Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - 3D vs. The Hype of 3D

March 26, 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens

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.

Find more posts: Discuss, Editorial, Hype



3D takes away color from the screen many times or makes it less prevalent. What about dvd? What's going to happen to those sales? Most movies don't make their money back in the theater. If they fail they won't be able to recoup their money. I think anyone other than people like Spielberg and Cameron ,who actually believe in the technology, will fail this gimmick.

David Wilson on Mar 26, 2009


yep. take bolt for instance. the movie in 3d was cool, but only for the sake of it being in 3d. when it came out on dvd what is the point of buying it? the story was generic and boring and there is no way to simulate the 3d. i don't get the hype over 3d.

memphistyler on Mar 26, 2009


I think i'll go see the film in 3d. I'm not sure though, gimmicks are tiresome. But advancements and enhancements of viewing are good. We shall see.

Crapola on Mar 26, 2009


In stark contrast to some of the points made here about the advertising for Monsters vs Aliens, the advertising I've seen in Australia has only been for the 2D version and the 3D element is only represented by a tiny 3D logo at the bottom of the screen. Granted, we don't have as many 3D theatres as in the US but we have more than enough to make it an advertising feature. In times past I would have assumed it meant that the distributors felt they had made a mistake with the US advertising model and decided to try something new when it was released here at a later date. But with the current practice of simultaneous world-wide releases thanks to internet piracy, that theory falls pretty flat.

Boggy on Mar 26, 2009


Said it before and I’ll say it again, stereo film is a vile gimmick that de-emphasizes framing and composition by stopping viewers from exploring the screen. By giving the eyes a voluminous projection, there’s only one point of focus rather than an infinite in a traditional 2D screen, and it’s biologically unnatural to try and force your eyes to study something that’s telling them it’s out of focus. Your eyes will always gravitate back to the focal point, because that’s what they do. Just look around your room and think about how you take in visual information in respect to what your eyes are focused on, and you’ll see how utterly backwards stereo is. Stereo vision is only valuable when you can control the focal point, but this technology certainly doesn't enable that, and thereby forces you to focus on only one part of the image. 2D cinema uses visual representations to tell us what in and out of focus and one of the foundational benefits to film is its exploitation of our ability to view all of it without problem. We can study what's in and out of focus. I don't want a cinema that makes it more difficult and unnatural for me to soak in an entire frame. I want to study the screen, not be beaten into submission by it. I can't for the life of me figure out how 3D adds anything to cinema. It was an immense distraction when I saw Bolt, and the increased cost and painful glasses didn't help matters. 3D may be titillating and packed with more visual information, but it’s less valuable information. And its true purpose is to produce an increase in ticket price and hurt piracy. People need to quit pretending Katzenberg is pushing for any kind of creative breakthrough here. Making Monsters vs Aliens a 3D feature was a top-down decision forced upon its directors, as revealed in a recent NY Times article. It's only about money.

Dan Winclechter on Mar 26, 2009


one word: coraline. that movie shows what digital 3-d can do. one of the best movie experiences i have ever had. i hadn't seen anything in 3-d before that movie. the 3-d really brought you into the world and the visuals were a wonder because of it. the 3-d was not gimmicky but awe-inspiring. it really helped capture the fantastical world that neil gaiman created. if you all have doubts, go see coraline, though most theaters won't be showing it now cuz of monsters vs. aliens. i guarantee that others who've seen coraline in this format will wholeheartedly agree with me.

andrew on Mar 26, 2009


I thought about the same confusion that the average movie goer is going to endure this weekend if they want to see this movie. My local theater has three different listings for MvA. - MvA (2D) - MvA (3D) - MvA (IMAX 3D) Even though this makes some sense from a financial standpoint, its going to be friggin confusing come tomorrow. Which means slower lines at the box office because the families have to weigh all of their options and the price increase for each.

Bryan on Mar 26, 2009


Quit your whining. It's not like they're re-releasing the latest Wim Wenders or even David Fincher films in 3D. It's just the next step towards a psychadelic experience for people who are too scared/ignorant/boring to try mind-altering substances. On that note, I'm sure the experience will be enhanced for many people who are indeed under the influence of said substances.

Boggy on Mar 26, 2009


comment #4 is the correct answer

D on Mar 26, 2009


I agree with andrew at #7. I saw Coraline in digital 3-D (the only film I've seen with this tech so far) and it was quite worth it. Digital 3-D does enhance some shot-planning and composition, as long as the original material is good. If the movie is sh*t, then it's indeed just a silly gimmick. I found that the glasses do not deteriorate the brightness/contrast of the image too much to be detrimental and the gains in depth-of-field shallowness in the footage is indeed very interesting. I'd say that the final word rests mainly in the quality of the films that use this tech. If they are like Coraline, then the tech can have a bright future. Is they make the films to fit the tech and nothing more, then it will eventually fail.

rml on Mar 27, 2009


3D is just ano0ther way to take are hard earned money. I will see it without glasses........ Maybe if my daughter would keeps the damn things on her head would change my opinion

SHANEDAV on Mar 27, 2009


Just saw Monster vs aliens and the 3d was quite impressive. I found myself looking around the screen impressed how everything was at different depth levels. This is definitely a format made for sci fi and other movies that have a lot going on visually. Maybe not so much for a romatic comedy, just seeing women connecting about men on a porch with a with picket fence in 3d is not that necessary, but for Lord of the Rings it would make the visually rich world really come to life. I found it to be a great experience and will definitely go see Avatar in 3d when it comes out.

Kenny Hogg on Mar 29, 2009

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