Chinese filmgoers protest JASON BOURNE 3D screenings

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While Jason Bourne is slowly sliding off the US box office charts, it has done good business in the rest of the world. Specifically in China, where it finally opened last week and immediately started making headlines. Unfortunately, for both good and bad reasons.

The fourth entry in Matt Damon’s spy franchise debuted last week Wednesday, and has since racked up $50 million at the Chinese box office. That helped propel its global earnings to a total of $347.9 million, only bested by The Bourne Ultimatum‘s $442.8 million franchise high. However, all of this comes amidst controversy and protest at the film’s 3D conversion. If you’ve seen Jason Bourne and feel a little confused as you don’t remember any 3D effects, that’s because there weren’t any. Director Paul Greengrass filmed the movie in 2D – which is the best decision given his signature hyper-kinetic hand-held camerawork – and that was the format the film was released in in nearly the entire world.

However, Universal must have thought that they could gouge out even more dollars from the Chinese box office, the second biggest and most rapidly growing movie market in the world, as the studio put together a special 3D converted version to be released exclusively in Asian market, and naturally sold at an inflated ticket price (usually twice the average 2D ticket price of 30 yuan or $4.50). And audiences are hating it. You wouldn’t be able to tell that from the film’s initial box office boom upon release though, but as the days wore on and word of mouth spread, more and more filmgoers started voicing their dissatisfaction with the movie’s format.

According to Deadline, two film critics posted online about how the film’s ill-thought out combination of 3D and rapid-cut editing left them nauseous, a sentiment echoed by many audience members online and at the venues themselves. GlobalTimes.cn report that 30 filmgoers staged a protest at a theatre in Beijing demanding their money back via messages on their phones.

What makes this a particularly bitter pill to swallow, is that these Chinese filmgoers appear to have very little alternative in the matter. Of the 149 cinema’s in the Chinese capital, only 8 cinemas were showing the film in 2D, while in Shanghai only 9 of the 174 cinemas were not in 3D. And to make matters worse, those 2D cinemas are only situated in rural, out of the way areas, infuriating film fans, as protest organizer Zhou Yuchen explained to Global Times.

“The 3D version is a rip-off. It’s been happening many times in China and must be stopped.”

As Zhou states, this is not the first time that a big blockbuster has been release as an “exclusive 3D edition for China cinemas”. Beijing-based film critic Shi Wenxue explained to Global Times the justifications used by studios for the dirge of 3D movies, and how they’ve taken advantage of this.

“The 3D version is often encouraged in China as the country considers it a technological advancement.  But it’s often exploited. Cinemas were totally hijacked by the producers this time, because as long as the cinemas were capable of screening the 3D version, they were not given the encryption key for the 2D version.”

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China themselves aren’t helping though, as the country’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television are willing to offer a subsidy of 1 million to 10 million yuan (up to $1.4 million) for any local movies that are capable of being screened in 3D or IMAX. While IMAX is actually fine here though, 3D is the problem as it’s not a good fit for all movies – as Jason Bourne‘s nausea inducing effects have proven.

But at least it looks like all the noise being generated by this is being heard, as the Chinese arm of Universal Pictures revealed on Sina Weibo (the largest social media platform in China) that they are working on adding more 2D screenings for venues. Beijing-based theatre UME Cineplex confirmed that they have received the 2D key from Universal and were looking to replace some 3D screenings with 2D ones.

Bringing things back home, when Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron was released last year, it was so dark that I personally started a bit of a social media awareness campaign of which cinemas to not go to to see it, and it gained a fair amount of traction. I even spoke directly to Disney representatives about it who were not pleased to hear about all their unhappy customers. However, not much happened. We need more voices for this, as we often sit in the same position with being forced to watch inferior 3D versions of big movies.

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At the time of writing this article, not one of Ster-Kinekor’s 64 cinemas (and that includes venues in Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe as well) has a single 2D screening listed for Star Trek BeyondThe very same thing goes for NuMetro’s 19 South African venues where your only options to watch the latest Star Trek is either in 3D or 4Dx. That is simply not good enough. In fact, it’s downright underhanded.

Forget the fact that a movie like Star Trek Beyond actually has pretty great 3D effects and none of the Jason Bourne shakiness that could leave audiences reeling in the aisles, there is a huge portion of filmgoers who physically can’t watch 3D movies, whether this is due to eye-problems or any other condition. On an anecdotal note, I know plenty of people who experience dizziness or get splitting headaches from 3D. My wife is actually one of them, so I’ve seen this first hand, and thus am always on the lookout for 2D screenings to take her to.

I have to end this news report turned rant with the disclaimer that I have absolutely zero problem with 3D. And by that, I mean the technology itself. I often see people hating it out of principle, and that’s not entirely fair. When used correctly, it can be a brilliant filmmaking tool. What I take umbrage with is it being used as an afterthought to artificially inflate box office returns at the expense of the cinemagoers’ experience. And forcing people into viewing a flawed version of a product at a higher price is just plain crumminess of the highest order and cinema chains and studios need to be taken to task for this.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: August 30, 2016

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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