When James Cameron’s record breaking “Avatar” burst onto our screens in 2009, “3D” immediately became THE buzz word for the film industry. Although the notion of 3D films in cinema was nothing new, (anyone remember “Spy Kids 3D: Game Over”?) this was supposed to be a game changer. James Cameron seemingly spent his 12 year hiatus from film making inventing this brand new technology to really make 3D something worthwhile.
So before getting down to the nitty gritty, let me first discuss my own experience with the medium. I first experienced a 3D film years before Avatar was released when I visited Universal Studios, Orlando at the tender age of 9. One of the most exciting attractions was “Terminator 2: 3D: Battle Across Time”. A mini sequel to “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”, it used the classic gimmick of 3D filmmaking where objects are thrusted out in front of the audience.
Clip - T2-3D
When “Avatar” was eventually released, I was impressed by the depth it offered. It didn’t play to the gimmick very often and when it did, it made sense i.e. that shot early on of the mini golf set (the camera pans as the ball is putted directly towards the audience).
What was really mesmerizing about these experiences was they made me feel like apart of the film even more, as everything was playing out around me. It seemed that 3D or stereoscopic filmmaking had finally been brought out into the mainstream.
Clip - Avatar Trailer
The 3D market has since taken over the industry with film after film being released in the new medium. The number of worldwide 3D digital screens has increased from 9,000 in 2009 to 43,000 in 2012. Studios are making tons of money from new films and re-releases so you would think it is here to stay. But is it really? In this relatively short space of time, mainstream 3D has become a bit like Marmite: you either love it, or you hate it.
Filmmakers have expressed their opinions about it in years gone by; Big names such as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg have expressed their liking of it.
“It’s like seeing a moving sculpture of the actor and it’s almost like a combination of theatre and film … it immerses you in the story more” - Martin Scorsese at CinemaCon 2012
Not all filmmakers like it though. Christopher Nolan is known to have a disdain for 3D, having refused to shoot or convert both “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises” in 3D. More on this later on.
So here is my opinion of it, I am not much of a fan. After “Avatar”, films just didn’t live up to the promise anymore. For example, during “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” the picture would go really fuzzy whenever I tilted my head, meaning that I had to keep it perfectly still in order to enjoy the film. I just couldn’t relax at all! The good point about this particular experience was that it was in IMAX whose 3D glasses are quite big and were able to fit neatly over my normal glasses. This brings me onto my next point, I have to wear two pairs of glasses to watch these films! It wouldn’t bother me if the technology was impressive i.e. “Avatar” but paying over the odds for tickets to poorer quality ones such as “Pirates..” and “Clash of the Titans”, I am just no longer to prepared to do.
So if the opinion is so divided, what future does it have?
Filmmakers have been experimenting with various different techniques to incorporate 3D in a variety of ways. For instance, Robert Zemeckis preferred to use the technology to enhance the story for his film “Beowulf”. A recurring theme in “Beowulf” involved characters losing power so while this happened, the characters would start to lose their dimension. Subsequently, those who were gaining power were enhanced in their dimension. It was a very clever and unique way to further incorporate 3D into mainstream filmmaking.
What if filmmakers choose not to shoot or post convert their film into 3D? Would they even have a choice since it makes so much money? This was the problem faced by Christopher Nolan during the productions of “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises”. In both cases, the use of 3D would have gone against his vision for the two films. In terms of “The Dark Knight Rises”, he wanted to keep a focus on improving image quality using IMAX cameras, a mainstay of the previous two films.
“This is not starting over, this is not rebooting. We’re finishing something, and keeping a consistency with what’s come before has real value.” - Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight Rises.
The choice to screen “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2D certainly didn’t impact the success of the film as it grossed an estimated $448,130,642. But the argument of 2D films vs 3D films gets more interesting when talking about “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”. The 3D version of the film grossed £32.5 million at the box office whereas the 2D version grossed £34.6 million, almost half. So this is evidence that while 3D is still hugely popular with audiences; there are still people out there (like me) who are not willing to pay over the odds for a 3D movie.
3D has been very consistent over the last 4 years, so at the moment it seems that it is going to stick around for a few years at least. Studios just make too much money from new releases and re-releases to stop it simply because of some peoples opinions. For me, 3D can continue to be shown in cinemas just as long as the option for a 2D alternative still exists.