Friday, January 8, 2010

3D or not 3D, That is the Question

I think I'm through with 3D movies.

Okay, I know that's not true. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland releases in March and I am an unadulterated fan of is. Also, have become a nice activity that my nephew and I do together, and the kids' movies coming out seem to all be in 3D.

But I think that when I can, I will avoid 3D.

If you read (and beleive) all the reports, the  big movie studios are in trouble. The rising costs of making movies with the decreasing number of ticket sales, they tell us, is making it more and more difficult to turn a profit by simply making movies. (This is hard to buy, mainly due to huge hits like Avatar and The Dark Knight listing among the top money makers ever.) They also tell us that DVD sales have plummeted, and this is forcing them to make more audience-pleasing (i.e. unoriginal) films than ever before.

One of the schemes they've come up with is to offer 3D films. 3D isn't new, of course. We're all familiar with the photo of an audience from 1950s staring at the big screen through their red and blue spectacles. But they say that the technology today is better than ever and that the world should prepare because the 3D revolution is here.

For most of its history 3D has been a novelty. The red and blue days of the 50s produced some dreadful 3D horror films. When seen today, the 3D doesn't even seem to work properly. One finds themselves staring at a distorted picture while looking at the person next to you and asking, "Do you see the 3D yet?"

The 1980's were a lot better for 3D. I remember seeing a 3D movie as a young child and reaching my hand out in front of me trying to grab an asteroid floating in the air. But people complained that the 3D gave them headaches and made them ill, so that 3D era died a quick death.

Now 3D is back and we're supposed to believe that all the kinks have been worked out and that 3D will become as synonymous to audiences as surround sound. We're also supposed to anticipate the coming of 3D televisions, and ESPN and the Discovery Networks are ready to go with their version of 3D entertainment.

I'm not one to predict whether 3D is a permanent fixture in our multiplexes or not. Others will argue that sound was considered a passing fancy to critics and filmmakers of the 1920s. But, given its track record, I think this current run of 3D may prove, once again, to merely be a novelty, even one that lasts longer and does well financially the next few years.

The main reason I dislike 3D is the strain that 3D tends to put on the eyes. While some younger readers may not feel it, 2 hours into Avatar my eyes began to tire of trying to focus on the ever-changing 3D image. had a good article explaining why our eyes attempt to focus on the 3D image projected on a 2D screen. (The Problem With 3D)

Something different happens when you're viewing three-dimensional motion projected onto a flat surface. When a helicopter flies off the screen in Monsters vs. Aliens, our eyeballs rotate inward to follow it, as they would in the real world. Reflexively, our eyes want to make a corresponding change in shape, to shift their plane of focus. If that happened, though, we'd be focusing our eyes somewhere in front of the screen, and the movie itself (which is, after all, projected on the screen) would go a little blurry. So we end up making one eye movement but not the other; the illusion forces our eyes to converge without accommodating. (In fact, our eye movements seem to oscillate between their natural inclination and the artificial state demanded by the film.) This inevitable decoupling, spread over 90 minutes in the theater, may well be the cause of 3-D eyestrain. 

I also believe that the higher cost of films today are going to be detrimental in the future of marketing 3D. Currently, the consumer of 3D movies is charged a "3D tax" of between $3-$4. Once the newness of the 3D blockbuster phenomena wears off, will people still be willing to spend that extra money? What about taking the entire family and buying popcorn and drinks, which are also quickly inflating in price? The rising cost of a night out may make people think a little differently about their movie choices when the difference in cost between a 3D and 2D blockbuster is almost $20 in 3D tax alone.

In television the difference in cost between 3D and 2D will be a major block to 3D. The public has only now begun to think flat screen, high def televisions are within acceptable prices for the masses. What will they think when buying a TV that is even higher in price? And how much will 3D channels cost through the local cable company as well?

And we haven't even begun to discuss how dorky we all look in those uncomfortable glasses. I really believe that 3D may take off when we aren't subjected to the punishment of wearing cheap pieces of plastic that hurt the sides of our head for 2 hours. Can you imagine doing this at home for 4 hours of TV and movie watching?

No one can truly predict the future of this kind of technology and its impact on the industry. Obviously people are not completely adverse to 3D or else they wouldn't spend the money to see movies like Avatar. But it also raises the question on whether that particular film may have been better if there was a little less focus by the filmmaker on the visuals and 3D and a little more on the script.

1 comment:

  1. ...and color is just a gimmick!

    lol- seriously though. I don't get the 3D "TV's". You can already buy movies (Coraline for instance) and it comes with 3D glasses and you can watch it on your regular TV in 3D. will the new TVs just not require the use of glasses? that would be the only reason I could see buying a whole new TV for it.