I think I made fun of the recent 3D movie trend in the past, but I never really devoted an entire post to it. I think it’s time, especially since Thor was the first movie I saw in 3D since like the late 80’s. And you know what? The experience has not changed much. Granted Thor was probably not the best movie to evaluate current state of the technology, since it was not shot in 3D but merely converted in post production. This of course meant that only like 3 scenes in the movie actually had real depth to them, and the rest of the time it was basically just an exercise in inducing eye strain for no reason.
That said, I did watch trailer for Conan, and that looked really, really 3D to the point it made me woozy. I’m not sure if I could handle an entire movie of that sort of thing. The depth effect is kinda cool for the first 5 minutes, but it sort of gets old rather quickly. But then again, maybe that’s me – I’m not easily impressed by visuals. Plus, for the entire movie I felt like the screen was slightly out of focus even though it wasn’t. It’s like my brain knew it was being tricked, and it was working hard to correct the problem, causing my eyes to desperately try to over-focus on the screen. This tiny discomfort is not a deal breaker for me, but it serves as a reminder that you don’t get 3D for free.
Then again, I always wonder why do we really need 3D. I mean it’s not like the third dimension was missing from our films for all this time. Our brains have no problem grasping the illusion of depth in the flat, 2D movies using things like perspective, focus and etc. 3D is basically just a gimmick – neat but completely superfluous.
I’m not saying this because I’m scared of the progress, or afraid of the next step in cinematographic technology. That’s not it at all. I just don’t think it is that serious. I think that the 3D craze is just a fad, and not a new one at that. 3D movies have been around for a while now. In fact, I have seen their popularity rise an then fall into almost complete obscurity within my lifetime. It was a cheap gimmick back then, so why would I think it is going to be any different now.
After all, the technology has not changed much. We are still using the same stereoscopic anaglyphs to fool your eye into perceiving depth. Granted, the hardware we use to produce these is much better these days, and we had years to improve the quality of the anaglyph playback but there is nothing new and revolutionary about current technology and methods.
The main difference between then and now, is who is using it. Back in the day, most 3D movies were made more or less to showcase the technology. Their plot was crafted specifically to maximize the number of things that could be flung directly at the camera in order to impress the audience. More or less it was a niche entertainment format. No big blockbusters were in 3D, but the 3D movies often featured a popular celebrity or two. Of course the novelty quickly wore off and the fad died out, then came back, then died out again.
In the last few years however the situation changed a bit. The 3D scene underwent a complete reversal and through some marketing magic 3D became cool again. I guess enough time passed since the last time we got fed up with it, so most movie goers forgot all about it. So all of a sudden every big budget movie is either shot or post converted into 3D. All the big studios are trying to get in on the gig while it is still hot. But I suspect it is not because the demand – I suspect it is because of Hollywood accounting. Here is the deal: when the office box numbers are published, you just see a sum without some addendum that says whether or not the movie was in 3D or not. But tickets for 3D movies are more expensive, which makes 3D movies appear more successful than 2D movies. Can you see what is going on here? Studios get to inflate their numbers, because movie goers are perfectly willing to pay a few extra bucks for the 3D effects. Of course it does cost more money to shoot a movie in 3D, (though post converting is relatively cheap, all other things considered) so it is not like they are cheating the system. But consider this: if your movie is not in 3D, you may get steam-rolled by a cheaper and worse production just because their movie was, and thus they got to sell their tickets at a premium price. I believe this is the real reason why this fad is so popular.
Question is, whether or not this business model is sustainable. Will audiences continue buying into the 3D hype, or will they wisen up, and refuse to pay extra for unnecessary eye-strain and headaches. It’s hard to say. We might be stuck with it for quite a while this time around. But again, to me 3D is merely a gimmicky fad. It is not revolution, it is not taking the cinematographic art to the next level. It’s superfluous.
I will tell you one thing: this fad is not going to cross over into our living rooms. People are not going to buy these new, expensive 3D TV’s. Well, ok, some people are going to buy them, but I don’t think they will ever become ubiquitous. There will never be a big market for 3D DVD’s or BD’s. Most people are perfectly happy to spend a few more bucks to see some cool effects in the movie theater. Buying an expensive piece of hardware that in some ways is less functional than your current TV (requires glasses, 3D effect only works well if you sit directly in front of the TV, etc…) is a whole other story.
What do you think? Do you like 3D movies? Given a choice do you usually pick the 3D showing over the 2D? What do you think is the future of this fad? Will it peter out, or are we stuck with it for good? Would you ever consider buying a 3D TV for your house?