Are you familiar with the Ramayana? Have you ever read Journey To The West? If not, then chances are that you will be watching the story of Noah in 2D at your local multiplex.
The Hollywood Reporter yesterday had an exclusive on Paramount’s decision to release Darron Aronofsky’s Old Testament epic in 3D only in select overseas territories. However, the article doesn’t seem to want to go too deeply into the reasons for this decision. Instead it notes that the 3D version will be released in “65 foreign countries, including Russia, all of South America and most of continental Europe,” of which 32 territories will also see it in IMAX. Meanwhile the film “will be released exclusively in 2D in the U.S, the U.K., Australia and France”, and while not mentioned by name, we assume that Canada is included in the US release territory, rather than getting to see the flood in 3D. The same might go for New Zealand with Australia and Ireland with the UK. So with the exception of France, the film is being released in 2D in all major English-speaking territories and – with the exception of France, for reasons we will get to – in 3D in all other languages.
It should be remembered that Noah was filmed in 2D and was intended to be released that way, until Paramount decided to spend $10m to post-convert the film from 2D to 3D. [Paramount isn’t telling who did the conversion, but it is likely to be Legend3D, who did the work on Paramount’s Top Gun, or Prime Focus, which recently won an award for its conversion work on Gravity.] Aronofsky is not opposed to 3D per-se, as he told MTV in this interview, back when he was scheduled to film the RoboCop re-boot, that “With the right project, I’m totally into 3D,. Scorsese’s working in 3-D [on Hugo]. I am very curious what that’s going to be. Like everyone, I thought Avatar was an incredible experience.” Though there were alleged struggles with the studio, according to CinemaBlend, over the final cut of the film, there is no word about Aronofsky’s feelings about the 3D conversion. While the film was conceived in 2D, the art of converting to 3D has come a long way since Clash of the Titans, though like that film’s director Aronofsky might feel free to vent his true feelings in a few years time. Leterrier last year came clean and called the Clash 3D conversion “a gimmick to steal money from audiences.”
It is also no secret that Paramount is hoping for Noah to be a cross-over hit with Christian and Jewish audiences in North America. While The Passion of the Christ is often cited, a more recent indicator of the strength of the religious audience is not found in the cinema but on television. The Bible miniseries produced by Mark Burnett, better known as the men behind The Voice and Celebrity Apprentice, “brought 100 million viewers to the History Channel earlier this year. Shortly after, it became the top-selling DVD miniseries ever when 525,000 copies were sold in its first week of release,” (link). These were numbers that Hollywood could not fail to sit up and take notice off. The sequel from the New Testament, called Son of God, is slated for cinema release, according to Deadline, with “20th Century Fox picked up feature film rights to the theatrical version of History’s miniseries last month, and the movie now set for a February 28, 2014.”
So with Noah originally set for North America release on 8 March, it meant two biblical epics just one week apart! Son of God would have still been in cinemas when the old testament floods the multiplexes (if you pardon the pun) in a battle between not Old and New Testament, but Paramount Pictures against 20th Century Fox. (And if that wasn’t enough, there is also Heaven Is For Real on 16 April.) Paramount thus shifted the release date to 4 April (though IMDB lists it as 28 March and Google 8 March) in order to avoid the obvious clash. It would also be unseemly to emphasize the 3D spectacle aspect of the Noah film in a country in which three out of ten believe people in the bible literally and only 17 per cent consider it a book of fables and legends.
In overseas market, the film is a much harder sell, particularly in countries that do not have a Christian majority. Stripped to its bones, the story of old-man-builds-boats-heards-animals-onboard-flood-land-the-end is not one to inspire the masses in India and China. However, the Chinese did not need to know the historical significance of the Titanic to flock to the multiplex to the tune of $67m in the opening week to see Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet struggles against class prejudice and icebergs in 3D. As THR puts it, “The studio [Paramount] is hopeful that overseas audiences will respond to the effects-laden production, which includes the spectacle of the flood, some supernatural elements and a cast of computer-generated animals.” Life of Pi is also cited as a film the outperformed North America in the overseas market, $484m to $125m – though despite only three animal onboard Pi’s boat, the expectation should perhaps not be that bigger boat and more animals equals greater box office bounty.
While non-English speaking European territories should not be considered un-godly, it is a case of simplifying DCP inventory and versioning if the 2D version is English (and French – for French-speaking parts of Canada as well), while all other languages get the 3D DCDM for local versions, including titles and sub-titles placement. Hence why the King James territories get Noah in 2D, while everyone else will have water gushing off the screen. But not before the arrival of Jesus – coming in 2D everywhere, courtesy of Fox.