‘Up’ to make history in Cannes

PARIS: Cannes will add a new chapter to its history -- and give a nod to what some hail as the future of cinema -- when the Riviera film festival kicks off Wednesday with a 3D animated movie, Pixar's "Up".

The hotly-awaited premiere of "Up" will make cinematic history as it becomes the first-ever animated feature, and the first three-dimensional movie to open the world's paramount cinema showcase running May 13 to 24.

Set in the wilds of South America, Pixar's 150-million-dollar adventure is just the tip of the 3D iceberg as far as studio owner Disney is concerned, with a dozen big-budget 3D movies and six more with live-action 3D in the works.

And the whole of Hollywood is betting just as big on the new format, confident that it is more than a passing fad.

Explaining his choice of film for the prized opening slot at Cannes, the festival's president Thierry Fremaux said he was convinced 3D was "one of cinema's upcoming adventures." Today's 3D is a far cry from the gimmicks of the 1950s, viewed through goofy red and blue cardboard glasses, which often left audiences seasick and with throbbing headaches.

Moviegoers will still need dark glasses to get the full blast, but the 3D of the 21st century promises a headache-free treat of colour and razor-sharp detail, thanks to state-of-the-art digital shooting and screening technology.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of Pixar's rival Dreamworks, has described the new generation 3D as the third great "revolution" in the history of film, after the arrival of sound in the 1920s, and colour in the 1930s.

He believes it is a "magic moment" for film, and has decided Dreamworks will shoot every new animation in 3D from now on, while Greg Foster of studio giant IMAX also sees 3D as the future.

Fantasy and sci-fi directors are rushing to exploit the possibilities, from Tim Burton with a 3D "Alice in Wonderland" to "Titanic" director James Cameron who is putting the finishing touches to his much-anticipated work, "Avatar".

Award-winning directors Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Peter Jackson are all involved in 3D projects.

And in a lucrative twist, studios are looking at ways to dust off past blockbusters from their libraries and revamp them into gleaming new 3D -- from Disney's cartoon classics to "Star Wars," "Titanic" or "The Matrix." Hollywood hopes the dramatic visual experience will conquer young viewers reared on a diet of video games, and lure stay-at-home viewers away from their DVDs -- and pirated movies -- and back into the cinema.

"We at Disney have huge faith in 3D. It gives the viewer a more intense, more poignant experience -- far higher quality than television," the head of Walt Disney France, Jean de Rivieres, told AFP.

But the revolution still faces big challenges -- not least the need to persuade thousands of cinemas worldwide to invest in the costly new equipment needed to screen the films -- at the height of a global recession.

In the United States, only 2,000 of the 30,000 movie screens have 3D capability, according to figures from Disney in Variety magazine, while in the rest of the world, only 1,500 screens can show digital 3D movies.

In France, for instance, "Up" will screen in 800 movie theatres from July 29, but only 120 are kitted out to show it in 3D The French release of "Monsters and Aliens" was hamstrung by an unseemly row between Paramount, distributors and cinemas over the extra costs, although Pixar settled a similar row by offering cinemas a slice of ticket revenues for its hit "Bolt." Another glitch in the studios' plan: filmmakers, distributors and cinemas cannot agree on who should pay for the glasses that viewers still need to get the full effect.

Disney's De Rivieres admits the industry is working on how best to roll out the new technology.

"We are going to see how the market evolves -- right now we're still looking for the right business model."