3D Movies: The Future of Cinema or a Fad?

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 23rd June 2009.

James Cameron, director of Hollywood blockbusters such as The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss and Titanic believes that the future of cinema is 3D. His latest effort, Avatar, starring Australian actor Sam Worthington, is the first motion picture filmed in digital 3D. With other 3D movies on the horizon, including Toy Story 3, plus many recent mainstream releases with a 3D option, such as Monsters vs Aliens and Bolt, out there in multiplexes, wearing funny glasses in the cinema is certainly becoming more popular, but is it truly the future or just a fad? And is there a conspiracy behind its re-emergence (and no, it is not the Illuminati)?

 History suggests that 3D movies are a fad. The golden age of 3D films began with Bwana Devil in 1952 (highlight – spear thrust at the camera), followed quickly by House of Wax and It Came From Outer Space. 3D soon disappeared as quickly as it arrived, along with other cinematic novelties such as Sensurround and Smell-O-Vision. The third dimension returned briefly in the 80’s with such classics as Friday the 13th Part 3: 3D (highlight – spear thrust at the camera) and Jaws 3-D.

 In both cases, glasses with blue and red lenses were required to achieve the 3D effect. Unfortunately, these glasses also leached much of the colour from the screen so movies appeared drab and lifeless.

 3D films have reappeared again in the past few years with Imax features and mainstream Hollywood movies such as Beowulf (highlight – spear thrust at the camera) and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Technological advances in computer-generated imagery (CGI) and the development of digital filming and processing have now made 3D films relatively cost effective, at least in Hollywood terms. The traditional blue and red glasses have also now been replaced by polarized lenses. Steven Spielberg has even mooted a new plasma screen-based system that doesn’t require glasses.

 So is 3D cinema back for good? Will all movies soon feature a spear being thrust at the camera?

 Well my answer for the near future is probably not. The conversion from traditional reel-based projection systems to high-tech digital projectors at your local cinema is going to be extremely expensive. Only a few multi and megaplexes in Sydney have installed digital 3D cinemas. Rudely, some are charging their customers a “rental fee” for the 3D glasses to help off-set the cost of upgrading their technology. Recent rising attendances and box office takings would suggest that traditional 2D cinema still has a very long and healthy future ahead.

 With the cost of movie piracy to the US economy estimated to be US$61 billion annually,  there are also suggestions that the push for 3D cinema is specifically to protect copyright and claw back some of those huge losses. You see, 3D films can’t be pirated in the cinema, and ticket prices are usually higher for these movies.

 Ultimately, movie-going audiences will be drawn to good, well-told stories regardless of whether crazy glasses (or spears) are involved or not. If you’re a 3D fan, my advice would be to try out the ultimate in 3D entertainment…it’s called the theatre.

Published in: on December 9, 2009 at 11:30  Leave a Comment  
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