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Cameron, Fithian On Digital Cinema

by Susan Ashworth~ April 24, 2006


All the stars are aligned, said John Fithian, and 2006 is set to be the year of digital cinema. After spurious debate over standards, queries over theatre participation and questions over the financial implications, the head of the National Association of Theatre Owners believes the long-awaited technology is about to breakthrough.

"This audience this morning shows that digital cinema is real and is happening," Fithian told the packed audience during his Saturday morning keynote.

Producer/director James Cameron echoed that sentiment during Sunday's digital cinema keynote, with a bit more punch: "Humans don't like to change," he said of the film industry's initial reluctance to convert to digital cinema. "And while the system may not be broke, it could sure use some fixing."

Digital cinema, both gentlemen agreed, has the power to help transform a flagging industry by bringing audiences back into theaters. There are approximately 400 digital cinema screens currently operating in the U.S., a number that is expected to grow to 1,500 installations by year's end.

Not only does digital cinema offer vastly improved visual quality, he said, digital cinema also offers the promise of reduced shipping costs - up to $1 billion in a year for studios, Fithian said - and the flexibility to offer alternative programs on screen, such as concerts, rebroadcasts of popular programs or church gatherings.

"The year 2006 will be a big year for the industry because the technical specification work is accomplished, digital cinema is a better visual experience on the screen [than film] and the business models are finally there," Fithian said.

Digital cinema also can help the industry compete with the myriad outside entertainment options for the younger generation, such as iPods, portable DVD players and the like, Fithian said.

That's not to say the road ahead looks clear. "The worst thing that can happen to us is that the technology fails and we put a dark screen up in front of audiences," he said. "We're still in the midst of a beautiful chaos [that we need to resolve]."

For Cameron, digital cinema brings with it an ever more compelling audience draw: the reemergence of 3D. Far from the crude, eye-aching 3D films that burst on the scene in the 1950s, today's 3D technologies are now a crisp, clear, enthralling entertainment experience, thanks to the refined technologies available via digital cinema. Rattling off a handful of productions that are set to be shot in 3D - from the Disney release "Meet the Robinsons" to New Line Cinema's "Journey 3D" to possible re-releases of Cameron's own "Titanic" and "Terminator 2" films - Cameron said the future of digital cinema should be built around 3D.

"Ignoring the nattering nabobs of negativity ... who are afraid of change," Cameron said to audience laughter, "3D digital cinema is not a fad that is going to bloom and die. I don't want that grand, visionary, transforming event of movie-watching to become a thing of the past. Digital cinema can prevent that."

© 2006 NAB