Apr 12 2010

3D’s Returned!!! And in 3D, No Less.

When Avatar was unleashed upon the public the 3D floodgates burst, and Hollywood was given a reason to shove this born-again gimmick down the throats of the public.

Avatar isn’t the first film to feature 3D in recent years.  Hollywood has been testing the 3D waters for quite some time, waiting for the bulk of filmgoers to bite, and this time stay hooked.  Several IMAX documentaries have used 3D, as have Disneyland attractions like Honey, I Shrunk the Audience! These made for fun little outings, but there was hardly enough of an outcry for all films to be seen in 3D.  Robert Rodriguez’ three-dimensional The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl and Spy Kids 3D: Game Over proved that the novelty didn’t outweigh audiences’ affinity for simply going to the movies without the hassle.

Hollywood execs and heads of projector companies (imagine that) have now decided that Avatar’s success was due to its use of 3D, and to be fair, it kinda was.  As a result, numerous films are now being formatted for 3D, and many theater chains are in talks with companies like RealD to make their theaters instant-3D friendly.  It would appear that the movie theater industry is firmly under the spell of 3D.

And why shouldn’t they be?  Alice and Wonderland, How to Train Your Dragon and Clash of the Titans have made a killing in the box office due to their 3D option.  The numbers don’t lie: filmgoers love watching movies in 3D now, and movie theaters across the world must supply their customers with the demand for more 3D.  And they should be getting ready; Toy Story 3, Shrek Forever After and Despicable Me are slated to be presented in 3D, and they are expected to make some serious profit.

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has fallen for 3D’s charms.  3D was first used in 1952 for Bwana Devil to great success, and several other films, such as Man in the Dark and House of Wax, were shown in the format.  People loved it; the whole movie going experience was changing before their very eyes.  Eventually, people got tired of having to wear flimsy cardboard glasses, and theaters were tired of the unnecessary complications of 3D presentation, not to mention the slew of technological problems that came with 3D projectors.  Bottom line, people just wanted to sit back and watch a movie without the bells, whistles and space-age headgear.

3D was not the only gimmick to take the movie going experience by storm.  Filmmaker William Castle made a career by making movies with all kinds of tricks in mind.  His most successful film, The Tingler, involved theater seats rigged with large joy buzzers that would go off at certain parts of the film.  People loved it, and paid again and again to have their backsides buzzed in an attempt to feel like a part of the movie.

Castle’s techniques, like 3D, went the same way most gimmicks go in the end: away.  Homicidal, one of his last films, featured a “fright break”, in which the audience was given a brief intermission to leave the film just before the climax if they felt too terrified to continue.  Those people would then be escorted through a taped off walkway to “Coward’s Corner”, be given a certificate citing their yellow bellies and receive a full refund.  Naturally, people just wanted to sit back and enjoy a good scare, not be treated to a bad carnival ride.

If the past really does prepare us for the future, then this new 3D craze is just that, and in half a generation’s time we will being rolling our eyes at the excitement, the extra 3D fees attached to already high ticket prices, and of course, those stupid glasses.  All that just to watch a few images pop out of the screen a bit.

3D technology was of the thing up for discussion and presentation at this year’s ShoWest, meaning the craze is just beginning.  Armed with the insistent belief that 3D is not a passing fad, but the way of the future, lots of money is being spent by numerous theater chains in an attempt to hop on the money train.  Everyone involved seems to be oblivious that this money might not turn out to be well spent in the near future.

Companies losing money due to trend intoxication is the least of my concerns really, but what troubles me came in the form of a conversation between a 3D salesman and a theater manager.  “The goal here,” the salesman said, “is to make all the kid and teen-based films in 3D.  That way they expect it when they grow up.”  Wow, talk about missing the point.  But that’s to be expected when it’s the job of any salesman, producer, or movie theater CEO to simply make money, and not put out a quality product (films, in this case).

What producers fail (or maybe refuse) to understand is Avatar was created with a single purpose: to take filmmaking to an entirely new level, and take the audience on a journey of the likes they have never experienced before.  The average script aside, James Cameron created a new world in his film that used new technology and methods tailored to capture scenes in 3D.  Although films are being made with the intent of being 3D, the precise technology and imagination that was behind Avatar is more or less forgotten.  Instead, Hollywood is taking the easy way out by taking flashy films and converting them into 3D later, turning the industry into a conveyor belt of cheap spectacle.

Trends come and go; they burst onto the scene, make their impressions, and fade quickly into the background.  This 3D phenomenon will make quite a few people rich, and will aptly entertain many more.  But, like the first 3D boom of the Fifties, this too will pass.  Good riddance too; perhaps as 3D becomes passé, Hollywood will fall back into the trend of making better movies with more to offer than just better graphics.  This usually doesn’t become popular until the summer, in which case it won’t pick up steam until the fall.  Until then, we all better get used to those damn glasses.

Leave a Reply