When I was a child I got this new toy for Christmas: A fireman’s hat with a rotating red light on top of it that made siren noises. I loved that hat… It was new, shiny, and all sorts of awesome. The problem was that I would wear it everywhere: School, church, friends’ houses, the mall, outside to play, etc. It didn’t take long for it to become old, tired and broken.

I’m starting to feel the same way about Hollywood and its newest toy: 3D technology.

We have no one to blame but ourselves, really. Maybe if audiences hadn’t made Avatar the highest grossing film of all time, then Hollywood studios wouldn’t be mortgaging their mother’s heirloom jewelry to convert their films into 3D.

Recently a couple of studios made announcements that three big upcoming films would be converted to 3D – which at this point seems sort of obvious. Why don’t they just hold off and tell us when something ISN’T going to be in 3D; like say, Battleship?

Now Fox is releasing the Alien prequel and Warner Bros. is releasing Sucker Punch and the Green Lantern films all converted to 3D in post-production. And people, there is a difference in quality between CONVERTED 3D and SHOT IN 3D. Don’t believe me? Alexander Murphy at Gizmodo recently wrote an article explaining the difference between “Released in 3D” and “Filmed in 3D”. Here is a quick excerpt but check out the rest of interesting article HERE.

“The process of making a movie 3D after it was shot is a complicated and time consuming process but can be somewhat convincing. The problem is it will never reflect the same results as if you were filming using two cameras, simultaneously, from slightly different perspectives. Endless rotoscoping provides layers that can be separated to fake a different perspective for the second eye, but that’s what it looks like, layers. So yes, you can push things away and pull things forward and enhance the depth, but the content within each layer has no depth.”

Alex makes a good point, one which I agreed with in my Alice in Wonderland review. I absolutely did not care for how the post-3D conversion turned out. Avatar on the other hand, which Cameron planned for and shot using 3D cameras, was beautiful to look at. That’s really the only way to make this technology work properly in the final product.  I wish Hollywood would figure out that converting a 2D film to 3D is like Ted Turner converting a black and white film to color – something about it just seems… off.

What’s even funnier is the blatant money grab Hollywood is making right now which they have no shame in hiding. There were several 3D movies released before Avatar that didn’t fare so well in theaters – yet Hollywood didn’t jump on the bandwagon with both feet until after Avatar became the highest grossing movie of all time. Where were they with the 3D announcements for major tent pole releases after Journey to the Center of the Earth or The Final Destination? I don’t remember all the studios clamoring to throw money at 3D after Chicken Little, Up, Polar Express and A Christmas Carol hit theaters.

So if most of the 3D films before Avatar were mildly to less than successful, why are studios clamoring to push their next big films out to theaters using the technology? Let’s look at a few statistics about 3D movies and theater screens you may not have known:

  • There were 20 films released in 3D in 2009 but only 8 in 2008.
  • The number of 3D capable screens across the US and Canada jumped up from 1,514 to 3,548 in one year. Overseas that number increased even more – from 1,029 to 5,441!
  • 3D movies made up less that 4% of the total films released last year but accounted for 11% of all gross receipts.
  • The president of the MPAA (Bob Pisano) said the following, “Whenever screens are converted or built in 3D the public. seems to be embracing it.”

Out of all the 3D films that have been released to date, only Up and Avatar can really be considered financial successes. Also, Avatar was the only film in shot in 3D using live actors successfully (Tron is another, but that won’t be released until this December); all the rest were 3D animated films and those look better converted because the depth of the objects can be manipulated more easily, and they exist in 3D form in the computer. I don’t consider Beowulf and A Christmas Carol using 3D motion capture to be the same as shooting live actors in 3D.

Some 3D films, like Journey to the Center of the Earth, My Bloody Valentine and The Final Destination, where filmed in Stereoscopic 3D – meaning two cameras are positioned together on the same stand roughly the same distance apart as a set of human eyes. The cameras film an object at very similar but slightly different angles, much like your eyes see the world, and then are layered over each other using a computer program to produced one image. Those films looked considerably better than the post-conversion process studios are employing now (Cameron’s Avatar also used Stereoscopic 3D, but a far more technologically advanced camera/computer system).

So if 90% of all 3D films before Avatar weren’t successful, either financially or critically, then why are we hearing about a new film getting the 3D conversion treatment every couple of days? Why are studios wetting their pants with excitement over converting films to 3D so quickly just because one film made boat loads of money?

Click to Find Out Why 3D Is All About the “Benjamins”

For the same reason people who are selling their homes spend $1,000 on new landscaping: To pretty them up. The upfront cost to them is very little in the initial investment and they can recoup it tenfold. It’s simple math really.

The typical conversion process costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000 – $500,000. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the overinflated multi-million dollar budgets the major films are getting. For their investment, studios can expect to see anywhere from 30- 50% increase in box office sales because of the additional cost for the “privilege” of watching the film in 3D. Studios know that not everyone is going to do their research on the technology and figure out that it is a scam, so they can be assured that opening weekend will have much higher numbers from people trying out the 3D “experience.”

