patronage helped catapult “Coraline” up a notch. “I’m dealing with a film that allegedly plays to families, so you’re going to do business up to 6 o’clock, right?

“Well what happened was that at 6 o’clock, the film turned into a different life,” he says. “Sunday night we did $2 million from six to eleven, which was beyond any trend. That was startling.”

When you combine the unexpected cross-demographic appeal with the typical box-office push 3-D films have experienced in recent months, it’s no wonder the prognosticators got this one wrong. The question is, how do they adjust for future weekends to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

Sonny Bunch

AMC’s all day Oscar deal

If you missed one, two or even all five of this year’s contenders for the best-picture Academy Award, have no fear. You can catch up in a single day.

AMC Theatres are offering the AMC Best Picture Showcase on Feb. 21 — the day before the Oscars — with all five films. The day starts at 10:30 a.m. with “Milk,” the biopic about slain former San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Harvey Milk (with Sean Penn in the title role) and continues with the Holocaust drama “The Reader”; the Brad Pitt fantasy “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; the Dickensian feel-good film “Slumdog Millionaire”; and finally, the fact-fiction political drama “Frost/Nixon” at 9:45 p.m. That makes for a long day, but you don’t have to go too hungry. The $30 pass includes a large popcorn with unlimited refills, and the price goes down to $25 if you have the free AMC MovieWatcher card.

Area theaters participating include Loews Georgetown and AMC Hoffman Center, Potomac Mills and Tysons Corner. A full schedule and tickets are available at amctheatres.com.

Kelly Jane Torrance

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