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The 3D That Got Away: Part I

The 3D That Got Away: Part I

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This month marks a benchmark in Hollywood entertainment. For the first time, a Hollywood blockbuster is being released simultaneously in 35mm, digital cinema, and IMAX 3D. You heard me right - not just IMAX, but IMAX 3D. Polar Express has broken boundaries by doing this, but had Hollywood producers had their way, it would not have been the first to do so. Let's take a look at three other projects that would have brought Hollywood product to the IMAX 3D screen years ago.

In February of 1997, the following appeared in Variety: "After conquering TV and theatrical films, Star Trek is about to explore the final frontier of filmed entertainment: Imax 3-D. Paramount and trek executive producer Rick Berman are in serious discussions with Imax Corp. to create a Star Trek film. The film will be shot in state-of-the-art Imax 3-D with CGI graphics, with a running time of about 40 minutes and a budget of around $10 million."

Television writer Hans Tobeason completed a screenplay and Colm Meany of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was signed on to reprise his role as Chief Engineer O'Brien. One year later, Berman told the British Star Trek Monthly magazine that the film had been placed "on a very distant back burner. It's not dead like a crushed cockroach, but it's not an immediate possibility, either. It has nothing to do with creative elements, but more with business elements."

The problem was multifold. Imax was trying to grow beyond its world's fair and science center background by bringing in Hollywood talent to work their films. They were stuck in a bit of a catch-22. In order to win Hollywood talent, it was necessary to have enough Imax theaters operating as commercial, rather than non-profit theaters. In order for these theaters to be built, Imax would need to up the ante on Hollywood-produced films. Hollywood production companies had already conducted tests of filming in IMAX. Remember the IMAX version of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones just a couple of years ago? Did you know that an IMAX version of Star Wars was already being considered as far back as 1997? In the documentary Special Effects (produced by Star Wars sound production wiz Ben Burt), viewers took a behind the scenes look at the making of the Star Wars Special Edition that was soon to be released in theaters. The coup de taut however, was the closing of the film - a reinvisioning of the opening scene of the original Star Wars film with IMAX cameras.

But Hollywood operates on one set of rules, and the large format film industry on another. In the end, Imax and Paramount were unable to come to an agreement on financing and distribution of the film. In 2000, Imax Corporation put itself up for sale and one of the frontrunners to purchase it was Viacom Corporation, parent company of Paramount. But two things happened: first, people started getting tired of Star Trek. Both Deep Space Nine and Voyager ended their seven-year runs without a bang. The Next Generation cast kept appearing in movie after barely profitable movie, often being panned by critics. This year is the last for Enterprise - and it's not being done for the fans. It's being done simply because at least four seasons is needed from a drama series in order to make a profit in syndication. Even The Hollywood Reporter and Amusement Business, two trade publications, made mention that the new Borg Invasion 4-D attraction in Las Vegas may be the last hope of resurrecting the franchise.

Second, in late 2000, Imax suffered an economic loss that almost destroyed the company - and prevented another Hollywood product from becoming the first IMAX 3D film to be converted from 35mm. But more on that in Part 3....

Coming on Wednesday: "The 3D That Got Away" continues as Joseph writes about the various films that the Walt Disney Company once thought about giving the 3D IMAX treatment to.

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