(Re-)Shoot Her!: The Cost of Choosing What Movies Deserve the 3-D Treatment

3-D re-releases like “Jurassic Park 3D” aren’t always a good idea.

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"The amount of cost depends on how good a job you want to do," says Paul Debevec, associate director of graphics research at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies.

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Twenty years ago, movie audiences learned that raptors can open doors and that the dilophosaurus can blind Newman from "Seinfeld" by spitting venom in his face. Starting this Friday, audiences get to relive it all in 3-D, and judging from the hype, Universal Pictures could easily rake in the box office dollars from the "Jurassic Park" 20th anniversary re-release.

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It seems like re-releasing a film in 3-D would be easy money for studios—the films are already made, they just need the 3D treatment and a bunch of goofy glasses. But redoing movies in 3-D isn't a guaranteed cash cow. Earlier this year, several large studios either postponed or canceled the re-releases of several popular films. Disney canceled its 3-D version of "The Little Mermaid," Disney and Lucasfilm postponed the re-releases of "Star Wars Episodes II – The Attack of the Clones" and "Episode III – Revenge of the Sith", and 20th Century Fox postponed its 3D re-release of "Independence Day."

Why aren't studios jumping to re-release every movie they can? Part of it is the surprising amount of work that goes into redoing a film in 3-D.

"There's definitely a lot of effort that goes into it. The amount of cost depends on how good a job you want to do," says Paul Debevec, associate director of graphics research at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies.

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Debevec says that, judging from depth maps he has seen of some of the film's shots, he expects that Universal Pictures put plenty of time, effort, and money into its latest 3-D creation. "The conversion effort being done on 'Jurassic Park 3D' is definitely as top-shelf as a conversion effort can get today."

Creating a 3-D movie means essentially making two movies from one—one for the left eye and one for the right.

 

The complexity and length of the film, not to mention the desired quality of the finished product, dictate the price tag. The 2012 3-D re-release of Titanic reportedly cost $18 million, and Debevec calls it the "high bar" for 3-D re-releases. Universal Pictures has not yet responded to U.S. News inquiries about the cost of "Jurassic Park 3D," but given the film's complexity, Debevec estimates the cost could be around $10 million.

That's significantly less than it cost to make the original film, which according to IMDB, had an estimated budget of around $63 million ($100 million in 2013 dollars). But $10 million isn't peanuts, especially compared to this year's other popular spring movies. "Admission" and "The Call" each have budgets estimated at $13 million, and "Spring Breakers" cost a mere $5 million to make, according to IMDB.

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The cost and effort of doing 3-D – and doing it well – can seem like more trouble than it's worth for studios. Warner Brothers learned that the hard way when critics lambasted 2010's "Clash of the Titans 3D." Though it was originally filmed in 2-D, the studio quickly cranked out a three-dimensional version that the critics panned for looking like a slapdash creation.

So while 3-D releases of films often pay off big for movie studios, that payoff is not guaranteed. Film audiences have to pay extra to see those films, so studios have to convert movies that will inspire people to spend nearly $20 at some theaters to see the new versions. That means picking well-liked films that also lend themselves well to 3-D, says Tony Gunnarsson, analyst at media market research firm ScreenDigest. It's why you'll see 3-D remakes of computer animated films like "Monsters, Inc.," instead of romantic comedies like "Love Actually."

So while "Jurassic Park 3D" is well-hyped and highly anticipated, choosing which movies to convert is an art in and of itself.

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"It goes in waves. You hear about new titles coming, and there's some positive press in that, and some negative press in that. And other perhaps smaller titles, less important titles, may be pulled," says Gunnarsson. "It's a little more complex when it comes to 3-D movies than 2-D movies."