Saturday, September 14, 2013

China's Love For 3D Kaiju, One-Eyed Monsters, And Stereo Raptors

As we enter a new season of movie-going, the Chinese box-office continues to buck worldwide trends in 3D movie attendance. A month ago, the industry had written off Pacific Rim as a well-intentioned exercise in geek-pandering. Jurassic Park 3D had proved that audiences were never going to go crazy for 3D re-releases. Monsters University was a middling Pixar effort. Midway through September though, China has re-written the history books for all three films, and again challenged expectations of the global audience for 3D.

Pacific Rim's experience was the most startling for the industry: a gigantic movie in every sense of the word, it was always destined to do earn more "internationally" than "domestically". It's reasonably common for big Hollywood action pictures to earn 60% of their total gross in the wider worldwide marketplace, and the other 40% or so of their gross comes from the avidly movie-going State-side domestic audience. What no-one expected to happen this year though? A case where a Hollywood tentpole earned less in the USA than it earned in China. At the time of writing, Pacific Rim has just pipped over the $100 million mark in the US... and in the People's Republic it has earned $111 million, with more on the way. In fact, Pacific Rim's opening weekend  was Warner Brothers' highest ever.

So, why did China go ga-ga for Pacific Rim? For one thing, the Guillermo Del Toro picture feels tailor-made for a global audience; it doesn't feel like an American-flag waving sci-fi pic in the vein of Transformers, and it certainly avoided the New York-set locations that giant monsters like King Kong, Cloverfield and 1998's Godzilla have already ravaged. In fact, Pacific Rim's largest fight scenes were set in Hong Kong, and that surely played a part in the Chinese audience's affection for the film.

Of course, the other thing Pacific Rim had going for it was Rinko Kikuchi playing a pivotal starring role. While she's not Chinese, she is an Asian woman cast as the main character in a film that would ordinarily been stacked full of Ben Affleck / Bruce Willis / Liv Tyler types. There is no doubt that this helped sell Pacific Rim as a 'different' feeling blockbuster. And if 2013's box-office grosses are anything to go by, people are actively avoiding anything that feels too 'samesy' these days. That's true no matter what country you live in. Worldwide audiences have passed on RIPD, partly because it felt too similar to Men In Black. Many avoided The Lone Ranger on the basis that it was Johnny Depp doing his usual schtick. Pacific Rim, to Western audiences at least, might well have seemed like more of the Godzilla / King Kong gimmickery they're accustomed to. But to China, it felt sufficiently unique to justify a near-stampede through their multiplex turnstiles.

That 'special difference', from their perspective? 3D, and some stunning CGI. China's certainly seen its fair share of kaiju films (which are historically more of a Japanese cinematic phenomenon), but there's never been one this expensive. There's a saying that you've gotta spend money to make money, and Pacific Rim's Chinese box-office grosses prove there's still some truth to that expression. Audiences there determined they weren't going to watch this on a pirated VCD or DVD: Pacific Rim in 3D was a family event that had to be experienced on the big-screen. Certainly the Del Toro film's outstanding performance proves that Chinese movie-goers still think that 3D elevates a film to 'event status', provided the film's content matches their tastes. On the basis of Pacific Rim's performance, you can expect to see fewer big-budget cowboy films in the next decade, and a much larger number of 3D monster films set in China!

Speaking of 3D monster films... Jurassic Park 3D has exceeded all expectations in China. Its opening day was the fourth highest of the year (trailing only the 3D films Man Of Steel, Pacific Rim and the 2D Furious 6). The 20 year old movie has now ruled the Chinese box-office two weeks in a row. So, why the love for Jurassic Park? In the West, Jurassic Park 3D's middling success was considered by most to be fuelled by a general nostalgia for the film. It's a beloved classic these days, regardless of its flaws, and the re-release was generally well-received by Western media. In 1993, Western audiences were watching the film repeatedly, while China's movie theatres missed out on the Spielberg dino-pic entirely. There was no doubt a pent-up and long-held desire by many Chinese to see the film on the big-screen for the first time. Still, that doesn't explain why the film gripped their box-office for a fortnight. Hollywood explanation? Again, China's apparent love of 3D movie-going. It costs roughly $20 million to post-convert a 2D classic film to 3D, but given that China alone has earned Jurassic Park 3D $50 million+  (with more to come) then it's safe to expect more 3D re-releases that are targeted specifically for the Chinese market's tastes. Don't expect to see Saving Private Ryan 3D any time soon, but we at 3Defence wouldn't be surprised if we see a Jaws 3D conversion released soon!

And Monsters University 3D? Why does that warrant a mention? Well, in comparison to some of Pixar's efforts in China, the Billy Crystal-voiced effort absolutely dominated the box-office. It smashed the record for a highest grossing single-day of an animated film in Hong Kong, beating the tallies of several other 3D films, including Pixar's own Toy Story 3. In mainland China too, the film is on its way to surpassing Toy Story 3's grosses, to become Pixar's most successful film ever there. Traditionally, Pixar films have underperformed in China, especially when compared to their counterparts like Dreamworks or Blue Sky Studios. Most marketing in the country is handled by the same two firms, so advertising is usually not blamed for this phenomenon. Rather, the studio's films - that often praise rebellious and forward-thinking anti-hero figures - are considered the reason Chinese audiences don't gravitate towards Pixar films. Brave, Pixar's first film about a woman, was criticised there for being "too American", despite being set in Scotland and starring Billy Connolly! So why would Monsters University - set in a very American campus, rampant with variants of beer pong and college frat-boy hijinks - not suffer the same fate? Could we attribute that to a continued desire to see 3D films? Or is it just that Monsters Inc. was an already established brand in the country? It's hard to say. In any case, the prequel's performance this year is noteworthy, if only because the film itself is regarded much worse by Western critics than films like Brave and Up. If the next Pixar film outpaces Monsters' performance, then we'll know for sure that 3D is continuing to drive the Chinese box-office.

No comments:

Post a Comment