All aboard for “a potential train wreck!” That’s what NATO* president John Fithian is saying will come next year if Steven Spielberg doesn’t wake up and smell the digital presentation of motion pictures. 2009 sees a whole load of 3D digital films hitting theaters, including Avatar, Monsters vs Aliens and the upgraded Toy Story movies, but there just aren’t enough screens for them. “We have less than 1,000 3-D screens in the U.S. and fewer than that in the rest of the world,” Fithian intoned. He then warned the kids not to go to Camp Blood. They’ll be sorry!

What’s weird is how Spielberg’s name has been dragged into this. He didn’t want  to release Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull digitally, but Paramount overrode him and the film will be getting a minor digital run; what Fithian is selling is that unless they get Spielberg on their side, the digital revolution hasn’t happened yet.

But that’s not really the case. The case is that theater owners and studios are clashing over the ‘Virtual Print Fee’ – this is a system wherein the studios help defray the cost of theaters installing new digital equipment; the studios want to pay less. Of course having a Spielberg leaning on the studios to cough up the money for the Virtual Print Fee would help, but it’s obvious that they’re interested in upgrading anyway. They’re just cheap.

But they’ll blink. There’s no way that Fox is putting one of the most expensive films ever made on to 1000 screens. That’s a big indie release, not a decade-defining blockbuster. I feel that we’re not going to get a chance to gawk at a cinematic exhibition trainwreck next year. Unless of course America does what I fully expect it to do and tells Hollywood to shove those stupid glasses up their ass.

*National Association of Theater Owners, not North Atlantic Treaty Organization