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3-DBusinessFeature Film

Four Theories on the Death of 3-D

3D Kid

Slate offers four theories on (what they’re calling) the “death of 3-D.” The article points out that theater screens showing Cars 2 in 3-D earned 5 percent less than theater screens showing the same film in 2-D, reflecting an industry-wide downward spiral in 3-D grosses that has been happening all summer long. And if I understood the article correctly, Kung Fu Panda 2 earned 65% less on a per-screen basis from 3-D showings than 2-D versions. Based on this information, it would be reasonable to assume that the sequel to Kung Fu Panda wouldn’t have earned $50 million less than the original in the US if the film had been shown in 2-D only.

All this, and to think that it was only 16 months ago that 3-D was the future of filmmaking:

  • Just saw Brian May’s “BRIEF HISTORY OF 3D” which I recommend to everyone. One of the things that “stuck out” was listening as contemporary film makers said that they wanted to avoid just that as, in their feeling, seeing things stick out of the screen takes us out of the movie.

    I liked GREEN LANTERN (may be in a minority here) but I was damned to wonder what happened to the 3D. Ditto TOY STORY 3, THOR and more.

    A great film to watch is STREET DANCE 3D which makes terrific use of what is called “Z” space in its choreography.

    Watching contemporary 3D movies has become like listening to great music with the volume turned down to a whisper.

    One of the most arresting moments I have encountered was listening to Russian composer Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov talk about scoring the 1965 Russian film of Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE. The words are, “We were creating an entertainment..”

    Not “we were creating a great picture out of a classic and important Russian literary masterpiece,” (which Tolstoy’s book is) but the humbler, “We were creating an entertainment.”

    I can not help but feel that audiences seeing the latest batch of 3D films come away the way I walked away from the films I have seen wondering, “Where’s the beef?”

    Both GREEN LANTERN and THOR could and should have had much more dramatic use of “Z” space, especially during the climax (which, people, should always be a cinematic orgasm or we, the audience, feel cheated).

    I recommend Brian May’s documentary to everyone. His hair is terrible (God bless old Rock Stars and their hair) but his film is wonderful, especially as it explores the fascinating world of early 3D.

    But there again, they mute the “Z” space effect of the classic 3D clips they use.

  • Fleischer Fan

    Humans seem to have an endless capacity for ignoring the lessons of history. 3-D has been a fad before. It will die out and then become a fad again a few years down the road.

    It really adds nothing to the dramatic impact of a story. That’s why theatrical plays can be filmed with both versions having artistic validity.

    3-D is great as a theme park attraction where it can be presented using its gimmick simply for what it is, but in a theater, it is hardly worth the extra ticket surcharge.

    • Funkybat

      This current version of “3D” is probably the most believable and enjoyable one I’ve seen so far. The kitschy red-blue 3D of the 70s and 80s was pretty much intolerable to me, and I wasn’t surprised to see it fade away.

      My main beef with the current 3D films is the surcharge, if it were a dollar or maybe two I could deal with it, but at $4 or more per showing, and no option to pay less and re-use glasses you hung onto from before, it presents a “barrier to entry” for me and other people I know. I think the last time I paid extra just to see something in 3D was for Toy Story 3. Aside from Coraline and Avatar, there haven’t been any films where I felt it was worth paying that much more to see the 3D version.

      If the 3D trend/fad continues, I hope that it is limited to movies where it was filmed using special 3D cameras. The post-converted ones are lame, and I won’t pay for them under any circumstances after seeing the terrible difference.

  • Tim Hodge

    Somewhere, someone is crying, “But I just bought my 3D TV!”

    I actually like 3D, but in smaller doses than the film industry has dumped on us in recent history. I collect Viewmaster and I take my own stereoscopic photos. I have books of stereo photos taken during the Civil War, it’s a great window into the past.
    I am still fascinated with how depth can turn an average photo’s composition and make it quite dynamic.

    Yet, in motion pictures, it just seems to lose its impact. Especially when you have to shell out five bucks more.

