Burton’s Alice: First Victim of Hollywood’s VOD Future?

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It takes a good deal of chutzpah to dictate anything when it comes to a Tim Burton movie. But that’s precisely what Disney is doing with his upcoming 3-D adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.


It has nothing to do with Burton himself, or his dark vision of Lewis Carroll’s fairy tale. Rather, Burton finds himself in the middle of an economic struggle in Hollywood, a key player in a skirmish that is leaving studios conflicted, torn between favoring boffo box office at the movie theater or reaping the profits generated by DVD sales.

Skimming through this Hollywood Reporter piece, which is really quite a fascinating read (see the full thing here), the situation appears to be this: A theatrical run, outside that huge first weekend, is more or less a marketing campaign for the DVD release. That’s where the real money is made, and for a long time now, the movie studios have gone up against the movie theater chains, with a desire to shrink the DVD “window.” The studios want to rush right from theater to DVD, and the theaters have pushed back in kind, saying that a shorter window decreases the urgent desire of customers to come out to the big screen. After all, if a movie’s going to be on DVD in four weeks, maybe I’ll just wait to rent it, but if that was now four months, then I would probably just cave in and buy a theater ticket. Make sense?

Well Disney is going one step further. Rather than just shrinking the DVD window, and focusing on putting films on DVD, Blu-Ray and Video-On-Demand sooner than ever before, they want to deliberately restrict the length of the screening window in theaters. And Alice will be the first project where they set out to experiment with doing just that: Restrict the number of weeks that it will show on theater screens, touting the theatrical experience as a limited-time event, and then rush the whole project onto cable systems, and DVD. Quoting from the article:

Normally, movies play in first-run theaters for up to 16 weeks. Disney is talking about a theatrical run of just under 13 weeks on “Alice,” a 3D motion-capture/live-action fantasy helmed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. The studio would benefit by truncating the film’s theatrical run as the title is a near sure shot for big success in home entertainment with its family-friendly subject matter and well-known cast. So the quicker Disney can get it into DVD and Blu-ray Disc release the better.

To be honest, I’m conflicted about the whole thing; I love being able to order up movies on my TV, and going to the theaters nowadays is often both an overpriced and overtly obnoxious experience.

That said, I still believe a movie theater is the place to experience a movie. It is the immersive, communal, awe-inspiring throne to cinema. For better or worse, though, these are the economics of Hollywood, and they apply even to someone as big as Tim Burton, and to a project as hotly anticipated as Alice in Wonderland.

What do you think? Are they screwing over Burton?

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