3D Heart Attack
We've been hearing more and more about 3D for the last few years. The real driving force behind 3D has always been to rake in more money. Will people pay a premium for a movie in 3 dimensions? Apparently, yes. But for how long?
3D movies have inundated the public consciousness over the summer. Releases such as Coraline and Up have met with rave reviews while movies like My Bloody Valentine made money arguably only because of the format. The public is definitely aware of the format and is willing to pay extra for it. For now.
3D movie ticket prices are commanding typically a $3 premium over standard tickets and sometimes even more. Many theaters don't offer matinee pricing for 3D movies as well. This can leave a pretty big sticker shock for moviegoers the first time they experience it. It also sets a pretty high standard for a movies they are now paying up to 2-3x's as much for. Do they think it is worth it?
A cursory glance at comments on Internet forums will show a good mix of reactions to the format. Everything from intense love to burning hate. The fact remains, however, that according to industry reports, 3D sales alone boosted the movie industry as a whole last summer. Says Kimberly Maki, executive director of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineer, "Movies released in 3D generate two to three times the revenue of the same titles in 2D - and in some cases, as much as six times." That's a huge difference.
The problem - more and more 3D movies are coming out while the number of screens available is very limited. Recent numbers suggest that there are about 4000 screens in North America with somewhere around 6000 worldwide. That's not a lot. Talk to 3D movie makers and ask them about their revenue and they'll sing you a song about how another movie bumped them off the 3D screens early (Coraline bumped by Disney's Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, Up was bumped by G-Force). What they don't mention is how they bumped someone else (Coraline bumped My Bloody Valentine, and Up bumped Monsters vs. Aliens). All in all, it's been very contentious. And with ~30 3D movies slated for release, this doesn't look like it will let up any time soon.
So what about in the home? Panasonic showed off recently a 50" plasma capable of full 1080p 3D scheduled for sale in 2010. That puts real 3D in the hands of consumers remarkably soon. We've already had access to 3D-capable screens from Samsung, JVC, and more. Unfortunately, they have mostly worked only for PCs and games. The new Panasonic is supposed to work with 3D capable Blu-ray players (no word on exactly what that is yet or if it will require another purchase).
So where does that leave us? Look past the excitement, look past the hype and you'll find yourself right where you were in the 80's when you saw Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D for the first time - sure it was neat but what was the big deal? 3D died once because no one wanted to wear the glasses, the movie studios stopped wanting to pay extra to make the movies, and frankly, no one cared enough. I'm not saying that 3D can't be cool - it can. But the only reason we are getting all these 3D movies is because movie theaters are faltering. If not for that, we'd be living with 2D until someone got around to building a holodeck.
Even people that love the format agree that it is a gimmick. Too often you are (somewhat literally) slapped in the face by the 3D movie you are watching. It is as if the director is afraid to let you get too into the movie without reminding you that they paid extra for the format. With 3D moving into the home, you can expect consumer interest to wane. Reports have suggested that the number of people going to the theaters hasn't really changed, some of them are being persuaded to pay more for the 3D version of the movie. How long before budgetary concerns put a halt to that? How long before you hear people saying, "I'll watch the 3D version at home," or (like many people I know), "You've lost your mind if you think I'm paying that for a movie, 3D or no."
Headaches from the glasses, having to wear glasses at all, less immersion into the story and plot of the movie, and the overall gimmickiness of the format are conspiring against 3D. Do you need to see reruns of Seinfeld in 3D? Do you need to see much of anything in 3D? Sure, it's nice as a change but I'm guessing people will want it sparingly. A little bit goes a long way.
Unfortunately for the studios, they don't really have a 'Stop' button. They are going to pump out 3D movies as fast as possible to capitalize on the extra income they believe they can get. And for a while, it will work. But I'm guessing by this time next year (or the year after at the latest), you're going to hear a different tune out of the studios. They will be scaling back their 3D offerings. They'll be more selective with 3D. Only the biggest movies will have the 3D option such as most of the summer blockbusters and anything that Pixar sneezes at.
The only thing that may change this is if either the number of 3D equipped theaters increases dramatically (next summer they are predicting that 3D movies will have less than 2 weeks on the 3D screens), or if the home market really takes off. And I'm betting neither of these happen. 3D is not dead, it's just overeating its way to a heart attack and a change of lifestyle.
Probably the best 3D feature, for me, was the "Toy Story Double Feature;" you don't see double features much these days, they're both good movies, and the 3-D conversion of "Toy Story" was really great. (Precisely because it was understated. The 3-D work in "G-Force" was also very strong, and did a great job of combining CG and live action footage.
"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" and "Toy Story 2" didn't play off as well in 3-d (in my opinion) because the lighting was different: both of those had rich imagery based on transmitted light. One problem, I think, is that RealD has only about 95% separation between the left and right eye: there's a scene in TS2 where I noticed a double image of the moon because it was shining through both lenses. That really extreme dynamic range doesn't happen so much in scenes that are basically lit in reflective light, so the double images get lost in the other scenery. I think also that we're used to applying depth perception to reflective lit situations, so that transmitted light visuals are a little unnatural in 3D. I appreciate what the director of "Cloudy" was trying to do with transmitted light, but it came across as just a little strange.
The future? My son and I are going to keep going to movies until we decide to do something else on Saturdays, then maybe we'll fall back into the "go to the movies when something special is playing" mode. 3-d certainly adds some fun to kids movies, and it can be really well done: some people might think "G-Force 3D" is beneath contempt, but technologically it was a tour de force.
The "home theater" in our house is really more of a "home computer" that gets used as an entertainment center. We're certainly thinking about upgrading the computer monitor to maybe a 32'' or 36'' HDTV. I'd certainly consider a 3-D HDTV, particularly if it worked well with games and 3-d modelling applications. Hollywood is making good enough 3-D content that I can imagine buying some 3-D titles on Blu Ray.
Caroline also looked great in the theater, but the 3D version on Bluray was horrible, the colors were all either red or greenish and looked very washede out and I found myself switching to 2D about 15 minutes into because it was giving me a headache.
"Up" was by far the best 3D movie I have ever seen in the theaters and I wish, wish wish that they would release 3D Blurays with those polarized lenses instead of the 50's red and blue lenses. The polarized lenses don't wash out the colors at your home and using 3D with them is far superior than the old style glasses.
I have a pair of polarized at home and can attest to the fact that it doesn't wash out the colors at home.
Watch the Blu-Ray extra features for Coraline, the faces were 100% not CG, except for 2 minor characters, the old ladies, if I recall correctly. They actually go into the specifics of all the stop motion used in the facial dolls, and heads, and how the eyes/mouths were moved hundreds of times individually.
Wow. There was ZERO CG treating of the faces outside of the old ladies? hah. I could have SWORN otherwise. Amazing.
My friend saw Beowulf in 3d (IMAX I think it was), and he told me that he instinctively ducked sometimes during action sequences.