    I think it’s like going to a restaurant where they double the spices. Yeah, there’s more flavor.. but I can’t taste the meal any more.

    • Personally, I bought my 3D TV mostly for gaming, and figured that 3D movies would be a slight bonus. So far it’s been very slight.

  • One important note here is that both of the movies made mention of are children/family — which means that the increased cost will be a much bigger factor when a family determines whether to see a 2D or 3D version.

    It’s easy to forget that where we see art, most members of the viewing public see something to keep the kids quiet on an afternoon.

  • Ted Whilson Moon III

    Ignored in the 3D debate was the lowly house fly. No 3D glasses were mass produced for creatures with more than two eyes. There are billions more flies than humans and if each one flew in with just one dollar, 3D would be a buzzing success. Hollywood would just have to offer two hour movies filled with excrement. Oh, wait.

  • I agree with most of what’s posted above (at least the first four). To Fleischer Fan: It is a gimmick so some of the early ticket sales had to be the novelty factor; and it has failed in the past, but those systems were so inferior that it was worth another try and may still survive. Don’t forget for almost the entire rebirth of 3D we have been gong through the worst economic downturn since the great depression, and even though the movie business flourished in the 30’s the box office was way down from the years before the stock market crash. The theaters and studios should take this into account and lower the surcharge.

    • Funkybat

      I think some bookeepers in Hollywood had unrealistic expectations of movie theater business during this recession/depression/whatever it is. They need to remember that entertainment options in the first half of the 20th century were extremely limited compared to today. Aside from the movie theater, all people really had as far as escapism was radio, books, live music, and live theatre. There were circuses, carnivals and other assorted traveling “entertainments” but on an average day you only had a few choices for entertainment. Once TV came out, Hollywood suffered and had to realign (killing of shorts, newsreels, and cartoons) and now with the internet, DVD/Blu Ray, illegal downloads, YouTube, Hulu, etc. etc. it’s just that much more of a divided market.

      Movie theaters need to cut prices and promote the hell out of their doing so if they want to lure people back. Oh, and a little more enforcement of behavior rules would help. If I have to put up with one more jackass talking on/playing with his/her cell phone in the theater, let alone talking loudly during the film….

  • tgentry

    I don’t think it’s dead entirely, it just needs to be used with care. I’d love to see an ‘event’ type movie like Tron or Avatar in 3D. I don’t want to see something like Fright Night or Conan, whether the effect and impact is minimal to non-existent. Some movies you just want to see as a cheap matinee. Unfortunately I passed on several movies in theaters this year because my local theater chose only to run them in 3D.

  • J Lee

    So now that the 3-D craze is dying down, does this mean J.L.’s going to reopen the Warner Bros. cartoon studio?

  • Josef

    I would like to watch movies in 3D, but I wear eyeglasses and it’s extremely annoying to wear 2 sets of glasses. I’m not willing to pay more for an uncomfortable experience as it’s already expensive and I’m not about to spend $200-500 on a pare of prescription 3D glasses either. Until 3D becomes less of a hassle, I’m very happy with standard 2D films.

  • There seems to be a lack of good content to lend itself to 3-D. It will find a market. You can’t keep looking at the past and holding it up as the example entirely for the end outcome. Personal computers, the internet, or streaming films for that matter suffered many stumbling blocks. It’s current iteration are only stumbling blocks to a whole new future of entertainment. The problem is it’s being used as a gimmick as opposed to a filmmaking option which causes many to jump on the it’ll never work bandwagon. I agree Tron and Avatar were used taking into consideration why present in 3-D, an after thought or gimmick. Snow white wasn’t suppose to be sucessful, and no other studio could replicate Walt Disney’s sucess.
    In the end we are only seeing the beginning of 3-D as a entertainment experience.

    • in my comment I meant the sentence to state: I agree Tron and Avatar were used taking into consideration why present in 3-D, as opposed to an after thought or a gimmmick.

    • Funkybat

      The difference between 3D and innovations like PC’s the Internet and streaming video is that each of those enabled major changes in how information and media were accessed, delivered, and selected by individual viewers. They changed the nature of how people received information.

