The backlash against 3D



by Cory Stringer

Unless you’ve been enjoying an extended vacation on the moon for the past year or so, you’ve probably noticed a new trend that Hollywood has become obsessed with: the return of 3D. Thanks to the overwhelming success of James Cameron’s “Avatar,” Hollywood has been rushing to release as many 3D films as they can.

In 2010 alone, the major studios released a record 25 films in the format, compared to the previous year, when they only released 11. For those who are keeping score, that means the amount of 3D films released in 2010 more than doubled the amount that were released in 2009.

Studio heads and defenders of the format are quick to point out that 6 of the top 10 highest grossing films released last year were 3D, while cranky movie-goers are quick to point out that the price of a ticket for a movie being shown in 3D is, on average, $3.00 more expensive than a ticket for a film being shown in traditional 2D.

Simply put, a studio can release almost any movie in 3D and rake in inflated grosses, thanks to premium ticket prices. It doesn’t even matter if the film was originally shot in 3D, either. Of the 25 films released in 3D in 2010, only a select few were actually filmed in the format. The rest of them were converted to 3D in post-production.

Many of the hasty post-conversion 3D jobs, such as the one done on “Clash of the Titans,” were deemed lackluster by audiences, with some complaining of headaches and nausea during the film.

Despite the complaints, the converted 3D films were initially very successful for the studios. However, as audiences became savvier about which films were natively shot in the 3D format, the box office grosses of films that were post-converted began to steadily decline, and a vocal backlash began to rear its ugly head not only over the 3D format, but over the often lousy quality of the 3D films themselves.

These complaints from audiences have become so common, not even James Cameron, the man who many say is responsible for the current 3D trend, can ignore them.

The “Avatar” director, who is currently working on a re-release of “Titanic” (which will be converted to 3D, of course) said that, “I do agree that there’s a consumer backlash and I actually think it’s a good thing, because what they’re lashing back against is some pretty crappy stuff. The consumer position is that if I’m going to pay premium for this ticket, you better show me the money.”

He means audiences won’t mind paying a premium ticket price if they’re going to see something that is of the same quality of his own “Avatar,” as opposed to M. Night Shyamalan’s widely despised “The Last Airbender,” which was hastily post-converted to 3D.

There is still an obvious question that needs to be answered: Is it really just the poor quality of many of the 3D films being released that’s responsible for the backlash, or is the problem with the 3D format itself?

Aside from the inflated ticket prices and terrible movies, many of the complaints have to do with the clunky glasses, which are necessary for the 3D effect to work, and are notorious for causing eye strain.

The sheer number of those questioned for this column who expressed their dissatisfaction with the glasses was overwhelming. It’s clear that audiences don’t like having to wear clunky, recycled glasses that have been worn on an infinite number of greasy, germy faces.

Love it or hate it, one thing is certain — the current 3D boom shows no signs of truly slowing down. This year will see an even greater number of films released in 3D. Thirty-three films have already been announced that will be released in 3D this year, such as the final installment of the Harry Potter franchise, as well as the latest “Pirates of the Carribbean” and “Transformers” sequels.

The silver lining in all of this is that the studios seem to be listening to the complaints from audiences, and are moving away from releasing post-converted 3D films. That’s something to consider as we slip on those glasses time and time again, hoping that we won’t catch monkey pox from whoever wore them before us.