3-D starting to look flat

posted by Michael Zoldessy on July 17, 2009 at 7:40 am

This piece in the Los Angeles Times suggests the excitement surrounding 3-D films is beginning to cool down.

As more movies play in digital 3-D, there’s evidence that audiences are becoming less interested in the ballyhooed format that many in Hollywood have predicted will stem the long-term erosion of theater attendance.

Box office data for “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” which opened last Wednesday, shows that theaters with at least one screen playing the film in 3-D generated on average, 1.4x as much in ticket sales as those that only showed the picture the old fashioned 2-D way. (A breakdown by individual screens within multiplexes was not available.)

Comments (15)

MPol on July 17, 2009 at 8:08 am

I read the Los Angeles Times piece about the cooling down of the public interest in 3D movies with much interest and, despite not knowing the facts, can only conclude that 3D movies were just sort of a passing phase and a momentary fad that was destined to be short-lived from the beginning. That being said, what it boils down to is: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Edward Havens
Edward Havens on July 17, 2009 at 8:19 am

OR… it could just be that people weren’t that excited about this one movie being in 3D. I manage a theatre with Digital 3D, and I still get people coming up asking for Up in 3D, even though we haven’t had it in 3D for more than two weeks now. And even if G-Force doesn’t do all that well it won’t prove any cooling trend. Now, if Final Destination and Toy Story 1 & 2 and The Nightmare Before Christmas and Avatar all don’t do all that well in 3D, then we can say audiences are starting to cool on 3D. But one film does not a trend make.

KingBiscuits on July 17, 2009 at 9:30 am

I’d say the problem is that studios aren’t using 3-D to its full potential. If we are paying the extra $2.50 to see it in 3-D, shouldn’t we get more shots of things popping out onscreen?

CinemarkFan on July 17, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Even though I think James Cameron will elevate 3-D to a new high with “Avatar' this December, this article only proves what I’ve been saying since Real-D started. When people graduate from this phase, film will be the medium to bail Hollywood out. It will be like the 50’s all over again.

Very soon, people will be able to watch 3-D at home on blu-ray. When that happens, what next?

Large format film (and I’m not talking about IMAX).

JSA on July 17, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Regarding large format film, we’ll have to wait and see what impact, if any, Ron Fricke’s upcoming film “Samsara” will have. Shot in Super Panavision 70, it is a follow up to “Baraka”.


markp on July 18, 2009 at 6:53 am

MPol is right. KingBiscuits is Right. And most of all CinemarkFan is right. 70MM, not 3d, not IMAX or diet max or any other format. 70MM !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

MPol on July 18, 2009 at 8:54 am

70mm! Would love to see more 70mm films, namely the great, golden oldie-but-goody classic films, and, especially my alltime favorite film, West Side Story, reprinted into GOOD 70mm film prints and released in the theatres….on a nationwide basis!

quasimodo on July 18, 2009 at 11:07 am

I’ve said it before, that anyone who believes that the current revival of 3D will revolutionize the industy has not learned from the lessons of history. With increasing frequency many people are telling me that 3D is not worth the money or the literal headache of the silly glasses. Kids gobble it up, because they’re told they should. And with all due respect to KingBiscuits, it is a sad commentary that the true value of 3D be measured in the number of times things pop out of the screen.

I wouldn’t hesitate to jump on a 70MM “revolution”, but alas I’m afraid the fate of film is sealed – as most people are conditioned to believe that “perfect” digital projection is where it’s at.

CinemarkFan on July 18, 2009 at 11:31 am

I think that digital will become the new 35mm. When that happens, I’ll say OK. But what happens when audiences won’t be able to tell the difference of digital projection from what they get at home on TV, for free?

If there is any big 70mm comeback, then studios can’t make the mistake of blowing up 35mm anamorphic (or worse, spherical) films to 70. I’m talking about for the really special films, original 65mm photography that will take digital 50-100 years to match. While people may say it’s dead (and it certainly looks that way), it’s making a comeback, although on a slow pace. Like JSA said, Ron Fricke has a followup to “Baraka” called “Samsara” due for release next year. Tom Tykwer shot the last few minutes of “The International” in 65mm. And one could tell too, because the picture quality went from good to just great when viewed in 35mm. Marty Scorsese used 65mm for some scenes in his new movie “Shutter Island”. And if that doesn’t excite you, then I am about to share a rumor that everyday, is looking like the truth. Are you ready?

Christopher Nolan may be shooting his next film, “Inception” in a combo of 65mm for the dialogue, and IMAX for the action sequences. Someone saw him & his go to cinematographer, Wally Pfister, looking at the reels at Techicolor. Not to mention, he has more people in the sound department than one could need. And back in December, Nolan said he would like to do a 65mm/IMAX combo the next time around, because shooting dialogue in IMAX was hard.

I hope this is true. If it is, then that 3-D nut Jeff Katzenberg might wanna be shaking right now.

CSWalczak on July 20, 2009 at 8:40 pm

The thing that so many in Hollywood still don’t understand about 3-D (just as they did not really understand about Cinerama and the best of 70mm photography) is that the technique needs to enhance the immersive or participative quality of the film, otherwise it becomes just a promotional or exhibition gimmick. The right story and director are essential.

