Thursday, February 19, 2015

What Happened To 3D?

If history has taught us one thing, it's that there's one tactic Hollywood knows how to do perfectly; run something well-liked into the ground.  This doesn't always happen to elements audiences take a shine to, but boy howdy did it ever happen to 3D. A novelty in 2009 has morphed into an everyday part of 2015 moviegoing. Not a beloved part per se, but it's certainly there, if only because international audiences love the format. We credit Avatar for bringing 3D into the mainstream, and that's true, but it actually wasn't the first film to utilize the format. Far from it.

All the way back in 2005, the first use of Digital 3D as we know it came to life with the film Chicken Little, which employed the format in just over 30 theaters. The format officially turns 10 years old in 2015, and it's fascinating to look at how much it's progressed, or regressed in many ways, since then. After that plucky 2005 Disney feature utlized 3D, only a select films used it over the next three years (a rerelease of The Nightmare Before Christmas here, a Brendan Fraser led remake of Journey To The Center of Earth there) until 2009, when circumstances began to take 3D into the mainstream.

To start off one of the most influential years for both 3D and cinema at large was the feature My Bloody Valentine 3D, which proved how the more things changed, the more they stay the same. despite new hardware and slightly less cumbersome glasses, 3D was still a beloved feature for horror flicks. The next month's Coraline brought the use of 3D to new heights, while The Jonas Brothers 3D Concert Experience managed to do nothing more than kill some of Nick Jonas's time before he became the Justin Timberlake of that boy band.

But in May 2009, when PIXAR used 3D for the first time on Up, the winds began to change. That future Best Picture nominee and Coraline were some of the best films of 2009, adding some pedigree to 3D. While G-Force and The Final Destination were typical 3D adventures, they did make major coin at the box office, proving how lucrative the format was. But it was all a preamble compared to what was about to be unleashed: Avatar. That film took things to the next level, utilizing 3D in a masterful way and shattering every box office record in it's path.

Now, when a movie makes that kind of $2.7 billion cash, Hollywood takes on the whole "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" approach as a lifestyle. Clash Of The Titans was quickly converted to 3D to abysmal results; I remember feeling gypped when seeing the film, it's murky 3D making the film look more incoherent than anything else. I passed on seeing The Last Airbender in that format (as I later learned, the film was painful on it's own without the addition of likely crappy 3D) and wound up seeing few of the numerous titles Hollywood tossed out at audiences in the format.

What I did find interesting about the large amount of 3D movies being released was how quickly theaters adapted to the large quantities of movies being released in the third-dimensions. When March 2010 rolled around, there were a limited amount of 3D screens in existence, leading to a battle for those 3D auditoriums between How To Train Your Dragon and Clash Of The Titans, which were both 3D films that were planned to be released one week of each other. However ,just nine months, two 3D movies (Tron: Legacy and Yogi Bear) were released on the same weekend with no problem, and the summer of 2011 just five months later saw new 3D movies being released on a weekly basis without a single issue.

Well, maybe without a single issue when it comes to screens. But in terms of quality, the promise 3D presented itself as an artistic tool was diluted by the humongous amount of terrible 3D movies that came out. Avatar, Coraline, Up, A Christmas Carol, all these movies showed off such promise for the format, but films like Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (a movie whose 3D left the film insanely dark, I was forced to remove my glasses in order to see what the hell was happening) or Trans4mers just don't use the format for anything interesting. Thankfully, films like Gravity or Life of Pi have come along to show off the capabilities of 3D, and this fall's The Walk looks like it could do the same, and I appreciate that. If only it could be used more sparingly, I have a hunch 3D would remain the kind of mystical and exciting element that it was all the way back in 2009.

One final note; it's amusing to look at the evolution at how marketers approached promoting 3D in their movie trails just from 2010 to 2011. In the former year they'd announce the format's presence with a voiceover and a showcase of the various ways to watch the movie (RealD 3D, Disney Digital 3D, IMAX 3D, etc.). But by the time the Promtheus trailer arrived in December 2011, you'd have to have expert vision to even find a hint at the very end of the ad of the film being presented in 3D. I've left a comparison below to prove my point:

Tangled (June 2010 Trailer):
Prometheus (December 2011 Trailer):

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