      3D is merely a shift in how a particular type of media (moving images) are presented. It’s more analogous to color film superseding black and white. There were people who saw color as a needless fad, and indeed, black and white films persisted into the 1960s, and are still done today as a niche thing. I doubt 3D will be as big as color until it can be done without the use of glasses or other prostheses. A holodeck-type experience would certainly make staring at a screen seem quaint, but even that would still probably not entirely kill off flat-wall screening of motion pictures entirely. I’m hoping that this theory holds true for 2D animated cartoons, and that they will always have a place at the table of mainstream entertainment, even if the mid-90s are never to be repeated.

      • Totally agree with you, but I don’t think we would have ever taken a step forward toward that experience, without going through this whole phase.
        I just meant skeptical doubt during the time period of the innovation. No one knows the outcome at the beginning, we just reflect on the end result. I should have just said making an enitre film in 3-d (al la, Pixar’s 1st film).

  • I don’t want to say I told you so… but I TOLD YOU SO – two years ago: http://www.cartoonbrew.com/ideas-commentary/3-d-is-a-fad.html

    • Steve Gattuso

      Wasn’t much of a stretch. You’d have had longer odds predicting the tides and that the sun will rise. ;3

  • The big problem with 3D movies these days is that nothing pops out of the screen! I don’t care about the screen being a window into the movie, I want things poking out at me. That’s what 3D was made for.

    That Muppet 3D movie at Disney World is a better 3D experience than 90% of the movies today, and that thing was made in 1990!

  • the per-screen analysis is potentially misleading without more information.

    For example, at my nearest theater they had about two 3D screenings of Cars2 for every 2D screening.

    Suppose the audience was split 60 willing to pay for 3D and 40 only willing to pay for 2D.

    60 3D tickets at $13 ($780)divided by 2 screens is $390 per screen

    40 2D tickets at $10 for one screen is $400 per screen.

    Total gross $1180

    Yes, the 2D screen made more “per screen” but by having those 3D screens out there they were able to claw in an extra $180 from people willing to pay for the 3D and less willing to wait for less frequent showings.

    Consider that three 2D screens available to the same audience would have only brought in $1000 at the 2D ticket price of $10 rather than the $1180 that 3D+2D brought in.

    Or perhaps it would have brought in even less as some of those potential 3D buyers might have said “I’ll wait for the DVD if the theater is just showing plain old 2D”

    Conversely, three 3D screens probably would have scared off too many 2D preferers. There’s probably an optimum mix for every film.

    Does it cost Pixar 18% more to also release a 3D version of Cars2? I doubt it. 3D probably helped them even if the “per screen” looked weak.

    I’m sure someone at every studio is sitting with a spreadsheet doing a more detailed analysis than mine. When they ascertain that 3D is genuinely costing them more overall than it lures in, they will stop making them.

    But “per screen” is a meaningless metric without more context.

  • Good and mature scripts, with themes relevant for the times we are living, would be better than optical illusions, Mr Katzenberg.

    • Jason H

      Those horrible Transformers movies would like a word with you.

    • Funkybat

      Good films with mature scripts probably wouldn’t lend themselves to 3D presentation anyway. Hard to image the Coen Bros. or Scorsese ever feeling the need for such a thing. Action, fantasy, horror and animation really are the only kinds of films suited to 3D.

      • Funkybat

        Well, shows what I know; turns out Scorsese is a big fan of 3D’s potential, and is working on a 3D film right now. “Hugo Cabaret” seems to have a strong “fantasy” element to the story, so it might just be worth it. Still, I doubt “No Country for Old Men” or “The Departed” would really benefit from a third dimension.

  • SKent.

    3D is fantastic, and it certainly isn’t going away. But the fad might just die down a bit temporarily.

