3D Movies Run Amok: A Fad That Should Stop... But Won't

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?

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