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2009 saw the start of a so-called revolution in cinema technology: 3-D. Cinemas installed new projectors allowing 3-D
films to be shown on a mass scale, not just on IMAX screens. A wide range of films were released in this new format, from My Bloody Valentine to Coraline, The Final Destination to Up, all leading toward the release of Avatar, the highest-grossing film of all time.
Hollywood is putting a lot of effort into making 3-D a success, with Alice in Wonderland already making a lot of money, and many future releases lined up to have the 3-D treatment.
But is 3-D really the future of cinema?
To answer that we must first have a quick history lesson. 3-D as a cinematic concept is nothing new. 3-D films were released in the 1950s and the 1980s, offering a fad to the audience. Of course as fads tend to do, it never lasted.
3-D was introduced back in those periods was because cinemas thought they were a threat to the business. In the ’50s it was the introduction of television, allowing mass viewing in the comfort in peoples homes for the first time, and in the ’80s it was home video, allowing people the chance to watch films whenever they wanted.
Often films releases in 3-D back then were B-Movies, like Jaws 3 and Friday the 13th 3, which often had a neat audience away.
By the 21st Century the threat to Hollywood has come from the Internet, particularly Internet piracy. The two-point argument was to give audiences an extra spectacle and make it harder for pirates to record films. But it’s not going to make a difference in the long run and people who want to see the film anyway will go to the cinema. X-Men Origins: Wolverine, for example, still made money after it was leaked onto the Internet.
But the difference between these periods and now is 3-D is not just the preserve of B-Movie schlock, but also some Hollywood’s biggest films. Already films such as Clash of the Titans and the final two Harry Potter films are given the 3-D treatment. John Lassetter, the head of Disney Animation, said all new Disney and Pixar will be in 3-D. A-List directors such as Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Alfonso Cuaron have been won over by the technology and already using or planning to work with it. Speilberg’s next film The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn has being filmed in 3-D and is one of the most antipated films of 2011.
Yet there are still lesser-known directors who are also interested in 3-D such Paul W. S. Anderson. Filming on Resident Evil: Afterlife has already begun in 3-D. Anderson has also stated he wants to film a new version of the Three Musketeers in 3-D.
An obvious reason for Hollywood executives and Cinema chains are excited about 3-D is because of the price rise for tickets. At my local big chain cinema it costs £7.65 for a regular adult ticket, but £9.90 for a 3-D feature. That is of course a big difference of £2.25 to see a film. That builds up, and makes people less likely to go to the cinema as often.
Many 3-D films are animated films, often for the whole family to enjoy. But this would make a trip to the cinema more expensive, nearly £40 for a two parents and two children, and then around £40 for a meal afterwards.
If cinema chains had real faith in 3-D, then the price raise surely would not need to be that high.
Avatar was a special case. It was a labour of love for James Cameron, taking years of effort, new cameras had to be developed and had the biggest budget ever for a film. However many films that are being show in 3-D, the first being Clash of the Titans, were done retrospectively by computer technicians. These are not filmed in 3-D and the effect is easily lost. The final two Harry Potter films are also getting the 3-D treatment, but are they going to be any better in 3-D when the previous six were perfectly good in 2-D?
Retro-fitting films in 3-D has drawn criticism from directors, critics and audiences. Critics in Britain and America have already been very critical of the rushed 3-D conversion for Clash of the Titans. British film critic Mark Kermode does not see a reason for 3-D, believing that it will fall away like it did in the ’50s and ’80s and that in the meantime, it’s just a way for studios to gain more money in the short term. James Cameron has been critical of retro-fitting films, not seeing this as the way it should be and so too is Michael Bay, who is not convinced to retro-fit Transformers 3 into 3-D or using James Cameron’s camera technology.
With technology we have not had a true 3-D experience. It is still an experience of things flying towards the audience or the background being putted away. A real 3-D experience would be if you moved your head then the whole angle would change. But technology has not reached this stage and it may never come.
Whilst cinemas can show films in 3-D, the home entertainment sector has not been able to match it yet. Television companies are trying to make 3-D TVs but besides price, people might find being at home wearing 3-D glasses looking silly. A company in India is pinning its hopes on 3-D TVs becoming big and plan to retrospectively make classic films like Casablanca into 3-D. Yet it’s arguable that classic films such as Casablanca or Lawrence of Arabia be any better in 3-D or that small ones such as Requiem for a Dream would gain any more power in 3-D.
3-D should not be set in stone as the future of cinema. Neither is it dead either, but it needs to be a rare treat like with Avatar, a massive and spectacular blockbuster shot especially in 3-D. Retro-fitting films should not become the norm and when audiences get sick of it then it will die out.