    It’s like how every studio got into the 2d animation business after Lion King, and then later the CG animation business after Shrek. For a short period even lousy films benefit by association(see Clash of the Titans and Alice in Wonderland). Audiences like Shrek and want to see more like it, so they’ll go for something that resembles it superficially. But eventually the technique becomes so exploited and abused that it can come to signify mediocrity, and so lose its value with the public.

    But 3D isn’t through by a long shot. Look at the 10 top-grossing films worldwide. Six are 3D. That was never true in the past. Not in the 80s, and not in the 50s. There were successes, but never before on this level.

    3D tvs are reaching the masses. It’s going to happen, and they’re going to want content. You can piss and moan about it, but you do have a choice. I can turn off the colour and watch films in B&W if I really wanted to.

  • 3D is a gimmick. Not there’s anything wrong with that. Gimmicks can be fun sometimes. But as long as you have to wear glasses and it adds additional expense to the ticket buyer, it will always be a just a gimmick.

    • Funkybat

      Makes me wonder, did theaters charge a surcharge for 3D films back in the 50s and 60s when it was new? I’m sure those paper/plastic glasses cost a lot less to make than the current ones, but even the current ones cost way less than $4 a pair. Most of that money is to fund the projector upgrades, but shhhh, don’t tell the customer that!

  • ZiggyStardust

    i still haven’t seen a movie in 3d and i dont really care to

  • Here is one of the best “scientific” opinions I’ve come across of “Why 3D doesn’t work and never will. Case closed.” (Any thoughts?): http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/01/post_4.html

  • James Fox

    I like the 3D technology, it adds to the illusion of the film

    films like Up, Coraline, Kung Fu Panda 2 and TRON Legacy (to name a few) make great use of the 3D technology

    Where as films like Just Dance 3D and the upcoming A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas just fully abuse the technology just to add a cheap wow factor

    My belief is Kung Fu Panda 2 got less than expected because of harsh competition.. namely, The Hangover Part 2 not because of the 3D

    If filmmakers can make great use of the 3D technology than confidence in it can rise up like it did when Coraline was released

  • Of course Katzenberg is going to defend 3D movies… The dude drops millions on the tech and promotion of the stuff. He probably (hopefully) knows its lame and dying, but he’s not just going to come out and say it is he? – “hey everyone, I’m a total moron and couldn’t see that 3D was just a fad, just like it was so many years ago. Sorry about that, my bad. …thanks for spending your money on it though!”

  • David Breneman

    I’ve been an avid stereographer (since high school) for 35 years. Done well, stereo photography can transport you into a time and place, or take you into a wonderful fantasy realm like no other visual medium. Done poorly, it’s just a gimmick. Either way, it takes a lot more time, effort and money than most people want to put into it (much like Edison’s experiments in talking pictures in the 1900s). Like color before it, until it is effortless for the presenter and viewer, it will always be a niche format. Hopefully the “death” of commodity stereo won’t, this time, mean the death of artistic stereo cinema.

  • Mark Sonntag

    Many 3D films are 3D done in post as opposed to shot that way, Harry Potter was pointless in 3D. In my opinion though I’m sure the cost of seeing a 3D movie has more to do with the downward spiral.

    • Funkybat

      I recommend that anyone who actually cares about the future of the 3D format refuse to spend any money going to the “post-converted” 3D films, see them presented in 2D instead. I can always tell when a film wasn’t *really* shot in 3D, it is a much less enjoyable experience. Instead, occasional extreme shots “pop” and remind you that “oh yeah, this movie is supposed to be 3D, right? And I’m wearing these crummy glasses for two hours for what, exactly?”

      Avatar looked amazing in 3D, even if it was a retread of Ferngully. Coraline was fantastic, I have yet to see it in 2D because I don’t want to lose the sense of being *in* that world I felt in the theater. Alice in Wonderland was bad (both 3D wise and as a film) and the other post-converted 3D films I’ve seen were no better when it came to feeling like I was “there.”

      Most of the post-converted films were converted only because the films were “tentpole” type movies that executives figured “deserved to be in 3D” because they were heavily marketed and were either action or fantasy-oriented.

