The economics of 3D … and why I don’t care

Posted by · 6:36 pm · August 6th, 2009

CoralineI’m going to sound about three times my actual age for saying this, but I’ll say it anyway: I could not care less about 3D.

I know it’s important, I know it’s fun, I know it’s the future. I know all this largely because almost 20 years ago, a group of cheery traveling 3D promoters visited my elementary school in New Jersey, and told the packed assembly exactly the same thing.

“Hey, 3D! Yay, 3D! Everybody see in 3D!” they sang, before showing us some jazzed-up motocross footage in the third dimension. Does anybody else remember sitting through the same demonstration?

I wasn’t thrilled then, and while I’m aware of the massive leap and bounds the technology has made since I was 7 years old, I’m not particularly thrilled now. I like a gosh-wow gimmick as much as the next man — a stupid part of me wishes I’d lived through Smell-O-Rama — but once the novelty of items popping off the screen settles in, I find 3D a dispensable accessory: an extra “D” doesn’t amount to a lot of beans in the cinematic departments I really care about — writing, storytelling, performance.

I saw “Coraline” in 2D and was thoroughly engaged by the wit and zip of its narrative, as well as its pastel-ly visual textures — at no point did I feel I was missing an integral part of the viewing experience. And it has to be said that apart from that, the 3-D brand usually marks films that I have little interest in seeing anyway. (Yes, I know I’m the only person in the universe not getting sweaty-palmed over “Avatar,” but the promise of game-changing 3D technology doesn’t diminish my wariness towards James Cameron’s post-1991 output. I like pleasant surprises, put it that way.)

Anyway, this is all a very long-winded way of saying I read this Times article about the potentially vast economic influence of 3-D with a mixture of indifference and scepticism. The article conjures up a not-distant future where any 2D blockbuster will be jeered off the screen (did they make up the term “flatties,” or is that doing the rounds already?) and plays down concerns of 3D being — as it was decades before — a passing fad:

Test audiences and ticket sales for films such as Ice Age 3 suggest otherwise. Consumers appear willing to pay a premium for the new 3-D — an extra £2 in London — which means the films are accounting for an increasing share of box-office receipts. Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg’s partner in the DreamWorks studio, says it would now be “financially irresponsible” not to shoot an animated film in 3-D.

Given the fresh news that “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” is now the most successful animated title of all time internationally, there’s probably something to that. And if the technology becomes de rigueur in that medium, so be it — save for a few crossover titles each year, that wouldn’t greatly affect my moviegoing habits. But the article places a lot of pressure on “Avatar” in determining what place 3D has with the adult audience:

Avatar, produced by 20th Century Fox, is not a children’s movie and others are already considering 3-D for adult themes. Peter Jackson, who directed The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is blowing up 3-D bombs for a remake of second world war classic The Dambusters.

Such breakthroughs do not come cheap: Avatar has already cost $300m to make, eclipsing the last record-holder, Superman Returns. The three-hour epic, which is based on a story by Cameron and, some say, is a sly critique of the Iraq invasion, could still be a flop, sending 3-D back to cartoon land; but few who have seen footage believe so.

My first thought upon reading that — okay, my second; my first was overwhelming dread regarding the “The Dambusters” — is that I can’t see “Avatar,” whatever its financial fortunes, really retarding the progress of a technology that, even as it moves forward, will always remain necessary for only a certain bracket of adult-oriented cinema. (Speaking of adult film, 3-D porn could and should really fly, but I digress.)

There’s still a vast arena of character-oriented film — including most mainstream comedy, arthouse drama and women’s cinema, to name a selection — that has no need for three dimensions, except (when we’re lucky) on the written page. Which is why the more excitable claims of “cinema will never be the same again” don’t get much of a rise out of me.

Anyway, sorry to get all Grampa Simpson on you there. Perhaps it’s simply because I agree with my fellow spectacles-wearing 3D skeptic Darren Aronofsky that “wearing glasses on top of glasses sucks.” But it’s out of my system now. Bring on “Avatar,” woo-hoo, etc.

→ 22 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

22 responses so far

  • 1 8-06-2009 at 6:42 pm

    John said...

    I’m 29 and I’ve always found 3D to be both annoying and boring. As you said Guy, bring me writing/storytelling/performance.

  • 2 8-06-2009 at 6:47 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    hate 3d

  • 3 8-06-2009 at 6:47 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    new where the wild things are trailer guy

  • 4 8-06-2009 at 6:47 pm

    The Z said...

    I totally agree. 3-D isn’t that great when you consider the fact that we see in three dimensions all the time anyhow. Isn’t that one reason that movies work? We know it’s not the real world and are able to sit back and enjoy the spectacle that is cinema.

    But to have experienced smell-o-ramma would have been interesting…

  • 5 8-06-2009 at 6:50 pm

    Chase Kahn said...

    I don’t like 3D. It’s a gimmick, it gives you a damn headache five minutes in and its application to a film frequently feels non-essential and signifies a lesser product.

