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3D at the Movies: The Future, or Just a Fad?

July 4, 2011

By John C.

When I wrote about 3D in the midst of last summer, my feelings were often mixed but in certain instances leaned towards the positive.  Nearly a year later, my feelings remain pretty much the same.  Over the last few months, I have seen films presented in the third dimension that impress as well as those where the 3D does nothing but dim the image.  Then there are those times when the black plastic glasses do their job, but ultimately feel superfluous.

With Friday being Canada Day and today Independence Day, it was a long weekend both here and across the border, meaning that it was a hot spot for guaranteed box office revenue.  The third in Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy, Dark of the Moon, dominated the weekend bringing in over $181 million domestic since its release last Tuesday night.  An estimated 60 percent of that revenue came from the sale of 3D tickets.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon was shot in 3D, so the visual effects and sheer amount of bombastic action on display does lend itself well to the extra dimension.  As it is the sort of summer escapist entertainment that audiences view merely for the spectacle of it all, it’s also understandable why many would see the surcharge as a worthwhile expense.  On the flipside, although the 3D presentations I recently saw of Thor and Cars 2 were virtually flawless, they were both strong movies on their own terms and would have played just as well and been every bit as entertaining in plain old 2D.

Disney’s fourth film in the lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, On Stranger Tides, recently became only the eighth film of all time to cross the billion dollar mark.  What’s most telling is that over the film’s opening weekend, only 37 percent of the revenue came from 3D.  Many audiences saw the film, but more than half of them chose to see the swaggering return of Johnny Depp as the iconic Captain Jack Sparrow without the annoyance of wearing the glasses.  Aside from a few swords that were effectively pushed into the audience, the 3D in On Stranger Tides did nothing but dim an already dark image.

But even the legendary Martin Scorsese has adopted the format, choosing to shoot his upcoming adaptation of the brilliant novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret in native 3D.   Simply titled Hugo, something tells me that the probable Oscar contender will play just as well when viewed in 2D.  The recent success of Super 8 and X-Men: First Class thankfully proved that there is still a market for blockbusters that aren’t even presented in the extra dimension.

Let’s hope Robert Rodriguez doesn’t start a new trend with his upcoming fourth installment in the popular Spy Kids franchise, All the Time in the World.  The newly released and thoroughly unimpressive trailer for the film advertises Aromascope, an “innovative” new movie viewing technology where audiences will be given a free scratch card to sniff when the appropriate numbers flash on the screen.  I really can’t imagine this being popular with anyone above a certain age, and with the added presence of 3D it just seems to be an another gimmick.  The cheaply scented scratch cards will likely just be an annoyance for the majority of moviegoers, especially during the disgusting barf bag shenanigans.

With many people waiting for the DVD or watching illegal downloads, I understand that these are all attempts to get more audiences into the theatres.  This is especially true now, with 3D TVs looming on the horizon.  Yet what’s telling about a lot of the current box office numbers is that many audiences are still going to the movies, but saving money and possible eyestrain by opting out of the ridiculous three dollar premium for the 3D.  What keeps me going back to the theatres is not the privilege of wearing plastic glasses, but the opportunity to see movies in a pristine environment with a screen larger than any TV set.

With the beautifully renovated ULTRA AVX (audio visual experience) auditoriums at certain Cineplex theatres, a premium ticket price gets you the added benefit of reserved and ridiculously comfortable rocking chairs as well as a screen that stretches from the floor to the ceiling.  This is more appealing to me than the prospect of certain scenes possibly looking like they are coming off the screen.  I personally think experiences like this will be the future of moviegoing, regardless of whether or not the films are being presented in 3D.

To conclude, 3D is at a similar spot as it was this time last year.  There are a few films that benefit from the extra dimension, other times it just feels pointless wearing the glasses to watch a movie that would be just as good without them.  There certainly can be a place for the technology when done right, but audiences are clearly starting to realize that it is often not worth the overly inflated premium that movie theatres continue to charge.

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