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DreamWorks delays "Dragon" 3-D film to 2010


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By Paul Bond, REUTERS


Mindful of a crowded schedule for 3-D films late next year, DreamWorks Animation has pushed its offering "How to Train Your Dragon" by four months to March 26, 2010.


The move leaves the studio with just one release, "Monsters vs. Aliens," scheduled for next year, and three for 2010: "Dragon," "Shrek Goes Fourth" on May 21, and "Master Mind," the working title of a film set for November 5 that year.


Had "Dragon" opened November 20, 2009, as previously planned, it would have been sandwiched between 3-D films "A Christmas Carol" with Jim Carrey, and James Cameron's "Avatar."


"Avatar," in particular, presented a problem, as that movie's December 18, 2009, opening would have coincided with "Dragon's" international release, where as much as 65% of DreamWorks Animation's business comes from.


"The combination of a jam-up domestically and the very limited 3-D capacity internationally just didn't make sense," DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said. "There will not be anywhere near the number of screens needed to accommodate two releases internationally."


A little more than 1,000 screens worldwide can handle 3-D films, but Katzenberg expects from 3,000-5,000 by the time "Monsters vs. Aliens" is released on March 27, 2009.


Katzenberg disclosed the "Dragons" move Tuesday during a conference call with analysts to discuss quarterly earnings that impressed Wall Street and sent shares 6% higher in after-hours trading.


The CEO also hinted that "Bee Movie" might not make its way to HD DVD in two weeks, as had been planned, given Toshiba's decision to basically surrender the high-definition DVD format war to Blu-ray Disc.


"We are waiting for Toshiba to tell us what their plans are," he said, refusing to speculate whether "Bee Movie" might get the Blu-ray treatment if HD DVD demures. "In deference to them, we're waiting for clarity."


DreamWorks Animation reported net income of $94.1 million in the fourth quarter, up from a loss of $21.3 million in the same quarter a year ago. Revenue increased 42% to $290.2 million, with nearly 62% of that coming from "Shrek the Third."


As of December 31, the title boasted 15.6 million units shipped worldwide. At the box office, it is the fourth-biggest animated movie of all time, bringing in about $800 million worldwide.


For the year, DreamWorks Animation posted net income of $218.4 million on $767.2 million revenue, prompting Katzenberg to declare 2007 the company's "most successful year since going public -- both financially and at the box office."


"Bee Movie," though, fell shy of many analysts' expectations, bringing in $126 million at the domestic boxoffice and $159 million internationally. "Bee Movie" cost about $150 million to make, and a similar amount was budgeted for its worldwide theatrical marketing campaign, the studio said at the time of its North American release in November.


Although the film isn't yet profitable, that's expected to change with the upcoming DVD release.


During the conference call, Katzenberg gave a shout-out to his old employer, Walt Disney Co., telling analysts that "Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour" proved again how lucrative 3-D movies can be.


That film generated $29 million over Super Bowl weekend at 683 theaters. At one theater, the El Capitan in Hollywood, tickets cost as much $24 apiece.


Katzenberg said making a movie 3-D adds about $15 million to its production cost. "There is significant enough potential given the premium price that consumers appear to be paying for 3-D to be a very good return on our investment," he said.


DreamWorks Animation's next two releases, "Kung Fu Panda," set for June 6, and "Madagascar: The Crate Escape," planned for November 7, are 2-D releases. From then on, the company plans for its films to be exhibited both in 2-D and stereoscopic 3-D.

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