    I saw the trailer for Robert Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol” today — is this the kind of crap we’re going to get with the standardization of 3D? F-ing Christmas Carol? There’s not gonna be alot of embellishment there, right?

  • 6 8-06-2009 at 6:52 pm

    James D. said...

    I took the glasses off when I went to see Beowulf in 3-D. I don’t need all the melodramatics.

  • 7 8-06-2009 at 6:54 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    only reason id want to see avatar bomb is to kill the 3d fad for good

  • 8 8-06-2009 at 7:02 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    also new meryl streep movie trailer just went up, her only chance looks to be with julie and julia this year

  • 9 8-06-2009 at 7:10 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I’ll be seeing Avatar in 2D, just like Up and everything else given the option.

  • 10 8-06-2009 at 7:57 pm

    Brian said...

    I think 3-D limits good seating in theatres – you have to be pretty much dead center or it fucks with the image. And anyone with bad vision such as myself will testify that 3-D can literally be exhausting for one’s eyes. I’m not convinced, although I’ve yet to see a live action film in 3-D that wasn’t a complete gimmick, so I’ll bite my tongue.

  • 11 8-06-2009 at 8:42 pm

    Charlie said...

    Representing all people out there who don’t have depth perception: Screw you 3-D, stop taunting us and making us spend more money for a special effect we cannot see!!!

  • 12 8-06-2009 at 8:58 pm

    Hans said...

    Yeah, what I hate most is having to explain to basically every single customer at the theatre why the ticket I’m ringing them up is more expensive. Here’s a rough sketch:

    Me: “That’ll be $11.00, ma’am.”
    Customer: “How’s it so expensive? It says here $8.50.”
    “There is an extra charge since it’s a 3D movie.”
    “Oh, for the glasses right? I won’t have to pay the extra fee if I bring them back.”
    (inward sigh)
    “No, because it’s not the glasses you’re paying for, it’s because 3D animation costs more, and thus the costs trickle down to us here.”
    “Oh, well that’s dumb.”
    (Or, if it’s an older customer…)
    “Bullshit. A 3D movie still cost $3 thirty years ago.”

  • 13 8-07-2009 at 2:16 am

    AdamL said...

    Why not wear contacts?

  • 14 8-07-2009 at 2:28 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Adam, four reasons, in this order:

    1) I have a phobia of anything touching my eye.

    2) I have a phobia of anything touching my eye.

    3) I have a phobia of anything touching my eye.

    4) I actually love glasses. A fun, easy way of playing around with one’s appearance.

  • 15 8-07-2009 at 7:05 am

    Andrew said...

    Hear, hear, Charlie! I can barely tell depth in real life.

    Why do I want to watch fuzzy graphics with blanched colours, pay more for it, and wear two sets of glasses (a pain in the ass), when I can see it perfectly fine in 2D?

  • 16 8-07-2009 at 7:38 am

    Joel said...

    Don’t like 3-D, never have, want it to go away. It’s intrusive, unimportant, intrusive…

    Though I dug Bolt in 3-D, gotta say. I’ll probably check out Avatar in 3-D just for the heck of it, but most likely…it’ll be 2-D.

  • 17 8-07-2009 at 8:11 am

    Glenn said...

    I thought the 3D in “Beowulf” made that movie bearable, but I’ve skipped out on everything else that’s been 3D. I want to see “Coraline” in 3D though, and stuff like “The Final Destination” and “Avatar” are obvious ones too.

  • 18 8-07-2009 at 9:27 am

    Ryan said...

    I’ve only seen ONE movie in 3-D and that was “Up.” The fact that it’s my number one film of the year so far has NOTHING to do with it being on 3-D. But yeah towards the end I was getting a headache.

    I, too, wear glasses. Sigh.

  • 19 8-07-2009 at 2:11 pm

    Jeremy said...

    3-D is reprehensible. It’s gimmicky and distracting and actively prevents the viewer from engaging with the movie. I’m someone who routinely embraces mainstream moviemaking and technological advancement, and I still think 3-D is a horror.

  • 20 2-27-2010 at 6:50 pm

    Marty said...

    I remember “Hey 3D! Yay 3D! Everybody see in 3D!” I saw that group in 5th grade at my school in Illinois around 1990. It was just after I got my first pair of glasses too. I put the 3D glasses over my regular glasses, so I didn’t see any 3D. 3D glasses + regular glasses has never worked for me.

    Anyway, can’t believe I found someone else who remembers that cheesy 3D skit. And yes, I actually googled that 3D song. If I remember correctly, they also did a song about sunglasses. It went like “Sunglasses. Sunglasses. How can you see with them sunglasses on?”

  • 21 1-12-2015 at 11:13 am

    Mike Schroll said...

    I experienced the same 3D assembly at my elementary school in Wernerwville, PA – Conrad Weiser East Elementary. (And yes, I googled for the 3D song!) I remembered it as “Hey, 3D, everyone wants 3D!” And they had a cool hand gesture with your thumb, forefinger, and middle finger in the three different dimensions.