Hubble 3D and the Avatar Bump: How Far Can 3D Docs Go?

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Did Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland benefit from the Avatar Bump? I think it probably did; the stats on the number of people who saw 3D in action for the first time with Avatar leads me to think that now there are a good many viewers out there in hunt of their next 3D fix.

Now some of us are wondering: How long will this 3D bump persist? And how far across the industry will it spread?

Talking to Hubble 3D director Toni Myers in Washington, D.C. last week, it became clear to me that a good many non-fiction filmmakers are now also starting to wonder whether the Avatar effect could entice audiences into all new genres. (Check out my interview with the Hubble 3D astronauts)

Artistically and economically, Hollywood is betting hard on 3D. And once you realize that 3D films can charge more than 2D, and that IMAX films can charge more than those that show on standard screens, the most profitable place today to draw the moviegoer is to the IMAX 3D experience.  Avatar rode that niche all the way to the bank, and then along came Alice in Wonderland, which decimated all expectations in becoming one of the biggest opening weekends of all time. Again, in 3D, on IMAX screens.

Now we see movies like Clash of the Titans being pushed back to accomodate a 3D upgrade. Hollywood smells big bucks.

“Clearly there’s a lot of excitement surrounding 3D, that this is reaching a whole new audience,” Myers told me, “And there doesn’t seem to be much reason to think this is going to fade any time soon. Now we’re all watching to see what kinds of doors this opens, in terms of opportunities to bring different stories in front of larger audiences.”

Myers’s latest IMAX film Hubble 3D, which opened on select IMAX screens last Friday and will be watched very closely as it opens wider next month, clearly reflects an attempt to use 3D to widen the appeal of the standard non-fiction film. I, for one, was dazzled by the astronauts we meet in the story, and the way that high-def 3D puts us not only in orbit, but traveling through the different galaxies that Hubble has already detected. And I think 3D could do wonders for certain types of documentaries. Give us Planet Earth 3D; I’ll be there. (More at Techland: Planet Earth II – the Harrowing High-Def Thrills of ‘Life’)

So it won’t just be IMAX who will be watching how Hubble 3D performs as it opens at more and more venues across the country in the coming weeks. It will be Warner Bros., which bumped back Clash of the Titans. And Sony, which decided to reboot the Spider-Man franchise. And AMC Theaters, which partnered up with other firms a couple weeks ago to announce a $660 million venture to create 14,000 new 3D-capable movie screens.

The capital investments are being made, to change the look and feel of the standard Hollywood blockbuster, and now it’s anyone’s bet: What kind of content will fill this void? What sorts of 3D thrills will bring out the audiences? The fanboys? The families? And in terms of this debate, Hubble 3D is not just another documentary; it’s a big test of our evolving moviegoing tastes.

What would you pay extra to see in 3D? Any interest in Hubble 3D?

More at Techland: Toy Story 3’s New Toy Gallery