In case you didn’t notice, we’re in the midst of a revolution-a digital revolution. Because of the troubles with the economy, Hollywood is frantically pushing technological innovation in an effort to get viewers back into movie theaters. And this is the year that push can truly be seen as a plethora of films are released in 3D.
3D is no longer an implausible and gimmicky fad with cheap cardboard glasses that never really work or give you eyestrain. As RealD says of their 3D on their website, “‘your grandfather’s 3D’ was known for mediocre visuals viewed through flimsy colored paper glasses, [but] RealD’s digital technology not only looks a quantum leap better than old fashioned 3D, it creates an exceptional visual with no flicker, no need to hold your head upright and no silly paper glasses, replacing them with lightweight, recyclable plastic shades.”
Indeed, as anyone who has seen one of the recent 3D releases in theaters can attest, the technology has improved by leaps and bounds. It actually works and it works amazingly well!
Initially, back in the 1930s, 3D was the result of filming with separate cameras barely inches apart (to recreate the different perspectives of two different human eyes) and the film had to be shown on special screens. Imax 3D is probably the closest you’ll come to that old approach.
However, the new technology mostly utilized these days uses digital projectors without the added cost to theaters of expensive special screens. Dolby 3D uses a color-filtering technology, while RealD uses a circular polarization method. Even James Cameron has dipped his toes into this new water with a Fusion 3D camera he co-developed for his latest film that films two different angles simultaneously (instead of two separate cameras) to create the same 3D effect. Whatever the approach, the fact remains that the face of movies are changing.
In fact, everyone in the filmmaking business seems to think that this is the wave of the future. Many are comparing this advance in film to the advent of sound or color in the past. Some even think that this new technology will soon be implemented in all films and therefore push us into the realm of virtual reality.
“I do see how cool it is and how it can be used as a storytelling tool in a way that isn’t gimmicky but just immersive,” says producer Craig Perry in an article published in Realms of Fantasy magazine. “I think you can do a comedy in 3D. I think you can do a drama in 3D. I think a drama in 3D would be staggering, because you couldn’t distance yourself from what people are feeling-you would actually be right there in the moment. And it would make any actor worth his salt deliver his aria in a way that would rip your heart out.”
Of course with such starter films as “Beowulf,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” and “Monsters vs Aliens” which have fallen flat and failed to capture audiences’ imaginations, it is easy to see this trend as just a publicity stunt. Yet every new advance in movie technology has had its awkward phase to get through before the success of just one film transforms the industry. Pixar’s “Up” may be the first film to truly harness this success to the technology as they focused on developing the story and the characters first, then implementing the 3D framework, instead of the other way around as these previous films did.
But even this success is overshadowed by the looming specter of James Cameron’s upcoming “Avatar” film due to be released this December. His return after a 12-year hiatus since his blockbuster success with “Titanic” is the first non-horror, non-animated mainstream film to attempt 3D and it is being forecast as the harbinger of true change. It has created such a buzz over the last few years that it has caused many directors and corporations to jump onto the 3D bandwagon in an effort to pre-empt or counteract the swelling tide. This can be seen by the overwhelming flood of 3D films due out this summer like the next “Ice Age” film, “G-Force,” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” to name a few.
And that’s not even counting the re-released films coming out like “Toy Story” or the rumors about the re-released “Lord of the Rings” movies due to Peter Jackson’s enthusiastic embrace of the technology with his public commitment to shoot all his films in 3D.
However, despite the advances and advantages like anti-piracy (camcorders can’t record these films that require special glasses), there are still some pretty serious detractions. The biggest negative has to be the increased ticket price. While this is due to the cost that theaters are incurring from the conversion (a new digital 3D projector can cost anywhere from $20 to $50,000) and the cost to consumers for the special eyewear (Dolby’s more comfortable and technologically savvy plastic glasses initially cost about $50 to produce), it’s still a bit of a punch in the mouth to audiences who are forced to shell out even more for this “unique experience” when times are so tough.
Yet, at the same time, it is an experience that can only be seen in the theaters. While people are able to invest in home theater systems that duplicate movie theater viewing with HDTVs and surround sound systems, nothing exists yet that allows viewers to see a 3D move at home. The closest replication of these films on DVD right now is the Blu-ray technology, but there are plans in the works that will soon change this status. Mitsubishi alone has 8 different 3D ready HDTV models in development. Who knows what the cost of 3D theater tickets will be once this technology is more readily available to the general consumer.
Ultimately, even cost is not deterring moviegoers from this new technology. If the phenomenal financial success of 3D movies like “U2 3D,” “Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: the Best of Both Worlds Concert in 3D” and even “Beowulf” are any indicator, audiences are embracing this advance every bit as much as those inside the industry. And as 3D projectors become more commonplace in theaters across the country, it is obvious that the revolution is growing in strength and numbers. It is only a matter of time before every film is released in 3D. Viva la revolucion!