      We need to send a message that, if you really care that much about making your next blockbuster in 3D, arrange for it ahead of time before shooting starts, and give the director the equipment and crew needed to film in *real* 3D from the start.

  • [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Be considerate and respectful of others in the discussion. Defamatory, rude, or unnecessarily antagonistic comments will be deleted.”]

  • I think that if the right film was done in the right way, and only released on 3D screens, it could be really successful. There hasn’t really been that break out 3D film yet that proves the technology is worthwhile, when done correctly. Maybe Cameron’s “Avatar” came close?

  • Arthur F.

    Surely factored into all this is the teenage audience, who do not go to movies to just watch with stupid glasses on that make them looking even dumber than they feel, and get in the way of other-than-watching-action. It’s a reality factor that shouldn’t be overlooked.

    • James Fox

      Let’s be honest about this, the Teen audience is the clueless demo that thinks anything from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer is “funny” but in reality it’s garbage

      3D can work given if the film which uses it can use the technology to a great potential

      great examples of great use of 3D are: TRON Legacy, Coraline, Up, Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland (the Tim Burton film) and Kung Fu Panda 2 to name a few

      films like Step Up 3D and the upcoming a Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas just abuse the technology just to make it look like a cheap novelty wow factor

      Avatar was great in 3D but the film itself is forgettable and bland

      3D can improve the illusion of the film, It just needs the right people to make it work

      • David Breneman

        Even “Tron” had numerous instances in which items appearing in front of the stereo window were cut off by the window (although, of course, fewer of them the closer you sat to the screen). This is the First Inviolate Rule of stereo photography, and Disney of all studios violated it. Disappointing.

  • What everyone is leaving out here are the tremendous series of Imax 3D documentary films.

    Ray Zone’s CONVERSATIONS WITH 3D FILMMAKERS is a first rate introduction to what is happening with them. From the blurb: “Although numerous books about conventional filmmaking exist, none has solely addressed the challenges and production requirements of making stereoscopic motion pictures–until now. Stereographer and film historian Ray Zone presents the insights of twenty-one professionals who have worked in this specialized field. In this unique collection of interviews, Zone explores the art and craft of 3-D filmmaking with producers, screenwriters, directors, and cinematographers.”

    I also recommend R. M. Hayes’ 3-D movies: a history and filmography of stereoscopic cinema “3-D Movies is the first full and accurate history of the 3-D film from the earliest part of the twentieth century to the present. Full technical specifications are included, sometimes with equipment photos. An exhaustive filmography covers over 200 films with never-before-published credits and details. The serious researcher and 3-D fan alike will be delighted to find here details unavailable from any other source on such features as The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dial M for Murder, House of Wax, Captain EO, Metalstorm, Hondo, Kiss Me Kate, Miss Sadie Thompson…. The book is profusely illustrated with stills, ad illustrations and behind-the-scenes photos.”

    And Bernard Mendiburu’s 3D Movie Making: Stereoscopic Digital Cinema from Script to Screen “Hollywood is going 3D! Join the revolution with this primer to all of the essential skills for live action 3D, from preproduction through distribution. 3D perception and science is presented in an accessible way that provides the principles of Stereoscopic vision you need to make the transition from the 2D world. Tools of the trade are enumerated with an eye on current constraints and what is coming down the pike to smooth the way. Step-by-step instructions detail how 3D processes affect every stage of the production including screenwriting, art direction, principle photography, editing, visual effects and distribution. The companion DVD includes an array of 2D and 3D images that demonstrate concepts and techniques, 3D movie shorts that showcase alternative techniques, After Effects project files to explore and manipulate for effect, and a resource list of software tools and tutorials that demonstrate techniques. *Understand state-of-the-art 3D movie technology *Tutorials demonstrate 3D pictures with off-the-shelf equipment *Step-by-Step analysis of the production process for a real-world 3D movie helps you to know how to adapt your skills.” This comes with a dvd.

    The people creating the Imax 3D Documentaries seem to me to be the ones most using the medium creatively.

    Perhaps the folks creating more commercial fare should study them.

