Published on September 7th, 2009 | by Niall9
3D or not 3D, that is the question
The 3D invasion is in full swing with a whole host of forthcoming feature films being released in 3D and with 3D televisions set to land in homes from next year on. So is this the dawn of a glorious new era in entertainment or just another gimmick that will soon fade into obscurity?
It is worth bearing in mind that 3D is nothing new. The “anaglyph process” (the one where you get those nifty looking red and green specs) was first used on images in 1853, with the first film Power of Love being released in 1922. This was followed by the “polarised 3D process” which allowed for a fuller range of colours and was easier to produce. The earliest polarised movie was released in 1936, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that they really took off. 1952 to 1955 is generally regarded as the Golden Age of 3D cinema as in 1953 the movie House of Wax was released starring Vincent Price and Charles Bronson. Its success caused a 3D craze throughout Hollywood in which every major studio jumped on the bandwagon. Unfortunately for film producers the novelty soon wore off and with concern that they were causing headaches, 3D movies fell out of favour with cinematic audiences. Up until recently 3D movies were only released sporadically, with a brief but ill-fated revival in the 1980s which featured Jaws 3D.
More recently James Cameron has pioneered the creation of new 3D equipment, using the first of this on his IMAX release Ghosts of the Abyss. The advent of computer generated animation has also contributed largely to the recent rebirth. It is relatively straightforward for computer animators to insert a second perspective into their movies, thus allowing true three-dimensional images. The first of these animated modern 3D movies was Robert Zemeckis’ Polar Express which opened in 66 IMAX 3D locations. With the revenue from these locations turning out to be 14 times that of regular 2D screenings it greatly intensified interest in 3D and in 3D presentation of animated films.
The 3D revolution appears to be on a roll. Coraline, Monster vs Aliens and UP all posted big box-office numbers stateside, The Final Destination has just spent 3 weeks on top of the US box-office, and Disney/Pixar have announced that all future animated films will be 3D. Even Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson are in on the act with their co-production Tintin. Every movie studio is desperately trying to one-up each other with bigger and bigger 3D releases. 3D shall soon be coming home with you too. Sony has displayed a demo of 3D gaming that will be coming to the PS3 in 2010 and 3D televisions from Sony, Phillips, and a whole litany of other manufacturers are set to go on sale late 2009/early 2010.
It’s not all glorious in the 3D garden however. Only an estimated 7,500 cinemas world-wide are equipped to handle the movies with the cost of upgrading almost €60,000 per screen. Reports of people getting headaches while watching 3D movies are still appearing. Also a worrying trend is starting to emerge, with film producers and studios looking to their back catalogues in order to release “new” 3D versions of old 2D classics. Amongst the most notable of these is George Lucas’ recent announcement that he may re-release his Star Wars films in 3D. Disney/Pixar too are going back to re-release Toy Story and Toy Story 2 to tie-in with the forthcoming release of Toy Story 3 in 3D. Film studios are also looking at “upgrading” imminent films that have already been shot in 2D to 3D. Rumours are circulating that Iron Man 2 will receive this “upgrade” while it has already been confirmed that it will happen to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
The questions have to be asked: Are the movie studios milking 3D or is there genuine artist merit in the new format? After all The Dark Knight was a cinematic masterpiece and box-office sensation last year without the any 3D effects. Whereas the opening 15 minutes of Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince which was 3D in IMAX theatres added no additional benefit to the story. Where does one draw the line with what past movie marvels can be re-adapted? If Martin Scorsese decides in the morning that Raging Bull would have been better in 3D would the studios try to stop him or more likely become complicate in attempting to improve on perfection? And is there any way to stop this 3D juggernaut?
One free radical in this whole situation may well be James Cameron. The man most responsible for launching the modern 3D craze is set to release his magnum opus Avatar in December. 12 years in the making, this entirely shot on 3D cameras, movie has met with a decidedly anti-climatic response after the trailer aired a few weeks ago. If, and it’s a big if, this bombs at the box-office will it signal the death-knell for 3D or simply reflect the failure of one man’s over-reaching ambition? We won’t know until December 18th but in the meantime it would appear that 3D is here to stay.