Concert films in 3-D take musical experience to a new level

Several animated films have recently proved that digital 3-D can be a major draw, but a number of distributors and filmmakers are working to show that 3-D can amaze audiences with live action, too. Two new movies are out to prove that there is 3-D life beyond animation, bringing the best digital 3-D technology to an age-old format: the concert film.

"U2 3D" and "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: The Best of Both Worlds" are the first live-action films to incorporate digital 3-D technology, bringing the audience into the world of the concert in a way that comes close to and even surpasses the actual live experience.

"It's taking audiences someplace they couldn't go," says Mark Katz, president of National Geographic Cinema Ventures, which is distributing "U2 3D." "It's putting audiences in the concert like they're in the stadium. 3-D does that brilliantly."

"U2 3D" premières in limited release this week on roughly 25 screens, with a wider rollout to the larger digital 3-D network on Feb. 15. Disney's "Hannah Montana" opens Feb. 1 for a one-week-only booking on close to 700 screens. The concert movies will be shown via both the Real D and Dolby Digital 3-D systems. "U2" also will be exhibited in IMAX 3-D.

According to Katz, the plan is to make "U2 3D" a perennial event, the way "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" in 3-D has been for Disney.

"We absolutely hope to and plan to have return engagements and make it as evergreen as possible," he explains. "There's no reason why both the hard- core U2 fans as well as fans of 3-D can't see the film again and again over time."

To direct "U2 3D," the production company 3ality Digital brought in as co-directors Catherine Owens, a longtime collaborator with the band for the visual look of the concerts, and veteran concert film director Mark Pellington. Owens says her role as co-director was to heighten the visual and creative experience of the project. "It was less about making the film, because none of us are filmmakers, and more about extending the U2 live experience," she explains.

Owens' goal was to make the movie even more inclusive than the live experience, using camera angles from all over the arena and overlapping up to four visual layers at a time on the 3-D screen. "When you're an individual audience member and you see a U2 show, you do get that experience, but you only get that experience from one point of view," she explains.

"You blend the best of the precision of the filmmaking process, but without losing any of the energy of being with 90,000 people," 3ality CEO Sandy Climan adds about the movie experience.

For "Hannah," according to Disney's VP of international sales and distribution David Kornblum, the plan is to bring the highly successful live concert to fans who missed it the first time around.

Kornblum is quick to note that concert films and 3-D have both been around for decades. "I think we have finally got it to where 3-D's promise can become its reality. Finally with digital, the technology has caught up with it."