    3D is here to stay.




  • Billy Batz

    failed live action producer slumming it.Enough damage done, time to retire

  • Eh. Sometimes I slump over to one side when watching a movie, my head propped on my hand, almost sideways. There goes the 3D. At home, I often watch TV completely sideways on the couch. That would kill 3D in the living room. Proper stereo requires the audience to sit up straight, eyes oriented closely to the horizontal. It’s like some kind of posture exercise.

  • The simplest answer is not that the public has lost its taste for 3D films but that the public is weary of seeing so many of the same type of films.

    Few will argue that DUCK SOUP is the best of the Marx Brothers movies but it tanked when it came out.

    Some of the best work of Buster Keaton laid a huge egg on first release.

    Chaplin’s MONSIEUR VERDOUX (a personal favorite) showed Charlie’s keen edge very sharply but that edge asked the audience to laugh at murder.

    David Selznick was told there was no market for Civil War pictures. He made GONE WITH THE WIND anyway.

    Earlier Richard Rowland, of METRO, was told with World War One over the audience was gone for war films. He made THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE anyway. That turned out to be the top box office film of the silent era and the only film that went past the mark set by D. W. Griffith’s THE BIRTH OF A NATION.

    None of the films so far produced in 3D are anywhere near the caliber of those two films artistically but commercially AVATAR hit the big one.

    So to say the medium of 3D is dead is to repeat a tired refrain that has afflicted the various genres of the motion picture industry since its inception.

    The ones who least get it have pretty well always been the college and university bred who make films for the kinds of people who ruined the movies, by which I mean the ones who historically turn their noses at the new as “bastard” or “illegitimate” (to use the polite term) which is how the “educated” viewed the movies at their birth (these folk only appreciate stallions when they are transformed into geldings).

    We have yet to see a film that uses 3D the way Orson Welles used 2D.

    That film, when it arrives may not be a popular success. CITIZEN KANE sure as Hell wasn’t.

    So let us please end all discussion that the numbers of bums sat on seats for a movie is somehow an indication of its merits.

    And don’t for a moment imagine I am saying great movies can not also be commercial triumphs.

    They can.

    That’s why there is no room for snobs (which, it appears to me, are what the anti-3D crowd is made of).

    I am reminded of Dan Wakefield reviewing Jack Kerouac for THE NATION in 1958. Wakefield writes of a young poet, Richard Wilbur, reading his poetry to a large crowd at New York University in contrast to Kerouac reading his to a handful of folks at the Village Vanguard. He writes, “Richard Wilbur was born in 1921, as is thereby entitled to inclusion as a member of the Beat Generation…He has never recited his work at the Village Vanguard, quotes heavily from Greek and medieval philosophers, and is currently teaching a Shakespeare course at Weslayean University. Richard Wilbur is 36 years old and Jack Kerouac is 35. The painful difference is that Wilbur is a man and Kerouac is a kid.

    “To go from the university lecture hall to the Village Vanguard…was to realize there is no such thing as a “generation”; that there are born each year a certain number of men and a certain number of boys; that out of each era in our national history there comes a few poets and a few poor boys who wander with words…”

    Right now the movies are dominated by the kinds of men and women that writer would approve of.

    And it is my opinion the public, as it always does of those who play it safe, has simply grown tired not of 3D movies but of the people who make them.

    It’s time to let some poor boys handle the ship.

    As Salvador Dali put it, and as Henri Langlois also put it, “It is good taste not bad taste which is the enemy.”

  • edward

    5:40 he says “whole nother…”

    • Trevor

      Kind of hard for this to be relevant to the discussion when as far as I could tell, there was no option for a 2d showing

  • The theatre chains are complaining about 3D , while they raise ticket prices past $20. If they cut prices and relied on volume, things would change.

    VHS movies were once $80-$120 each. Then around the time of Dances With Wolves, they cut the price overnight to $19.95 and the home video market exploded.

    Why pay up to $100 for a family of four plus popcorn, when you could wait a few weeks and see it for $3.50 at home?