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'Star Wars' and 'Titanic' 3-D: How much is too much?

October 1, 2010 |  8:41 pm

Stormtr
Filmgoers who've rolled their eyes at the reboot craze and the idea of old movies coming back in new guises hadn't counted on the trend going a step further: Old movies coming back in old guises.

That's more or less what we got this week as Fox and George Lucas confirmed that all six films from the "Star Wars" franchise will be heading back to theaters starting in 2012 (this time in 3-D, of course). And then we were hit by it again today with a story that James Cameron's "Titanic 3-D" will likely, as other reports had suggested, also roll out early in that year of Mayan doom.

"Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" will be released sometime in the first four months of the 2012 with as little as four or five weeks separating it and the revamped DiCaprio-fest, according to those familiar with plans for "Star Wars" who asked not to be named because they had not been authorized to speak on Lucas' behalf.

Some of the reports about "Star Wars" in 3-D left the impression that Lucas and his Industrial Light and Magic were committing to six films in the new dimension. But the sources with knowledge of the plans said the 3-D conversion would happen one film at a time, not all at once, which means that in effect there's no hard commitment beyond "Phantom Menace." If that film's release doesn't hit box-office thresholds, Lucas could theoretically defer or scrap his plans.

It's understandable why he might: The conversion process won't be cheap, and unlike Cameron, Lucas is footing the bill himself. At 796 minutes of running time, the entire six films will cost about $80 million to convert even at the conservative estimate of $100,000 per minute. Chump change for Lucas, perhaps, but still not a bargain.

In any event, at most only one "Star Wars" film per year will be released, the sources said, which should put the original 1977 "Star Wars" in theaters in 2015 at the earliest.  (A spokesman for Fox, which is distributing "Star Wars," declined to comment, and a spokesman at Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic could not be reached by press time.)

Since the news on "Star Wars" broke, there's been the inevitable backlash focusing on this as another attempt by Lucas to wring more profit out of -- er, adapt "Star Wars" to -- the latest and greatest Hollywood trend after doing that with animation and prequels. And it's hard not to see this as one more bite at the apple for the filmmaker, who with this property has chomped down on more low-hanging fruit than Adam and Eve.

But maybe more interesting than Lucas' motivation is how the re-release of his and Cameron's films will shape a larger landscape. Rival studios this week were scrambling to decode when the movies would hit ("Titanic" will come from Paramount in the U.S. and Fox overseas), and how that might affect their own spectacle-driven offerings. The tentpoles from other studios scheduled for the spring and summer of 2012 include "The Avengers," "Battleship," and new Batman and Spider-man movies -- a pretty heady list.

The news that "Phantom Menace" and "Titanic" will come before the all-important box office month of May should bring some relief, even if it means all of these other films will come on the heels of two 3-D movies that hadn't been anticipated. But with studios cutting back on the number of releases overall, there should be a decent amount of breathing room even with these two additions.

Then again, while that's good news for studios, it means the rest of us will get stuck with fewer moviegoing options -- and the options we do have will look a lot like things we've seen before.

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Fans dressed as Storm Troopers outside a Toys 'R Us in New York City. Credit: Seth Wenig/Reuters

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