Movie fans awaiting Alice in Wonderland -- coming to theaters on March 5 -- have a decision to make: See it in 3D in theaters or wait three months to rent it cheaper, but with an inferior resolution. The typical four-month waiting period between theaters and sales is being shrunk to three for Wonderland as producers hope to pitch and sell the movie on its graphics appeal that will hopefully draw viewers to theaters. It's led some to wonder whether this is a win for the studio or for fans. Will people turn out early for the objectively better and more interactive version, or will they take advantage of the shorter wait and sit out the film for a few months?
Patrick Goldstein says in the Los Angeles Times that this move is a bit misguided since it doesn't really measure the way that people flock to theaters the week of a movie's anticipated release:
Disney's calculation with "Alice" is that the film has such a huge contingent of die-hard loyalists -- Johnny Depp fans, Tim Burton fans, and parents eager to share a family-friendly film with their kids -- that its core fan base won't be willing to put off seeing the film. In fact, a big chunk of that audience will willingly pay to see the film twice, first in the theaters and again when the DVD is released.
Chris Morran of the Consumerist, however, thinks this move, if it pays off, could change the way Hollywood operates with its releases:
If the Alice experiment is a success, then you can expect to see A) an ever-shortening release window for big-ticket movies and B) a proportional decrease in the time between the film's theatrical and home video releases. In effect, a theatrical release could be viewed as little more than a loss-leading publicity effort for the more profitable home market.
John Gholson at Cinematical believes that this improvement in speed neglects the hype that typically surrounds the DVD release of blockbuster films like this one:
The biggest assumption is that a shorter window will move more copies than a traditional 4-6 month window, regardless of the box office take or critical consensus. I can see this being true for a movie that flops -- one, it needs to ride those theatrical coattails, and two, it's leaving theatres quicker than a hit would. But for a blockbuster? I think drawing the window out, increasing anticipation for the title, and making the release day a special event, akin to its opening box office weekend, are all in the studios' best interest.
It seems to me that this move comes on the heels of Avatar's theatrical success when people raced to see the film in 3D when they still could. Moviegoers gladly forked over as much as $17 a ticket to see it on the big screen. Wonderland could be trying to create a similar urgent demand and market with a smaller window at play. However, under that theory, Wonderland would expect to suffer from poorer rentals and sales numbers as a result of the missing 3D element that theatergoers enjoyed just weeks before.
The movie business may forever be altered by the ability for production companies to sell potential viewers on the prospect of being entertained by a better quality product during a theatrical experience. Yet what's left to be seen is how Avatar fares once it's out of theaters (Yes, it's bound to happen) as fans are forced to decide just how much they value owning the blockbuster film. And we'll have to wait and see what happens with more typical movies and whether they can benefit from lessons learned from Avatar's vast worldwide success. If Wonderland doesn't lure people to theaters, don't blame this shorter window for the failure. Rather, it may be an indication that Avatar's 3D graphics aren't the recipe for a successful theater run; they're just a sign of what's to come.