Why it’s a good thing that Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part I won’t be in 3D

Warner Bros has announced that the next Harry Potter film, Deathly Hallows Part I, will not be in 3D after all. Simon wonders if common sense might be about to prevail in Hollywood…

If we had a time machine, we’d like to go back and put wheels into motion so that we could write this story about films such as Clash Of The Titans and The Last Airbender. Those two have become poster children for films not shot in 3D, and then suffering a fairly terrible post-production bolt-on. The only winners? The two respective studios in those cases, who went for the quick buck, rather than even trying to give 3D a fair chance. Heck, there are enough people unconvinced about 3D when it’s done properly to start sullying the idea of it already.

Yet, that’s what happened, and thus when Warner Bros announced that the two remaining Harry Potter movies were to go through the post-production 3D process, we failed to detect one iota of excitement about the news, at least from people who aren’t glued to Excel spreadsheets for a living.

But the latest development, announced at the end of last week, is interesting. For Warner Bros has clearly learned a lesson somewhere along the line from the Clash Of The Titans 3D debacle, as the studio has now confirmed that it’s going to be releasing Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part I in 2D only.

In an official statement released by the studio, it cited the reason as being that “we will not have a completed 3D version of the film within our release date window”. Appreciating that that statement does seem to leave the door open for a future 3D release, Warner Bros’ release continued, saying “Despite everyone’s best efforts, we were unable to convert the film in its entirety and meet the highest standards of quality. We do not want to disappoint fans who have long-anticipated the conclusion of this extraordinary journey, and to that end, we are releasing our film day-and-date on November 19, 2010 as planned.”

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For good measure, Deathly Hallows director David Yates added that “This decision, which we completely support, underscores the fact that Warner Bros. has always put quality first.”

Yates, we’d wager, didn’t go and see Clash Of The Titans.

Even if you’re a 3D advocate, and personally I’m not, this has to be seen as good news. The problem is that, since Avatar raked in more money than some small countries see in decades, Hollywood has done its bandwagon trick. Some bright spark worked out that 3D simply equalled a premium on the ticket price, no matter what the quality of the end product. As such, personally I’ve sat through numerous movies this year where it’s simply not worked.

Only in animated films has 3D, for my money, reasonably consistently delivered, and even then not in a way that left me thinking that it was the big future for cinema that some were trying to sell it as.

What’s going to be fascinating now is what this does to Harry Potter‘s box office numbers. It’s little secret that 3D-seeking audiences have been declining, with many of us having seen something that was over-sold, which under-delivered. (The worst I saw for this was a Last Airbender TV spot in the UK, which had things flying out of the screen and above people’s heads.) After all, there has to be a reason why you’d want to sit in a cinema with special glasses on for a couple of hours, and I’m firmly in the camp of those who take said glasses off whenever I can, should the novelty get tedious once the movie’s begun.

The last Harry Potter film, Half-Blood Prince, had the first sequence clumsily converted to 3D in certain cinemas, leading to a bizarre moment where an icon flashed up on the screen 20 minutes in, telling you to take your specs off. So, it’s fairly certain that 3D wasn’t pivotal to the success of the film. Half-Blood Prince nonetheless raked in $933m worldwide, of which $301m was in the US. It’s the second most successful movie in the series to date in terms of box office performance, and Warner Bros would have been looking, you’d wager, for a 10% premium at least for 3D ticket prices for the next movie. Assuming it could match the levels of interest for Half-Blood Prince (and, let’s face it, it should), the studio is likely to have assumed that Deathly Hallows Part I would be the most lucrative of the series at the box office to date, with the 3D premium attached.

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So, let’s see if that happens anyway. And if it does, let it serve as an indication that gimmickry isn’t what sends films to the top of the box office, or to hundreds of millions of dollars in takings. Instead, it’s making a film that people want to see, whether it’s in 3D or not. Inception took over $700m in the summer, without a pair of 3D glasses in sight. It was enough of a spectacle without a post-production bolt-on.

Thus, it’s hard not to be thankful for the decision Warner Bros has made here. Because we all know that it’s perfectly possible to put some semblance of 3D on a film print in a matter of weeks, as the already-cited examples show. The more important trick is surely knowing when not to. And instead of slapping 3D onto every big release going, to choose the films that it will actually benefit, and then do the job properly.

Granted, Warner Bros didn’t quite do that here. Chances are it ran out of time (and rumours suggest that the footage of Hallows in 3D was not impressive), and stung by the loud complaints about Clash Of The Titans, chose not to run the gauntlet again on its biggest franchise movie of the year (especially given that Warner Bros will be looking to sell Potter to us again a few months down the road).

But we reach the same end, and it’s hard to grumble about it. I, for one, will gratefully take the chance to watch Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part I on the biggest screen I can find, appreciating the fact that this doesn’t, in turn, mean I have to watch it with silly glasses on this time around (given how many IMAX screens appear to have been turned over to 3D, but that’s a story for another time).

And I, for one, also hope that what Warner Bros has done here is the start of a train of common sense that many other studios will jump aboard too. I can but hope…