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"Fly Me to the Moon" director Ben Stassen says 3-D is the next big step in cinematic evolution.

Miley Cyrus (and her alter-ego Hannah Montana). Bono and his band U2. Brendan Fraser. All of them are larger than life.

All three of them have recently appeared in 3-D features. Very successful 3-D features ...

The music documentaries "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert" and "U2 3D" were box-office smashes, and the adventure movie "Journey to the Center of the Earth" continues to do pretty well in its 3-D release.

Welcome to the new age of 3-D. Or if you can believe Ben Stassen: "Three-D is the next big step in cinematic evolution."

"It's like when film made the switch from the silent age to the talkies," he explained. "There is new 3-D technology that creates many new exciting possibilities for directors."

Stassen is a Belgian-born filmmaker with extensive 3-D works to his credit, among them the 2001 IMAX animated hit "Haunted Castle." And his latest is "Fly Me to the Moon," an animated feature that will be released solely in the Real 3-D format next week.

(A shorter, 45-minute version of "Fly Me to the Moon" is also opening at educational facilities today, including on the IMAX screen at the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City.)

"Fly Me" is opening on more than 1,000 screens in the United States, which according to Stassen makes it the biggest, purely 3-D release to date.

"It's very exciting. We get to be on the forefront of this new filmmaking movement," he said from Los Angeles, where he was helping promote the new movie.

"Fly Me to the Moon" and "Journey to the Center of the Earth," which was released in both 2-D and 3-D versions, may be the first of many 3-D movies to come.

Disney will release its animated feature "Bolt" in both formats Nov. 26, and the studio is preparing 3-D versions of Pixar's successful "Toy Story" and its 1998 sequel. (A third "Toy Story" is being made with 3-D in mind.)

Also, George Lucas is prepping 3-D versions of his first three "Star Wars" movies — Episodes IV, V and VI (better known as "A New Hope," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi") — for theatrical re-release.

"It looks like this format is here to stay for a while, and the studios and exhibitors have made the commitment to provide the format for the moviegoers," said Cal Gundersen, film buyer for Megaplex Theatres.

But questions remain whether new audiences will be receptive to a format

that's largely been seen as a "novelty" in the past.

Josh Hutcherson, Fraser's co-star in "Journey to the Center of the Earth," believes so. Having grown up in a time when 3-D had fallen from favor with the moviegoing public, the 15-year-old actor says he was unfamiliar with the format.

But during production on "Journey," the filmmakers showed him and fellow cast members what some of the sequences would look like when they were made three-dimensional. Since then, he's seen the entire movie in both its regular, 2-D and the 3-D versions, and prefers the latter.

"OK, I'm sold now. This 3-D thing is really cool," he said.

According to Stassen, filmmakers "no longer use 3-D just so they can throw something into the moviegoers' face.

"That was poor, lazy filmmaking," he explained, and added that he and others now see 3-D as something "immersive" — something that helps them "open up the experience to audiences."

Gundersen counts himself among the new 3-D "converts." He said the Megaplex Theatres have "made a major commitment to the 3-D format" and observed that the local theater chain "has more 3-D (screens) in our state than any other."

The Megaplexes are also installing new equipment that will allow them to show 3-D movies in a new format, Dolby 3-D.

Jordan Commons is already equipped to show films in the competing, Real 3-D format, which uses light polarization to achieve three-dimensional projection. But the Megaplex District, Gateway and Junction (Ogden) will be equipped for Dolby 3-D exhibition, which employs a light-filtration process.

Megaplex Digital Cinema Specialist Mike Renlund has seen how the new Dolby format works and calls it "way cool."

"In the past, you'd get these shaky images with 3-D, which caused headaches and motion sickness in some people," Renlund said. "You don't get any of that with either of these new formats."

However, 3-D movie presentations do come at a cost. Special glasses must be used to see the 3-D imagery, and most theaters charge as much as $2 extra for the glasses.

However, equipping its theaters for 3-D also makes it possible for the theaters to show special events available in the format. Gundersen said the Megaplexes are planning to show sporting events and concerts that will be available in 3-D.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com