Are we ready for the third dimension?

Are we ready for the third dimension?

20 Jul 2010

matt-smith-thumb Matt Smith
Email: matthew.smith@latrobe.edu.au

First published on The National Times on 20 July, 2010.

Marvel Studios has just announced that its two big cinema releases for next year, Thor and Captain America, will be converted to 3D. Of course it would. Why wouldn't it? 3D is the future of cinema experience, isn't it?
When Avatar was released at the end of 2009, there were few people who could ignore its success. Earning north of $2 billion worldwide, it seemed to let the world know that Hollywood had mastered the art of 3D.

In the six months since we've had the option of seeing Clash of the Titans, Alice in Wonderland, Shrek Forever After and Toy Story 3 in all their 3D glory, and there's plenty more to come. That's right, for a $4 to $6 bump in the ticket price, you too can sit in the cinema with a pair of glasses that would make Elton John envious, and watch a movie with an "extra" dimension.

Let's put aside the fact that ticket prices are already noticeably more expensive. Let's try to get past the fact that the cardboard container costs more to produce than the popcorn, and a movie starts somewhere about 20 minutes after its advertised time. Let's instead dwell on the thought of whether it's really worth the extra price for 3D, or if it's perhaps just another money grab.

When it comes to making a 3D movie, there's the right way and the wrong way. The "cinema experience" is going through a resurgence, and pioneers such as James Cameron have been able to embrace its full potential. 3D films are shot with specially-designed cameras that capture multiple angles. Using this technique can create a movie that can truly show what the technology is capable of.

Unfortunately for the movie-goer, but to the delight of cinema production studios, there's a cheap and nasty plan B.

Filming a movie in the conventional way and then converting it to 3D in post-production seems to be the way of the future and the method that is being embraced by studios. The process involves taking a finished film, and spending $US80,000 ($A92,000) to $US100,000 per minute of footage to undergo "dimensionalisation". These movies aren't filmed with 3D in mind, and are missing that extra aspect to begin with. Instead, the movie is stretched and altered to give the impression, which in some cases can lead to a disorientating experience.

This seems to matter little. When a movie rakes in big bucks despite the boosted ticket prices, a studio has no incentive to film properly: the public seem happy enough to part with their money regardless. Heck, why go to the trouble of filming new movies? Converting movies opens up the possibility of releasing old movies with a new 3D slant and calling them digitally remastered special editions.

With endless profit potentials, this "revolutionary" technology is being applied in other ways. The FIFA World Cup was screened in 3D at cinemas this year, to huge success. 3D televisions are finding their way into a few living rooms, and both the Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3 are tipped to embrace it. But the question is, are we just getting caught up in the hype and the promise, without really being delivered anything substantial? Are we giving up our hard-earned cows for nothing more than a handful of beans?
So yes, while you have the option of going to a 3D movie, it is technology that promises a lot more than is being delivered. For every Avatar, there is a Clash of the Titans or Alice in Wonderland that will make your head spin (and not in a good way).

Depending on how release days line up, there are more than 10 "3D" movies slated for release in the next six months. High profile movies released without a 3D option are going to become a rare thing. But for every designer label, there are five cheap knock-offs waiting to be sold. The question is, why is the movie-going public willing to pay the same money for both?

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