Is 3D Finally Dying?

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Star Trek Into Darkness came out this past weekend. The movie isn’t all that great (read my review here), but one thing that most theaters were pushing was the IMAX 3D. Now, usually people flock out and pay the premium when it comes to event films like Into Darkness or even Iron Man 3, yet both films have had weaker 3D grosses than expected. Have viewers finally understood the difference between post converted 3D and real 3D or are they just sick of the gimmick altogether?

3D has always been around. Most people consider the birth of 3D to be around the time James Cameron released Avatar, but the truth is that 3D has been coming and going in phases for quite some time. To me, 3D was always a fun and gimmicky way to see an occasional horror movie. It made for a special trip to one of the only theaters that could actually properly project in 3D and the result was almost always a good time.

The last 3D movie I felt that way towards was My Bloody Valentine 3D.

But then came James Cameron with Avatar and everything changed. Theaters started to force the switch from film projectors to digital, which meant more reasons to project in 3D. The studios pushed this on by saying that they wouldn’t send out film prints past a certain date (I believe its December of this year). The studios also started pushing everything that was currently into production towards a post converted 3D process, while also forcing directors to make their new films in 3D or at least consider the extra dimension while filming.

And things started moving at a super-fast pace. Disney turned Alice in Wonderland into a 3D success rather quickly, while Warner Bros. made the poor decision of rushing Clash of the Titans into a post converted 3D mess, which most people consider to be the absolute worst.

Things got a little quieter as some directors embraced the format with style, class and respect, while others still only saw it as an annoying gimmick that they could use to increase the ticket sales of their films.

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Directors like Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Ang Lee, Steven Spielberg and many more embraced the new way of filmmaking with an actual understanding of how to maximize the viewing experience and create something truly unique. Films like Hugo, Prometheus, The Adventures of Tintin and more recently The Great Gatsby show just how important 3D can be to viewing films. If the director has a good use for the format and shoots it in 3D, then the result will show and definitely be worth the extra $3 dollars.

But if the choice is strictly business then it will fail. It might not fail at the box office, but it will fail with the audiences. Marvel has been post converting almost all of their Avengers movies and they’re continuing to do so with little effort. James Cameron still seems to be the only man that understands the post conversion process, because Titanic remains the absolute best piece of post converted 3D cinema and that film took him over a decade to get right.

Where this all gets very interesting is with the latest trend for 3D movies at the box office. Iron Man 3‘s opening weekend was massive, yet 3D only accounted for 45% of the total weekend gross. That’s off from The Avengers, which was 52%. Now this might not seem like a lot, but the following week Baz Luhrmann‘s The Great Gatsby opened to impressive numbers, yet 3D only accounted for 33%.

This is startling, because The Great Gatsby was pushed pretty hard for its 3D. That was one of the main reasons why I even suggested seeing it in theaters in my review, yet audiences chose to stick with the 2D version instead. Are they smartening up?

This week Star Trek Into Darkness failed to reach its predicted $100 million opening weekend, settling for somewhere in the $70 million range, with only 29% coming from 3D sales. Now I don’t know about you, but I find this trend to be rather interesting and possibly a taste of what’s to come.

It seems like audiences are finally coming around to the idea of 3D mostly being a waste of money. This is both good and bad news because I feel like the movie-going climate is about the all-or-nothing method and no one ever seems to be able to find a middle ground. Theaters don’t want half film and half digital projectors, which means film is now a dead format, except for those rare (and super awesome) theaters that still host 35mm screenings from time-to-time. And now 3D might face a similar fate.

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My fear with 3D is that if people disregard it altogether then studios will pull back on a mass of projects and not just the ones that don’t need the 3D in the first place. Instead of limiting the 3D to projects that actually require it, they’ll probably just tack it onto the massive sure-thing blockbusters, even if done with a last minute post conversion.

This could mean that directors that naturally have an interest with exploring 3D might get cutoff before even given the chance to present their idea. Studios might put down original ideas for native 3D content in exchange for funneling all of their money into post converting stuff that will for sure make them money.

3D is certainly here to stay for a little longer than the last phase. Video games are making use of the format at home and Blu-ray 3D is still kind of taking off. I think what’s hurting most is the studios forcefulness and the consumers hesitation. They keep bouncing off of each other, rarely finding common grounds. People don’t want to pay for shit 3D and they shouldn’t have to. They also don’t want to buy new Blu-ray players and TVs just to watch 3D at home.

The studios need to realize this and learn how to adapt to this. The numbers are dropping and it’s because they’re flooding the market. Almost every other week there’s a new 3D movie dropping, yet only one or two a month actually make use of the format. If the studios could perhaps pull back and rethink the entire process then maybe they’ll have a chance to keep 3D relevant for a little longer.

This summer already has two more big-budget studio-funded films that have been given the pointless 3D post conversion treatment. I’m of course talking about Man of Steel and Pacific Rim. Will these films continue the trend and turn in lower-than-average 3D ticket sales or are audience members just picking and choosing what they think will look better in 3D? Come August I think we’re going to have a much more clear answer.

I’ve grown tired of 3D already and I’m sure many of you have too. Let me know in the comments below where you stand on the whole 3D craze. Also, do you think this decline is going to continue?

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