Katzenberg on Warners' 'Clash of the Titans' cheesy 3-D: 'You just snookered the movie audience'
Everyone inside Hollywood has known for weeks that DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg has been furious with Warner Bros. for releasing "Clash of the Titans" just one week after the vocal 3-D proponent's "How to Train Your Dragon" -- and then adding insult to injury by giving "Titans" a cynical, quickie 3-D conversion to lure more 3-D zealots to the multiplexes.
But just how incensed is the Katz Man? Let's just say when Katzenberg sat down with the editors of Variety to discuss the future of 3-D, the gloves were off, with all of the jabs and punches being directed right at Warner Bros.
Katzenberg called the studio's attempt to pass off "Titans" as a genuine 3-D movie "disingenuous" while warning that if Warners or other studios release more dingy-looking 3-D conversions "we [will already have] killed the goose that is delivering us golden eggs." He even took direct aim on Warners studio chief Alan Horn, referring to Horn's well-known personal concern with keeping ultra-violence, cigarette smoking and Hummers out of his movies when he said: "Alan Horn has such a great conscience about things that go on in his movies ... he cares. What happened on 'Titans'?"
As Katzenberg sees it -- and I can't say that I disagree with him -- if you're going to demand that moviegoers pay an extra $5 to see a 3-D movie, it certainly ought to be real 3-D, not fake 3-D. Eventually the public will catch on to the hustle and revolt. Katzenberg made a persuasive case that there's a huge difference between movies that are, as he described it, "authored" in 3-D and movies that are converted in post-production. In fact, he said that what Warners did with "Clash of the Titans" was "analogous to taking a black and white film and colorizing it. It's technically possible to do, but it's not what the creators designed. And it doesn't look right."
He even defended Tim Burton's hybrid 3-D work on "Alice in Wonderland," saying that while the live-action scenes were shot in 2-D, Burton specifically designed shots and sequences that, in post-production, could be amplified to "actually deliver a pretty high-end 3-D experience."
Katzenberg warned that a continuing stream of shoddy 3-D conversions would be a disaster for the emerging art form, arguing that "if we take the low road, we'll be out of the 3-D business in 12 months." He bluntly laid out his vision this way:
We've seen the highest end of [3-D] in "Avatar" and you have now witnessed the lowest end of it [in "Titans"]. You cannot do anything that is of a lower grade and a lower quality than what has just been done on "Clash of the Titans." It literally is "OK, congratulations! You just snookered the movie audience." The act of doing it was disingenuous. We may get away with it a few times but in the long run, [moviegoers] will wake up. And the day they wake up is the day they walk away from us and we blew it.
Katzenberg has his own biases, since his entire business model largely depends on the extra revenues that 3-D tickets will deliver. But as someone who only cares about the art of movies, not the cash on the barrelhead, I'm in his corner on this issue. Having seen "Avatar," I'm convinced that 3-D, in the hands of an ambitious filmmaker, can add an amazing new level of visual imagination to what has been a pretty stagnant art form. But if the studios are going to treat 3-D like a cash cow, audiences will quickly catch on. And as Katzenberg knows all too well, once burned is twice shy. As soon as moviegoers feel the stink of exploitation, they'll stay away in droves from all 3-D films, whether they're good, bad or just plug ugly.
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Photo of Jeffrey Katzenberg by Laurent Emmanuel / Associated Press