For example, consider the original “House of Wax:” the 3-D effects (which admittedly did include some scenes of things thrown at the audience) was principally used to involve the audience in the peculiar world of the film, especially the ambience of the two museums in the film, foggy streets, etc. Similarly, think about “How the West Was Won” – the segments, directed by Henry Hathaway, who understood both the possibilities and limits of Cinerama, outshine the part directed by John Ford, who despite his accomplishments in so many other films, did not like or understand how to use the Cinerama cameras to involve the audience. Or consider “Lawrence of Arabia” and “2001” where Lean in the former used 70mm to immerse the viewer in the immensity and heat of the desert, and Kubrick in the latter, to place us in the vastness of space and the universe.

If spatial dimensionality is really not critical to the story being told, I’d say don’t bother with 3-D. If 3-D films become a repetitive variations on the clunker “Comin' at Ya” then 3-D will fade away again.

markp on July 21, 2009 at 7:07 am

I always agree with my Cinema Treasures friend CinemarkFan, only this time, I hope hes wrong that 35MM might fade away, because then I’d be out of a job all together. As far as this whole 3-D thing goes, I’m running 3 of them in a 10 screen theatre. Besides having to charge $3.00 more per ticket, which seems like a nail in the coffin in these tough economic times, theres also the issue of storage, for both the new and used glasses. We have to send back the used one to get sanitized and re-packaged. Then, last week there was a problem, that the “key” they gave us didn’t work, and the show couldn’t start. The list goes on and on.

I just sit back, look at it and say to myself, “we never have these problems with the 35”.

As I’ve said many times, like many of you, 70MM would solve all these ill’s and cant be beat!!

JJD on July 25, 2009 at 6:58 pm

Anything is possible if current conditions go sour or enough demand develops to reverse course but how likely would this happen? Vinyl records have enjoyed a small resurgence but not enough to replace CDs. VHS, while still around, is not likely to overtake DVDs. CRT TVs are history, as is analog broadcasting. Typewriters? Forget it! And I doubt if rear-wheel drive vehicles will once again become the norm. The list goes on and on and on. So, while a return to 70mm is certainly possible, don’t count on it slowing down the digital train anytime soon. Technology moves forward, not backwards and digital is the future. Any trend toward anything “retro” is just that, a trend. I have nothing against 70mm (or film in general). I just think it had it’s day. It’s hard to accept change sometimes when we don’t like the change, but that’s life.

3D is a separate issue. It’s often lumped in with someone’s disdain for digital because it has become an extension of digital. To all those projectionists out there who feel threatened by digital, I sympathize with you. But is it necessary to trash 3D as well? Afterall, until recently, 3D was mostly 35mm film (I was 8 years old when I saw “House of Wax” in 1953 and became hooked on 3D ever since.) If you hate 3D now, you had to have hated it then when it had nothing to do with digital. Done right though, 3D could enhance the movie-going experience the way sound, color and wide screen have done by bring us closer to the way we actually experience life. It will not enhance the story, only our senses. It’s getting tremendous support from studios, directors, and the public and there’s a lot of interest in using the format for in-theater sporting events, concerts, etc., not just movies (check out the MarketSaw blogspot). But if it’s abused, as in the past, it will fall out of favor with the public. Cameron and Jackson won’t abuse it. Neither will Pixar nor Dreamworks. They know better and have committed to 3D from now on. It’s the fly-by-nighters looking to make a fast buck that we’ll have to worry about. Also, once the standard for 3DTV is established, that will put home entertainment in direct competition with theaters (like it did in the 50s) and that competition will fuel innovation. So, hate digital if you must, but give 3D a chance (keep them separate!). And if you don’t want to see it in 3D, the trend today is to present a 2D version as well. Personally, I’m not hung up on digital and am willing to compromise…70mm (for the projectionists) combined with 3D (for me). As far as the glasses are concerned, I’d wear a toilet seat on my head if it allowed me to see a good 3D presentation.

If none of this makes any sense, let me know.

Jon Lidolt
Jon Lidolt on August 1, 2009 at 10:08 am

The return of 70mm feature films will only work if the theatres are equipped to exhibit the large format films correctly. For example: Mike Todd supervised the installation of his 70mm Todd-AO system at the long-gone Tivoli theatre in Toronto and the movies there looked sensational on Todd’s gigantic, deeply curved screen. The audiences loved it. However, once 35mm films were blownup to 70mm prints and projected onto smaller, mostly flat CinemaScope screens in other cinemas – it no longer impressed anyone.To the average viewer 70mm simply looked like a somewhat sharper CinemaScope picture. That is, if they even noticed the difference.

Giles on August 31, 2009 at 8:07 am

The AFI Silver doesn’t have a curved screen – 70mm still looks great, regardless if it doesn’t slightly wrap around. If 70mm were to make a comeback wouldn’t it be similiar to when 35mm are DMR’d to IMAX specs – it will look significantly better than standard 35mm – it’s too bad so few films are mixed nowadays in 8-channel sound – five front channels of sound, and split surrounds – that’d sound fantastic!

CinemarkFan on September 14, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Any kind of 70mm comeback would of course, be shot that way. And I think it should also be reserved for screens 50ft wide and above.

From that teaser I saw, it appears that Chris Nolan’s “Inception” has some 65mm. There was a scene or two that looked far too sharp to have been shot in 35mm (and I saw the teaser in 35).

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