Movie Mom

Movie Mom

What’s the Future of 3D?

posted by Nell Minow

“Avatar” comes back to the screen this week in 3D IMAX only (with nine new minutes) and box office returns are inflated with 3D glasses surcharges. Theater owners like 3D because of the extra charges and the push it gives to audiences who might otherwise wait a few months for the DVD. Home entertainment systems are working hard to bring 3D effects to your home. Studios take films that were shot “flat” and convert them post-production to 3D in films like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Clash of the Titans.” Some 3D movies set records (“Avatar”). Others flop (“The Last Airbender” — coincidentally previously named “Avatar”). Where is it all going?

Slate has a good discussion on the pros and cons of 3D with movie critic Dana Stevens and “Explainer” Daniel Engber. I especially liked Engber’s list of his favorite 3D scenes. The “Dial M for Murder” Grace Kelly scissors shot he mentions is a classic. However, while Alfred Hitchcock shot the film in 3D, it was not released that way until 1982, 38 years after it was made.


3D is like any other tool available to film-makers. It is only as good as the imagination and judgment of the people who are using it. This year, it was used poorly (any movie where it was added after shooting, though the rabbit hole scene in “Alice in Wonderland” had a nicely vertiginous thrill) and brilliantly (“Despicable Me” — be sure to stay for the credit sequence, which both makes fun of and makes perfect use of the technology).

  • Dustin Putman

    Very good article, Nell! I think Hollywood is misusing and oversaturating 3D across the marketplace in a way that is wearing consumers out. Bad product–all the converted 3D movies–and flaws with the format–the brightness level drops the second you put on the glasses, no matter the movie–aren’t helping matters, and neither is the overpriced surcharge of a 3D ticket. Patrick and I saw PIRANHA 3D the midnight it opened, and it cost us 30 bucks. Ridiculous!
    While AVATAR is by and away the biggest success story of modern-day 3D releases, I’m not sure I’d call THE LAST AIRBENDER a flop. In fact, it made far more than I would have expected such a bad movie to make. Its US gross is currently above 130 million, and the worldwide gross is over 225 million. From what I hear, the studio is pleased enough to be moving forward with a sequel. Better examples of recent 3D flops are CATS AND DOGS 2 and STEP UP 3-D, which made about half the money (or even less) of their predecessors even with larger ticket prices.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Dustin! I thought the 3D effects were outstanding in “Step Up 3D” and I’m sorry it is doing poorly. I didn’t know “Last Airbender” had done so well. Maybe with dubbing it’s better! But that won’t help the awful 3D effects.

  • Wendy

    Trends are funny, aren’t they? It will be interesting to see if it sticks around this time. I’ve written about Kiss Me, Kate (George Sidney 1953) which was originally released in 3-D and it’s funny watching for the gimmicks. There is a lot of throwing of vases toward characters/the audience. The very end must have been fun, with the characters walking out into the audience. It would be fun to see it in 3-D sometime. (The Taming of the Shrew (Sam Taylor 1929) was also the first full-length Shakespearean Talkie (and was also released as a silent film), so that story has an interesting history with technical innovations.)
    My husband and I are among those people who rarely get out to the movies (we have a big HD TV at home and have to find a babysitter if we go out), but will make a special effort to watch something in Imax 3-D, so we are the audience the studios are seeking. Of the films listed, the only one we saw was Avatar, but we’ve also done all the Pixar releases that way. So, I guess it works for us, but we choose judiciously.
    My biggest disappointment has been the last Harry Potter film. I guess I didn’t read enough ahead of time, but we paid a lot of extra money for about 15 minutes of 3-D at the very beginning. Maybe that was less distracting than putting the glasses off and on throughout the film as in the latest Superman, but I expected more.
    I’m a huge Nightmare Before Christmas fan, but have not managed to see the re-mastered 3-D version. Maybe this year. I’m wary of a film that wasn’t intended to be 3-D. If the 3-D wasn’t thought through ahead of time, how much can be added as an organic part of the story/experience (as Engber describes in the scenes he mentions). It seems as if it’s just going to be the same 2-D movie with more depth of vision.

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