Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - 3D vs. The Hype of 3D
by Christopher Campbell
March 26, 2009
Has your nearest cinema installed a digital 3D screen yet? If you immediately answered "no," check again, because this is a big week for upgrading. The closest movie theater to my home is an old family-owned cinema, and I never would have expected them to be able to afford digital projection, let alone the 3D add-on. But apparently it will be showing Monsters vs. Aliens beginning this Friday with their "New 3D presentation!" Nevermind that this particular cinema is long overdue to improve more general film presentation problems, including a failing sound system, faulty lights and an awkward seating layout.
As you may have learned recently from such magazines as Time and Entertainment Weekly, this is (for no good reason) an important week for the digital 3D format, and any cinema not on board for the occasion could suffer. Unfortunately, our moviegoing experiences may just suffer anyway.
Over the last three years, it's been interesting to see which theaters went 3D in anticipation of what films. Because I live in a city with a lot of cinemas, the slow process has been especially noticeable, as my 3D movie-going options have both increased and come closer to my neighborhood only recently. Last month was a major breakthrough, as the local chain-owned multiplex finally had its first 3D screen installed in time for Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience. And one week later, apparently on a second 3D screen, it began showing Coraline in the format as well (two weeks after the film initially opened in theaters). Come Friday, the cinema will of course feature Monsters vs. Aliens, but there seems to be a problem: this big event animated blockbuster will be showing separately on 3D and 2D screens, and ticket buyers are likely to be confused over the choice/difference.
This isn't the first problem the 3D format has faced thanks to this specific DreamWorks Animation film (and thanks to 3D-crazy DreamWorks head Jeffrey Katzenberg). During the Super Bowl, the studio advertised Monsters vs. Aliens with an old-fashioned-style 3D commercial that failed to do justice to the beauty of digital 3D. And now current issues of Time and Entertainment Weekly feature 3D movie previews (see here) that similarly utilize an antiquated type of 3D glasses. Worst of all, though, is the marketing of Monsters vs. Aliens solely as a 3D movie, despite the unfortunate reality that half the film's screens will be showing the movie in 2D. Some moviegoers may mistakenly buy tickets for the wrong format, while others may simply go for the 2D version because it costs less and because the advertisements haven't been adequately convincing of digital 3D's merits.
Those of us who know better, however, should take advantage of a somewhat controversial promotion from Bank of America, through which we can see Monsters vs. Aliens in 3D for the 2D price (about $3 cheaper). Or, if you're a less honest person -- or you are against BoA's apparent spending of its bailout money (i.e. your tax money) on a movie promotion -- you could buy a ticket for the cheaper 2D version and sneak into the 3D version. This latter idea will only work for you if you've previously seen a digital 3D movie and still have your RealD glasses from the experience (I have a whole bunch of pairs if you need to borrow one).
The last problem with the fuss over Monsters vs. Aliens in 3D may be that the movie is a letdown, and from what I've heard so far, it is a bit of a disappointment. Of course, most DreamWorks Animation films do well at the box office regardless of what the reviews say, but considering the amount of people who won't experience the movie in 3D, for whatever intentional or accidental reason, the movie will likely be underwhelming because it won't measure up to the hype.
But Monsters vs. Aliens shouldn't have carried such a huge burden in the first place, and it shouldn't be facing so many hurdles, especially since it's now dragging the reputation of digital 3D along with it. Studios and theater owners should have worked together to install digital projectors and 3D screens years ago (despite how Time and other journalists make it seem, it wasn't solely theaters that were slow to upgrade; Hollywood was also slow to agree to "virtual print fees" that will help pay for digital projectors and 3D equipment). And Monsters vs. Aliens should now be, as originally intended, only released in the digital 3D format. And audiences should have already been familiar and comfortable with the format through previous 3D releases, particularly the better ones like Bolt, Monster House and Coraline.
Most importantly, though, DreamWorks Animation should have never attempted to advertise Monsters vs. Aliens with footage presented in 2D or even antiquated 3D formats. Such a campaign is equivalent to using silent, static and black and white commercials to advertise any other new releases. Recently, James Cameron was reported as having trouble choosing the right trailer with which to market his upcoming 3D movie, Avatar. Hopefully, if he does feel the need to show us anything (the perfect trailer would actually show us no footage at all) he'll be smart enough to at least not show us any of the film with 2D trailers.
Anyway, I know that in spite of all their terrible marketing choices, tons of people will be seeing Monster vs. Aliens this weekend anyway and for many of those moviegoers, this will be their first digital 3D experience. So, if you're one of these 3D virgins, please come back to this column after seeing the movie and let us know if the movie and the technology were worth all the hype and all the money and all the controversy that's gone into it. Because as someone who has championed digital 3D for almost four years now, it's getting harder and harder for me to believe it was really worth all that hype and all that energy.