Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Alice in Wonderland Controversy Still Going Strong

I think this whole story revolving around Tim Burton's Alice and Wonderland being given a truncated theatrical release in order to get it onto DVD quicker is fascinating, which means I'll post about it every time there is some new revelation which thickens the plot. Consider the plot thickened. Hollywood Reporter is saying today that Odeon in the U.K., who are responsible for over 100 theaters, have boycotted Alice in Wonderland and will not be playing it in the U.K., Ireland and Italy (it will however play in Spain, Germany, Austria and Portugal, where it is scheduled for the regular 18 week run). The reason for the boycott is because Odeon is saying that it has put considerable time and money into upgrading its facilities to accommodate 3D films and will therefore give precedence to those that plan on staying for a full run, probably because it is assumed that they will generate more revenue for the theaters. Poor Alice in Wonderland. Even if the movie is no good, here it is sandwiched between it's distributor who is basically saying "It will make more money on home video so let's get it there as quick as possible," and the exhibitor saying, "We don't need it, we have more important films to show." All this because it was chosen to be the guinea pig in a strange and, what is looking to be, unsuccessful experiment. Personally, I say good for the theaters. As someone who values the theatrical experience above all else, the idea that studios want to get movies through the exhibition process and straight into consumer hands as fast as possible is disturbing. Back when DVD sales started rising and box office receipts started dwindling, some pundits started saying that exhibition had simply become a preview for the DVD. Disney is bringing this statement one step closer to reality with this move. I remember the controversy over Steven Soderberg's Bubble some years back which was released to theater, DVD and on-demand all within the span on several weeks. Theaters cried it would be the death of them and they may have been on to something had Bubble not been a small film that applied only to a specific niche market. However, Alice in Wonderland is supposed to be a big tentpole picture. It has a big name director, big stars, and comes from a classic story. To think that a movie like this will find more business on DVD than in theaters implies a sad fate for exhibition. Instead of cutting the theatrical run, why doesn't Disney roll out Alice in the classic mode: open it in select cities, see what the reaction is and then decide how long to play it for? Or else, let it play in 3D for the full 18 weeks while taking it off regular screens after 12 and prepping the DVD? That way it can still play, theaters aren't sore about spending money to play 3D movies for shortened periods and the DVD can be in people's hands in a shorter time, while in the meantime those who still want to see it in 3D can. The reaction from Odeon though also brings to light another fear I've had in recent years: there's just too many movies being made. George Lucas once said that multiplexes were great ideas because it would offer people the opportunity to see smaller films in big theaters alongside the big event pictures. Although I appreciate his optimism, and in some cases he has been right, in most cases the opposite has happened. Studios are scrambling to make more movies to ensure that every screen is filled with their product. Instead of one or two quality products from each studio, we now get mass amounts of prepackaged garbage every week. prepackaged garbage has always been part of the movie going reality, but there's more of it now than ever as studios try to make as much money with as many films in as short a time as possible. That a theater feels it doesn't need a big film like Alice in Wonderland in order to do good business means that studios, by mass producing movies, are, year after year, lowering the value of their own product, even the blockbusters. This is unfortunate because it means that it's now easier than ever for good films to get lost in the shuffle. That seemed to have happened to Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant film with Nicholas Cage, which garnered excellent reviews but did next to no business. That's just one example. So I'm glad to hear that theaters are taking a stand and telling the studios that if they don't want to play ball, they'll play with someone else. What is unfortunate is that all of this comes at the expense of a film that might be good or bad, I don't know, but deserves just as fair a shot at success as any other. Could Alice in Wonderland fall victim to all this silly deal making? It'll be interesting to see whether studios or exhibitors will be making the next move. To read my other posts on this matter click here and here.


  1. Here's the thing though - with seemingly every major movie getting rendered in 3-D, I've read about there being a bit of a traffic jam in terms of getting movies in and out of the 3-D cinemas anyway.

    So what part is the true irritant? The fact that Disney wants to shorten the window between theatre and DVD (not such a bad thing for a lot of people out there who can't get out to a theatre)...or the studios acting like a bunch of pushers trying to gouge us for extra bells and whistels, but then only offering the bells and whistles for a wickedly limited time anyway?

    For what it's worth, I'm becoming more and more of an adversary for 3-D presentation with every passing day. This whole format just screams of "cash grab".

  2. I agree with you completely, 3D is just a gimmick and I won't pay the extra to see a movie in 3D. The trouble is, gimmicks are what have made movies into what we have come to accept them as today. It's this very reason why Guy Maddin is considered avante-guard while sound and colour are the norm.

    What doesn't make sense here is why Disney would want to get the movie out of theaters, especially when it is 3D, the very thing that should want them to keep it in theaters for as long as possible. I don't know anyone who can't wait to get a movie on DVD so they can watch it on crappy red and blue cardboard glasses.