Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - Are 3D Movies Threatened by Themselves?
by Christopher Campbell
December 8, 2008
As an excited supporter of digital 3-D second only to Jeffrey Katzenberg, I was disappointed to learn only after the fact that the NFL and 3ality Digital transmitted last Thursday's Raiders vs Chargers football game live in 3-D to cinemas in Los Angeles, New York and Boston. I don't care for football in the slightest, but I would have loved to be there, just to experience the technology. Of course, even had I known about the event beforehand, I probably wouldn't have gotten into the screenings, as they were exclusively for team owners, producers and a handful of invited journalists (assumably those more reputable than myself).
While the NFL doesn't yet have definite plans to make their games available to the public in this way, Fox Sports recently announced it would broadcast a live 3-D feed of college football's Bowl Championship Series to 150 theaters next month. Not that it will be the first time sports are broadcast live in 3-D to general audiences. Back in March, Mark Cuban hosted such a broadcast of a Mavericks vs Spurs basketball game to theaters in Dallas. And a year before that, VIP guests got to watch 3-D test broadcasts of the NBA All-Star Game and Game 2 of the 2007 NBA Finals in a Las Vegas experiment conducted by director James Cameron and camera operator Vincent Pace's joint company, PACE.
I'm not sure how well the basketball broadcasts went, but Thursday's NFL demo had a few problems, including satellite glitches that blacked out part of the game's first half. And reportedly, on a number of occasions camera movements and changes in focus upset the 3-D effect enough that viewers had to remove their glasses for fear of getting sick. Overall, though, attendees in LA were apparently pleased and reviews have been mostly positive, perhaps because of an appealing element noted by LA Times' Diane Pucin: "Excuse me, there's a San Diego Chargers cheerleader in your lap."
So aside from Fox's theatrical broadcasting plans (they're also working on putting February's Daytona 500 in cinemas, live and in 3-D), how does all this sports talk relate to actual moviegoing? Well, the NFL says it's not imminent that they're going to use the technology to bring 3-D games into your home, but it is inevitable that 3-D sports could revolutionize home entertainment. It has clearly been football more than movies that has influenced purchases of HDTVs and bigger screens, and it will similarly be sports that heavily progresses advances in 3-D television. However, by the end of this year, only 2% of American homes will have sets capable of receiving 3-D signals, so there's a ways to go. Plus, the funding of 3-D cameras to film all of the NFL's games will not come easily anytime soon, especially with the economy what it is.
Does this mean 3-D movies are safe for now? Well, yes and no. The longer that 3-D is kept out of the home, the longer that 3-D in cinemas will be a special attraction (or gimmick, for you naysayers). However, the economic crisis is having its effects on the progress of 3-D in cinemas, too. Last week, Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp., a supplier of software to run digital theaters, stated that due to holds on funding they could only afford to convert 100 to 200 screens to digital by March, instead of the 1,500 screens originally planned for by that time. And with fewer digital screens comes fewer 3-D screens, and then we have another year of box office disappointments from deserving films like Bolt, which wouldn't suffer so much if moviegoers didn't have to settle for made-for-3-D visuals in a meager 2-D presentation.
Unfortunately, the box office performance of Bolt is also part of a catch-22. Because the film "bombed" compared to other animated movies, there's not as strong an argument for 3-D conversion, even though the numbers show that Bolt in 3-D was far more successful than Bolt in 2-D. So Bolt's stinky box office can both be blamed on the lack of 3-D screens and blamed for continued lack of 3-D screens. Then again, Bolt, while directed quite well (the opening action sequence is better than anything seen in this year's live-action action films), doesn't have a lot of showy, gimmicky spectacle with regards to exploitation of the 3-D format (unlike Journey to the Center of the Earth), so audiences wouldn't have even cared about the fact that it, or any future animated film, less noticeably has the depth (as opposed to the pounce) of three dimensions.
Considering more than a dozen 3-D movies, both new and re-formatted (like Toy Story), are due in theaters next year, let's hope that at least one or two can change the present course of 3-D's future.