ShoWest and IMAX 3D 'Grand Canyon'
by Scott Holleran

March 14, 2008

Burbank, California—The annual Las Vegas exhibition, ShoWest, recently made news on several fronts, including comments from prominent motion picture industry leaders. Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Chairman Dan Glickman denounced so-called net neutrality, the latest euphemism for government intervention of the Internet, on the grounds that it infringes on creative freedom.

Good for Glickman, who would have more credibility if he'd apply that idea to the MPAA's archaic and Puritanical ratings system. Studios also ought to be very concerned about creeping towards totalitarianism under either another Clinton administration or a McCain presidency. Sens. Clinton, a nanny statist who proposed restricting video games (and banning divorce for couples with children), and anti-capitalist McCain, who opposes absolute freedom of speech, are philosophically indistinguishable. In terms of leaving Hollywood alone, Clinton and McCain amount to a third Bush term.

John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), who joined Glickman in strongly opposing piracy, made pointed remarks at ShoWest on the supremacy of the theatrical experience. Fithian also properly stated that the "[t]heatrical release remains the locomotive that drives the movie train." He went on to criticize studios for bottlenecking releases, pointing out that such short-sightedness leads to lower profits.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times during ShoWest, DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg predicted that three-dimensional (3D) movies will add another $15 million to each picture's budget and eventually become hugely profitable for movie studios. Citing the 3D Hannah Montana, which did over $60 million in business on a relatively small number of screens, Katzenberg described 3D as earning "meaningful financial results."

A scene from Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk
New Movies

Katzenberg's favorite form of entertainment technology, 3D, is used in the humongous Image Maximization (IMAX) format this weekend with Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk. Playing mostly at museums and, as usual with these releases, a smattering of selected IMAX theaters, the picture repeats environmentalist claims that the world is running out of water using the appeal of a trip down the Grand Canyon's Colorado River as the bait.

In the hands of director Greg MacGillivray (Everest), who produced the awesome surfing scenes in the 1978 classic, Big Wednesday, and wrote and directed stunning aerial shots for the overlooked 1976 adventure movie, Sky Riders, this IMAX indulgence in eco-propaganda might be worth seeing for those 3D sights, sounds and excitement.

Brace for messaging against so-called overuse of the Colorado River and anything related to man's use of natural resources, such as building dams. Yet the movie, narrated by Robert Redford, who owns a boat at Lake Powell, a manmade reservoir created by a dam, is partly funded by a company founded by a former Colorado River guide and business that makes plumbing products. Indeed, Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk sought and was granted special government favor to shoot in the Grand Canyon before new regulations prohibiting the practice took effect.

But, this is America's Grand Canyon, and, to paraphrase the title of Mr. Redford's 1992 movie, a river runs through it, so one certainly can understand the desire to explore the region. MacGillivray, with his son, co-producer Shaun, employ 44 people and 12 watercraft on the voyage down the Colorado—for first time IMAX 3D images of the Grand Canyon. Leading the way, besides an Indian guide, are two Harvard-educated environmentalists and their college-bound daughters: eco-activist Bobby Kennedy (nevertheless a falconer who admits to hunting and fishing) and National Geographic's Wade Davis. To back their claim that the world's water is scarce, they make visual comparisons using photographs from John Wesley Powell's 1873 expedition down the Colorado River.

But the most interesting photographic achievement may stem from the voyage itself—hauling around an IMAX 3D camera that weighs 300 pounds and had to be carried on six-foot poles by four crew members across rough terrain—which explains how Katzenberg reached that $15 million estimate. As Shaun MacGillivray said in the press kit: "Everything takes more time with 3D because you're loading two film reels, there is more equipment and the camera is heavier. Since you're using twice as much film, it's also twice as costly; instead of $1,000 per minute to shoot in 2D IMAX, it's $2,000 a minute." Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk opens today.


National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO)

Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk

• 2/23/07 - Scott Holleran: Clinton, Obama & Hollywood
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