China's 3D revolution waiting for 'Avatar' to join the fray

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

While most of the world has the chance to catch director James Cameron's US$240 million (€167 million) 3D epic Avatar the week of Friday, December 18, film lovers in mainland China are being forced to wait until January 2 for its release.

And they're not happy about it either, with netizens flooding internet chat rooms with complaints and pointing the finger at the Chinese government, which controls film release dates and often holds off on letting international blockbusters screen to ensure locally made productions have as little competition as possible. That's the case with the Teddy Chan-directed Bodyguards and Assassins which opens around China on Friday.

But the good news for China's film faithful is that when the much-anticipated production and its reportedly never-seen-before visuals finally do make it to their screens, the cinemas themselves will be more than ready.

For while the digital cinema revolution has been spreading all over the world in 2009, in China its growth has been quite remarkable.

The country now boasts the second largest number of digital screens in the world at almost 1,500 - behind the United States and its estimated 3,000.

Those new cinemas are helping China rapidly catch up with the rest of the world. Overall, China is rolling out on average one new cinema screen every day now but its numbers in total are still relatively small, given the country's massive population.

Film industry watchers at the Screen Daily trade magazine reported recently that China now has 1,635 cinemas with 4,483 screens and can expect those numbers to increase to 2,000 cinemas with 6,000 screens by the end of next year.

But the North American market - the world's largest - boasts 5,400 cinemas with 39,000 screens while servicing the cinematic needs of just a fraction of the people.

Digitially shot and screened films have been used to lure China's millions into the cinema - and it seems they are prepared to pay the extra cost of tickets to enjoy the high-tech advances. Cinemas across the globe are making up to "two and a half times'' more on 3D films, according to a report in the Financial Times, because cinema-goers are willing to pay more to see the films.

By November this year, a total of 102 movies had been released in digital formats in China, grossing a combined 1.14 billion yuan (€116 million), compared to 2008 when 62 digital titles grossed 520 million yuan (€53 million).

And it's just not the Chinese that are going digital.

The Financial Times this week claimed there had been an increase in 3D screens across Europe from 150 to 1,150 in 2009, and reflected on the fact that when the Disney group first tried its hand at 3D - with Chicken Little in 2005 - there were only 84 screens in the US with the equipment needed to show it.

MS

Comments