In essence, a film can sell fewer tickets and still turn a profit because of the additional cost the other suckers theater goers are paying. It would be a financially dumb decision for them NOT to convert their films into 3D. The average cost of a standard 2D movie ticket rose in 2009 to $7.20 – I’d like to know where I can see a movie for that price – but the cost of seeing a film in 3D is a flat $3 extra regardless of the theater you go to.  That’s a modest 42% additional cost to each moviegoer to just wear a pair of oversized glasses and experience the ILLUSION of 3D.

That’s right, I said ILLUSION! Sometimes people forget that no matter what great 3D special effect directors and studios add to their film it’s not a true 3D experience. They are simply adding depth to the frame that is not there. To experience true 3D you would have to – wait for it – GO OUTSIDE!

Even if the conversion process wasn’t being used by a vast majority of the upcoming 3D films, I would still have a problem with it. I’m not completely against the use of 3D technology but I do feel, as a wearer of corrective lenses (read: glasses), that I’m being slighted. I have yet to meet another person wearing glasses who says “Man I absolutely LOVE wearing these ridiculous glasses on top of my existing frames.” They are very awkward to fit on your face and feel like they are constantly sliding down your nose. As beautiful and majestic as Avatar was to look at, I was distracted the entire time by these gigantic over-sized glasses resting on my face.

Last September, Real D did announce that it intends to make designer 3D frames (Gucci, Prada, etc.) and that some time in the future we can expect to have prescription lenses as well. Also on their slate are a line of toddler frames so more kids can “enjoy” the 3D effect. That is a step in the right direction – to get prescription lens wearers on board with shelling out the extra money but honestly, I can’t say that will sway me personally to jump on the 3D bandwagon.

So what should studios focus on instead?

Personally, I’d rather see them spend money in a way that enhances the overall quality of a film by shooting it with IMAX or better yet, shooting the film in HiDef 1080p and converting the theaters to show them.  I think a headline stating Green Lantern to be shot in IMAX!” would be less groan inducing than a headline about it being in post-converted 3D.

I know IMAX cameras are big, bulky and expensive but maybe if they pumped just half of the budget from all the dumb 3D movies coming out into research, then they could develop a smaller camera. Say what you want about Transformers 2 but the IMAX scenes in the film looked glorious and I don’t think anyone would argue the IMAX scenes shot for The Dark Knight were anything but fantastic.

Whether we like it or not, 3D technology has proven (to studios at least)  to be a very productive and efficient way to recoup their investment. Just like remakes, reboots and sequels, post-conversion 3D is, unfortunately,  here to stay; all we can hope is that eventually Hollywood gets tired of playing with their toy fireman’s hat and just uses it for certain films. It would also help if they stopped post converting and started filming in 3D but as long as audiences keep lining up and plopping down the extra cash (Alice in Wonderland is over $200 million in 2 weeks) then studios have no reason to change their tactics. In their minds, they are giving audiences what they want and doing us a favor.


Coming soon to a theater near you!

In case you are curious about how many films are actually slated to be released in 3D (post or otherwise) over the next couple of years, here is a list:

Two Harry Potter films, Green Lantern, Sucker Punch, Clash of the Titans, Toy Story 3,The Blob, Saw VII, Transformers 3 , Underworld 4, Resident Evil 4, Zombieland 2, Piranha 3D, Drive Angry, Re-Animator remake, Swamp Thing, Burst, Stretch Armstrong, The Three Musketeers, Yogi Bear, Scream 4, The Hobbit, Twister 2 (possibly), Yellow Submarine, Who Framed roger Rabbit?,  Night of the Living Dead, Cowboys and Aliens, Spider-man, Gremlins 3, Guardians of Ga’Hoole, Cats and Dogs 2, Ghost in the Shell, Frankenweenie, Gravity, Tintin, Priest, Star Trek 2 (maybe), Erector Set, How To Train Your Dragon, Samurai Jack, View-Master, and oh yeah, Avatar 2.

Is your head spinning yet? It only took me 5 minutes to look all those up on here on Screen Rant and that only covers films coming out through 2012 – which just proves that it really could be the end of the world.  Maybe that’s why the Mayans didn’t have 3D technology? *Note – there are many more films scheduled to be done in 3D that I left off here.*

Again, I’m not completely against the use of 3D in movies, I just think that studios and directors should follow Cameron’s example and plan for it from the start. Scorsese seems to have the right idea and if Marc Webb is consulting Cameron on his Spider-Man 3D reboot, then he will be on the right track as well.

What are your thoughts about this 3D craze? Do you see it slowing down anytime soon and how you would rather see studios spend the money?

Follow me on Twitter @Walwus

Source: Shadow Locked, Hollywood Reporter, Associated Press, Gizmodo, Variety

The process of making a movie 3D after it was shot is a complicated and time consuming process but can be somewhat convincing. The problem is it will never reflect the same results as if you were filming using two cameras, simultaneously, from slightly different perspectives. Endless rotoscoping provides layers that can be separated to fake a different perspective for the second eye, but that’s what it looks like, layers. So yes, you can push things away and pull things forward and enhance the depth, but the content within each layer has no depth.