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Published on September 7th, 2009 | by Niall


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 filmย  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 โ‚ฌ60,000 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 manโ€™s over-reaching ambition? We won’t know until December 18th but in the meantime it would appear that 3D is here to stay.

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About the Author

The proverbial man lost in La Mancha. Sports aficionado and all-round scoundrel. รœber-geek to boot. I run the movie website Scannain.com and can usually be found twittering away as @niallxmurphy.

9 Responses to 3D or not 3D, that is the question

  1. Emlyn says:

    Gimmick methinks…a fun one with the right movie, but a gimmick nonetheless. And yes, if the film’s story is weak, acting atrocious, etc, then no amount of fancy 3D will hide that. I’ve also heard that most of the big chain cinemas will actually have to change their projectors to suit some of the bigger forthcoming 3D releases – e.g – ‘Avatar’, so that basically means smaller cinemas will be left behind trying to catch up. Then there’s the extra cost of 3D glasses added onto already (these days) expensive tickets and munchies.
    Gimmick, gimmick, gimmick…that’s my opinion anyway ๐Ÿ˜‰

    And 3D television…why?!? ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Emlyn says:

    Just to add – if you’re being wowed at something jumping out of the screen, then you’re not really paying attention to whats actually happening ON the screen itself. I call it the Michael Bay effect…fancy visual tricks and big loud explosions to hide a weak story underneath. (Or you could call it the ‘Wizard’ of Oz effect too) ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Niall says:

    I do think that a lot of movies are using it as a gimmick.

    I’m kinda disappointed that the post dropped to the bottom of the list today but such is life. So much great content on culch.

  4. Lottie says:

    I am not a fan of 3D in movies at all. It actually gives me a pain in my eyes and diminishes my enjoyment of the movie by atleast 30%.

    I understand the reasoning behind it and the studios have to do something to combat piracy but it’s really never going to be anything more than a gimick for the kids.

    Down with 3D I say.

  5. Ronan says:

    Coraline in 3D was a massive turd. They didn’t need the 3D at all. Didn’t make an ounce of difference to the film.

    I read something about some UK cinemas showing the World Cup next year in 3D. Now that will be weird.

  6. Will Knott says:

    3D is loved by studios for 2 reasons

    1) Its a gimmick that gets punters in there
    2) Its hard to pirate.

    Remember that colour and “talkies” were once gimmicks.

    The 2nd part is important as you can only (for the moment) watch a 3d (or an IMAX really) movie on screen. A hidden camera recording is unwatchable, even with the glasses. And box office figures are still important (DVD sales/paid for downloads can change minds later, box office is immediate.)

    Given that 3d TV is being developed, real-time 3d cameras will be around and it will then be possible to have live action movies in 3d…

    However, continuity in 3d may be harder. Editing multiple takes together will be more challenging (separate sound channels help talkies and cgi and development techniques can nudge lighting effects to match).

    Sports, live action and concert footage will be the first to see the 3d treatment, simply as editing is choosing between multiple live (or at least simultaneous) feeds.

    So expect more “live” editions of your favourite soaps when 3D TV arrives.

    The question is, is 3d the next colour or talkie? Or the next wide-screen? Sound and colour were huge advantages and leaps in technology. wide-screen was a reaction TV… different size meant that you had to letterbox the image or pan-and-scan so the viewer didn’t get the “full” picture.

    Action sequences aside, few movies benefit from 3D. Black and white classics are still with us (some are still being made), but silent movies have mostly died off (silent sequences are still around, but we don’t consider them “silent movies”). Currently live-action 3D is much harder to create than animated 3D…

    So with current technology… its a non-runner. Its too early to tell what improvements will come down the line. We might have pocket holographic theaters yet.

  7. Niamh says:

    Ronan I agree that seeing Coralinein 3D added nothing to it. Having seen the premiere of the New Disney/Pixar creation UP in 3D last night, my opinion hasn’t changed. It’s still a gimmick as far as I am concerned, it added nothing to the movie, in fact I can’t pick out too many places where it was obviously 3D, maybe a few scenes with the dogs.
    The opening Disney sequence with Cinderellas castle and fireworks elicited a lot more oohs and aahs from the young children around us than anything in the movie itself to be honest.

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