The Weekly Moviegoer - Fanning the Fading Fad of 3D
by Christopher Campbell
July 15, 2009
I finally went to see Pixar's Up in 3D on the eve of the release of Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. I knew that the latter movie was going to take over most of the 3D screens in my area, so it seemed this might be my last chance to catch the Pixar film in the heightened format. Why had I waited so long in the first place? Well, besides being a chronic procrastinator, I was still attempting to introduce some friends to digital 3D, and I was waiting for them to come around in order to see it with them. Unfortunately, a lot of people, including many I'm acquainted with, continue to have no interest in this 3D "fad" as it's being called.
And if this recent post on the LA Times' Company Town blog is to be believed, the rest of the country has "been there, done that" as far as interest in digital 3D goes. Reportedly the gap between per-screen average earnings of 3D and 2D versions of the same movie is narrowing. This either means that audiences are no longer preferring to see movies like Up and Ice Age 3 in 3D like they were with My Bloody Valentine 3D; or it means a number of factors, such as that increases in 3D screen availability and increases in titles offered in 3D are saturating the statistics (see SlashFilm's response to Company Town's post for more factors).
As someone who has championed digital 3D for a long time, I think I can be a fair gauge of the excitement around the format. I may not represent every moviegoer, but I am evidence that the rage over 3D is indeed waning. There was a time where I was so enthusiastic about the format that I would see nearly anything in 3D. I even came close to seeing the Jonas Brothers concert film. But as more and more titles are offered this way, it's more common for me to exclude new 3D releases, such as Ice Age 3, which I have no interest in seeing in any way, shape or form.
It won't help matters, either, that I wasn't that enchanted by the 3D presentation of Up. Perhaps it was partly the delayed circumstance of my viewing, partnered by the dismissal from my friends, which had me going in with less devotion than usual. It was the closest I ever came to refusing to pay the additional charge, and I really would have paid for 2D and snuck into the 3D auditorium if only I had remembered to smuggle in my own 3D glasses, held onto from a prior 3D experience. Once inside, I felt more annoyed and inconvenienced by the glasses, which seemed to be of cheaper quality than I'd remembered (in reality they were the same RealD glasses as always).
In the end, I walked out of Up with little memory of its 3D enhancement, and for the past couple weeks I wondered if maybe Roger Ebert was correct and I should have just seen the film in the 2D format. But this week, while contemplating the idea that the 3D “fad” may be over, I came to the conclusion that my failure to notice or remember the 3D aspects of Up may be a good thing. I am certain that the film featured a great deal of landscape depth, which was augmented by the format, and the fact that there wasn't much in-your-face spectacle could be a sign of maturity in digital 3D. So, maybe as a gimmick the “fad” is fading, but as a supplementary tool there is still a future for the format.
In that regard, however, my curiosity with James Cameron's Avatar increases. As far as waning interest in 3D, the expected-to-be-groundbreaking film will come along at just the right time to keep moviegoers excited. But if it's all about spectacle, as Cameron's films sometimes are, it might take away from the potential for 3D to really mature and assimilate into the film medium, like sound and color before it. Personally, I think the extra cost of 3D is what keeps the format relegated to terms like “fad” and “gimmick,” because added charges make it come across as an attraction rather than a type of movie (the glasses somewhat hurt the format in this way, too). And while it's not “smart” business given the highly profitable alternative, if Jeffrey Katzenberg and James Cameron really want to revolutionize cinema with 3D, they should equalize the format in price with the 2D films they seek to replace.
Despite my original attempt to get people to see Up in 3D with me, since seeing it I've been recommending it to people in whatever format they wish, yet I've leaned more on the encouragement of 2D because of how tight people's wallets are these days. Does this mean I'm abandoning my promotion of digital 3D? Not entirely, but I'm not as excited as I used to be. And this decrease in excitement is probably proportionately lessening with other moviegoers as well, or so I'd expect. It may not mean that 3D is dead or that it should be, but it may indeed mean that the “fad” is on its way out. So do you think the 3D "fad" is dying?