Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Quick Thought on the 3-D Craze

(This has been a really busy week, so I'm not giving you the mid-week update you're used to. Expect a weekend Sports Rumblings column and a film entry to the best of the decade list in the future.)

If you follow upcoming film productions at all, you would know that every studio is jumping on the 3-D bandwagon. About seventeen major productions will be released in 2009 alone. This is not a fad. In fact, with the rolling out of 3-D televisions within the next decade, and with truly visionary filmmakers experimenting with the format--James Cameron's upcoming Avatar is by all accounts a game-changer--this is probably the future of going to the movies.


"Over there is the spot where I burn piles of money." (I encourage you to read some of the buzz on Avatar. Very credible people are saying things like, "I couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't.")

There are three main reasons cited for the craze. Part one is, as it was in 3-D's 1950s heyday, gimmick designed to keep people coming to theaters when it actually seems less necessary than ever. (I know that, between my shrinking wallet and the kids in front of me texting, I've become more selective.)

The second component of the trend to third dimensionify everything has to do with technological advances made by the digital projection of Real D. Basically every limitation 3-D filmmaking used to have--the need for dual projectors, the tinting of everything from the anaglyph blue-and-red glasses, the inability to tilt your head while watching--are gone. By digitally projecting the image several times on top of itself, the machines and your polarized glasses are able to do most of the illusionary work your eye used to, and we're left with a much stronger, more versatile, more imaginative image. Watching anything in Digital Linear Projection is better than 35mm, but watching digital 3-D is no comparison.

Finally, studios and theater owners are pushing 3-D films because they can charge whatever they want for them. Originally used to justify the fact that a 3-D movie is roughtly $15 million more in production costs than a traditional feature, studios started rolling out surcharges for the glasses. They and the theater owners haven't really set a cap on this yet, but I've seen charges as high as $4 for "glasses" that are recycled at the end anyway.


So far the Real D location closest to New Orleans is Baton Rouge. Road trip for the Toy Story re-release? Who's with me?

So I intended for this to be a quick little note, and I've now given you four paragraphs of exposition. Let me get to the point. I suspect the real reason studios are so gung ho about 3-D is fighting piracy. Since the advent of HD video cameras and torrents, pirates have had a field day with cutting into Hollywood's profits. We saw with the leak of Wolverine last month how completely panicked they and the MPAA were about the potential losses from illegal downloads.

As anyone who has tried to tape a Disney World ride knows, 3-D looks really goofy on a home video camera. Even if you could get your hands on an Academy screener, which is where all the best burned copies of a movie come from (so I'm told), you wouldn't get the effect of Real D in your living room, and it would probably give you a headache to watch.

No one seems to be talking about this, but the inability for people to pirate Real D films is perhaps the biggest reason so many of them are being green-lit. The fact that Jonas Brothers: Burning Up in 3-D will not be sold from a garbage bag on my subway ride home probably seems comforting to the Disney studio.

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