Are 3D Movies a Fad? Who Cares?

I’ve read a lot of back and forth about the merits (or lack thereof) of 3D movie-making. Enthusiasts compare it to the transition from monochrome to color television. Haters think it’s a lame fad and a waste of creative resources. I even read someone compare 3D to Quadraphonic audio, implying that, like Quadraphonic’s ill-fated experiment in the 70’s, 3D is also an impractical format that’s awkward to use and will lose favor with consumers.

Honestly, I think that analogy is a bit harsh, especially considering that multi-channel audio made a huge comeback eventually, only for movies. In fact, I think the analogy is rather apt within this other context. I would suggest that the 3D systems in current use are comparable to the introduction of surround sound.

Is surround-sound necessary for the enjoyment of a good movie? No. Plenty of movie-lovers I know watch their movies with the carefully-mixed 5.1 surround downmixed to mere stereo. However, nicely set up surround sound is really fun to listen to. In fact, I go to IMAX theaters just as much for the massively spec’ed surround sound audio system as I do the towering visuals. And yes, I upgraded my own surround sound home setup last year (Klipsch, if you must know), so I’m a fan.

Getting back to 3D, I’ve seen a fair number of movies using the current polarized light systems. One that springs to mind most immediately is Coraline, a really wonderful film. It was a terrific 3D experience in the theater, my wife Kaylynn and I both enjoyed it immensely. Several months later, we enjoyed it a second time with a friend on our home plasma, on Blu-Ray. I insisted on skipping the Anaglyph-style presentation (Red/cyan glasses? Please…) and we simply watched it in 2D.

What a surprise; it was still a great film.

Whenever 3D plasma, OLED, SED, or whatever the dominant technology is five or ten years from now becomes affordable, I will happily watch it in 3D again, and that’s what I think is the real point. A good movie is a good movie, whether it’s 2D or 3D. 3D presentation is simply the icing on the cake, a bit of extra fun that some folks will spring more dollars for (along with their surround sound speaker setups), and other folks will ignore.

And to that end, as a director and a viewer, I really hope the technology improves and the format survives. It would be nice to have the option, and folks that don’t care can easily skip it. As for cinemas, I imagine that, similar to anamorphic presentation that can be switched on or off depending on the film print, 3D presentation will be switched on or off depending on the movie. It remains to be seen whether (assuming that 3D survives as a permanent option for directors) the cinemas of the future will be wholly 3D for a given movie, or whether 2D screens will continue to remain available for a movie capable of 3D presentation.

While 3D is all fun and games for viewers, I do see a downside, and that is whether or not studios are going to be forcing directors to shoot movies in 3D who would rather not. Especially at the blockbuster level, this conflict has already started popping up in the Hollywood press. For example, Darren Aronofsky apparently dropped out of doing a Robocop remake because of studio pressure to make it in 3D, while Aronofsky had no interest. The over-the-top financial success of Avatar doubtless has movie companies worldwide hungering for a bit of that 3D cash flow, and I’m sure it’s having a ripple effect in the development of movies above a certain budget. Heck, even I’ve done a few experiments with the animated web series I’m developing, recompositing a few of the animated illustrations in 3D to see how the workflow would be. At the moment, it’s too much hassle for our small crew to handle, but were we to have a bigger budget, man would it be fun.

Of course, I’ve no doubt that all it’ll take is one massively expensive flop to throw a wet blanket over the notion that 3D = waterfalls of money. Hopefully, when the time comes, the studios will be circumspect. All it should take would be another Up, Coraline, or Avatar (II probably) to get folks excited again.

It’s an interesting transition to witness.


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