Saturday, July 25, 2009

3-D Movies Here to Stay?

"Walt Disney's Jerry Bruckheimer-produced family flick "G-Force" opened with a very fine $11.5 million at the box office for what should be anywhere from a $30-35 million weekend. Hollywood types were curious if the talking rodents picture could overtake "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" after soft industry tracking, but it appears the kiddies were looking to move on to something new and the mouse house has another solid hit this summer.'

Saw the long-awaited G-Force today (please don't ask). It just opened Friday and, according to HitFix, it's narrowly beating The Ugly Truth. When I stepped up to the box-office window for the 4:20 matinee, the clerk asked for ten dollars per ticket. That might seem ok to my sophisticated city friends, but out here in the Pennsylvania hinterlands, them's fightin' words.

So I said to the guy, "I thought this was a matinee."
"It's in 3-D," was his phlegmatic reply. Well, it wasn't as bad as the twenty-eight bucks I had shelled out for two Jonas Bros. in 3-D tickets a couple of months ago (alright, I have a young daughter that drags me to these things), but today I kept the promise I made to myself then, and I got the tickets for the 2-D gopher movie playing an hour later--for the matinee price of seven bucks a ticket. "We don't like wearing those clunky glasses anyway, right?" I asked my film-buddy. "Right," she said, emphatically. Oh, I've trained her well.

So is this where we are headed? Is 3-D going to last longer than the 30 months it lasted the last time the process attempted a beach-head landing back in the 'fifties? Perhaps I should have accepted the assignment to write an article on the promise of low budget 3-D processes being developed even as we speak. But it seemed boring and so trendy at the time, three months ago.

Last year's 3-D Journey to the Center of the Earth was made for 60 million and to date has cleared 240 million. Coraline, also made for 60 million, is on track to gross the same world wide. Regardless of its ridiculous 173 million dollar budget, Monsters Vs. Aliens has made $374 million worldwide in only four months. hmmmmm.

Granted, all these 3-D movies also play in 2-D, so it's hard to say whether or not they would have made the same amount without the gimmick, but the point is they seem to be doing better than their fifties counterparts and being produced more aggressively by more studios this time around. The competition in the past was television. Today it's blu-ray, video games and the internet that's lighting a fire under production companies to so boldly think outside the 2-D box. The truth of the matter is that 3-D this time around has already been around for much more than 30 months. It's been cropping up with increased frequency since the early nineties, but 2008-2009 must be setting some records that go beyond the sixties and eighties revivals discussed in Wikipedia

The main difference this time around seems to be that the process is being applied not just to loser titles that the studios are attempting to hedge bets on. Up opened the Cannes Film Festival, names like Spielberg and Burton are mixed up in ongoing 3-D projects, James Cameron's first movie since Titanic is Avatar. It's being hyped *because* it's in 3-D, not *just* that Cameron's doing it (for $235 million), and *all* future Disney/Pixar titles are set to be released in Disney Digital 3-D. So yeah, this time around, it does seem to be happening differently. But I think I'll wait until Woody Allen or the Coen Bros. announce their 3-D projects to write that article.


  1. Is it about using 3-D for the sake of it? Or using it because the subject lends itself to the experience. Having seen Monsters v. Aliens:3D, Up:3D and Avatar:3D I observe two things. Firstly, the new generation of 3-D is fantastic, because it's being done in a new way, and secondly, we now go more often to classical music concerts at The Royal Albert Hall, or to the plays of Shakespeare in London's Globe Theater. No, we haven't fallen out of love with film, it's just more expensive now than the other options for a family special.

    About the technology, theaters no longer need two projectors aligned by a specialist. One digital projector running at 144fps alternately projects the left-eye image and then the right-eye image. The result is perfect alignment: you can tilt your head quite a long way before the picture goes fuzzy. And the 3-D works, whether it's coming out at you, as in many of the trailers we've seen, or goes away from you, as in Avatar.

    But I heard that Monsters v. Aliens:3D had something like 1,000 quad-core computers in a farm just to crunch the data. High-speed projection uses up a lot of frames. And I think that's going to be the limiting factor for independent film-makers, although I would love to see the first attempt succeed!

  2. my apologies treehousedaddy. even after you left your comment referring to your first comment, blogspot had it somewhere in the ether and I could not retrieve it.

    You raise some excellent points. I find that very few movies lend themselves to 3D and that more often it's a case of a shot here and there being made because "oh yeah, we're shooting in 3D".

    I'm grumpy about 3D the same way die-hards were first about sound and then about technicolor ("who needs it?"). I'll soon be the oddity I thought they were.

  3. By the way. I've seen Avatar now. The first time, in 2D. Then for about an hour in 3D. I have to say that in the theater in which I saw it, which normally has excellent projection (Texas Instruments), the 3D version was slightly over-exposed. 2D was perfect.
    But more importantly, I noticed that when some filmmakers (like Cameron) are shooting 3D, it seems to force them to make shots that are more interesting than usual in 2D. This could be Cameron, who has a phenomenal eye and uses great cinematographers, but it might have that effect in the general community. Depth is something all cinematographers should aspire to, but it isn't alwasy on their minds. If you have a director swatting you on the back of the head with a rolled up copy of script reminding you the movie is going to be projected in 3D, it might benefit the 2D experience as well.