Battle Brews Over 3D Glasses In Europe

By J. Sperling Reich | March 26, 2009 11:10 pm PDT

Late last week I picked up on a rumor that was circulating about European exhibitors.  Apparently, they are rejecting digital 3D versions of DreamWorks Animation’s “Monsters vs. Aliens” in lieu of 2D digital and 35mm prints as a response to being told that distributors will not pick up the tab for 3D glasses.  The film opens internationally on March 27th.

Disposable polarized 3D glasses cost between 50 and 99 cents (USD) and are required to view digital 3D movies shown using systems manufactured by RealD and Masterimage.  “Active glasses”, which operate using LCD lenses that flicker open and closed at the shutter rate of the projector, are reusable and cost upwards of USD $$25 to $30.  Such glasses are necessary to view 3D films shown using XpanD technology.  Reusable glasses for Dolby’s color wheel system cost USD $23.  More than likely the dispute is over disposable glasses rather than reusable glasses since it is generally accepted that the exhibitor will be responsible for the latter.

In North America it has become a somewhat common practice for the distributor of a 3D film to pay for disposable glasses in part or entirely.  This may not last however since distribution chiefs such as Mark Christiansen of Paramount Pictures have said they are determining whether they will be reimbursing an exhibitor for the cost of disposable glasses on a film by film basis.

The theatre owners that reported the unofficial boycott of “Monsters vs. Aliens” in 3D were from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and a few Scandinavian countries.  Equipment manufacturers and the few dealers I spoke with confirmed the story, and were somewhat frustrated as they believe such issues will hold up the rollout of digital cinema in Europe.  When contacted about the issue, representatives at Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles said that local distributors in each territory set the policy for how 3D glasses will be handled and weren’t sure what the ruling was on “Monsters vs. Aliens”.  Since a film can have different distributors from one country to the next, it makes sense that a U.S. distributor may not have control over what a distributor does in Europe. . . or anywhere else for that matter.

Of course, the decision not to pay for 3D glasses did not come as a shock to some European exhibitors, especially those who have been reviewing virtual print fee agreements.  “I have always been a little bit suspicious of this since nobody is willing to put in a contract that studios are willing to pay for it.  We believe that is the way they are going,” said V.J. Maury, CEO of Palace Cinemas, based in Central Europe, when asked about the issue.

Palace uses both RealD and Masterimage and thus deals with disposable glasses.  However the chain has managed to work out their own glasses recycling program.  “We have adopted a position where it’s just not going to be that way and we are working toward a reusable glasses model.  It’s a throw away that can be used many times.  It just makes sense.  There is no point to waste that much plastic.”

J. Sperling Reich