Sunday Discussion: Is 3D Really the Future of Cinema?
by Alex Billington
March 16, 2008
Since we never did a Sunday Discussion last week we've got to make up for it big time this week. With the announcement of Crank 3 coming in 3D this morning, I've been pushed to the edge with my acceptance of 3D. You combine that with the endless 3D buzz coming from the industry trade show ShoWest last week, and now I can't let this subject go to rest. With the success of both Beowulf and Hannah Montana, it's become apparent that the industry is starting to develop more and more 3D content and the public is eating it up. However, that doesn't mean it's the future and it's a question I've been meaning to bring up for a while now. Is 3D just an entertainment theme park gimmick or is it actually a feature that could be used to enhance the artistic side of cinema?
Let's start this by looking at this morning's announcement. Crank 3 is the perfect example to prove that 3D is purely a gimmick. Just look at the title, now they can call it Crank 3D! Sure they might like the idea of 3D, but now they can easily change the name to also promote the idea that 3D is in this. And immediately when I hear something like that, I instantly feel like its quality is much lower. It's just my own personal reaction to anything 3D because I've built up such a hatred and dislike for it, and I know they're just using it as a sales gimmick. To me, 3D is NOT the future. I don't want our movie theaters to become mini theme parks because 3D has played well in recent years. I want them to focus on the user experience, not on gimmicks.
The reason why people believe that 3D is the future is because it has, through natural progression, become the latest "big" money-maker for movie theaters. Initially, movie theaters and cineplexes were financially successful, but as home theater technology advanced, people lost interest in the "big screen" because they could get the same quality at home. So theaters experimented with "alternative content" to attract audiences. When 3D played very well and made them lots of money, they took note. 3D is unique because you can't pop on the glasses and watch it at home - for a while you used to only be able to see it in IMAX theaters, but now they've expanded to digital systems. So now the theater chains are calling it the future because it's been so financially successful. It's the biggest money maker and thus that's the path they want to pursue. How screwed up of a business progression is that?
Filmmakers should be looking at 3D as an element of cinema and how they can use it to their advantage, instead of just as a way to make even more money and attract audiences. Take Beowulf for example. For the first time ever I actually appreciated their use of 3D in that movie. It wouldn't have been the same if it weren't in 3D and it was designed from the ground up to be presented in 3D. That is the only film in recent years to do so, and I give them credit for that. I might come to accept 3D if more filmmakers attempt to use it as an additional storytelling and visual element rather than purely a gimmick.
Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D is the biggest offender in the gimmick game. That movie is essentially a theme park ride; there is even a scene where they ride a rollercoaster in mine carts with a first person camera angle. Why would anyone want to see a 3D theme park ride in the same movie theater where you can see incredible films like No Country for Old Men or The Departed? There is a place for theme park rides and is it not in a movie theater. When you hear of all of the films that they're turning into 3D in the next few years, almost all of them sound like the same theme park gimmick, give or take the Pixar and DreamWorks animated films.
Looking towards the future - although I'm hoping for the best, I'm expecting the worst. I have a feeling movies like Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D are going to continue to be overly successful and it's only going to show the theater owners and Hollywood studios that 3D is the way to go. While I don't personally think 3D is the future, I don't want it to completely die either. I think there is a place for 3D movies, but I don't think everything is going to become 3D. In addition to the aforementioned Beowulf, there is one movie that I'm waiting for in hopes that it will change my opinion and me forever - James Cameron's Avatar.
Set to arrive in theaters on December 18th, 2009, a mere 21 months from now, Avatar is the one movie that I feel like could change our world the way Tron and Star Wars have previously. I think Cameron understands how to use 3D as a cinematic element instead of a gimmick and I feel the technological advancements that he has been developing will show us what a movie that uses 3D well can actually achieve. Unfortunately that means I've got 21 months of bad 3D movies to go through before we finally reach a point where it will become an accepted mainstream format.
Do you think 3D is the future of cinema? How much have you enjoyed 3D movies so far? I really want to hear your opinion, because I'm curious to know whether I'm in the majority or the minority on this one, so bring it on!