Opinion: 3D is as bad for cinema now as it was 60 years ago

Kid active 3d glasses“It’s amazing! You just put on a pair of these glasses and everything looks like it’s popping out of the screen!”

There’s a line you may have heard in 2012. And, if you’re old enough to remember, you could have heard that very same sentence in 1952 — you know, when 3D cinema was invented.  Perhaps congratulations are in order; it’s quite the marketing coup to re-package a 60 year-old technology and make it look new.

For many people, as presently constituted, 3D movies just aren’t an enjoyable experience. The glasses make them feel silly, not to mention uncomfortable, and if they’re prone to motion sickness or headaches, they’ll likely suffer from both by the end of the movie. Don’t believe us? Scout around social media for a while. There are dozens of anti-3D groups on Facebook. On Amplicate, an opinion-polling based social-media site, 54 percent of the 65,779 who have voted expressed a negative opinion towards 3D. Iconic figures in the industry even hate it. Ask ubercritic Roger Ebert. He wrote an entire article for The Daily Beast decrying the technology: Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too).

Audiences never demanded 3D, it was thrust upon them as a way to justify a higher price point, and save a struggling industry. Why it’s happening again with such renewed ambition is anybody’s guess, but it probably started in earnest after the release of Avatar.

When James Cameron released Avatar, the film promised to revolutionize the 3D experience, and it did. For what would eventually become the highest Avatargrossing movie of all time ($2.7 billion), Cameron commissioned the construction of special cameras from the ground up, and created the entire experience with 3D optimization in mind. The result was a visual tour de force that had everybody talking.

If every 3D movie was “Avatar,” the movie industry would be on to something. Problem is, virtually nobody has followed in the filmmaker’s footsteps. In an interview with MTV, Cameron lamented Hollywood’s short-sightedness.

“People are now starting to not accept inferior forms [of 3D] which is good, but it’s typical of Hollywood getting it wrong,” Cameron said. “We do a film [Avatar] that’s natively authored in 3D, shot in 3D, so they assume from the success of that, that they can then just turn movies into 3D in eight weeks.”

By “inferior forms,” Cameron means post-production converts – the flood of films that were shot with standard cameras and updated later to feature 3D, so they could up-charge at the box-office. How much you ask? Hard numbers are hard to come by, but according to Variety.com, as of 2010, the average 3D surcharge was between $2 and $3. That figure event went as high as $5 in big cities like New York and Los Angeles. That may not seem like much, but if you consider the average ticket price for the same year, which came in at $7.89, the upcharge represents anywhere from 26 to 38 percent. So here’s the obvious question: Does 3D provide an experience that is 26 to 38 percent better?

In the case of post-production converts, the answer to that question is a resounding no. Glasses are cumbersome, the screen is darker, and the ad-hoc 3D feels more gimmicky than immersive. Yet we’re still having the new (old) technology repeatedly rammed down our eye sockets. Even worse is the fact that many new releases aren’t available in standard definition, so you can’t opt out.

Even in the case of movies shot in 3D, results have been underwhelming. Earlier this year, both Prometheus and The Amazing Spiderman made last-minute decisions to shoot with a new 3D camera from 3ality. The result? … Meh.  These movies may have been shot in 3D, but they certainly weren’t created for 3D. 3D does provide a unique method through which a filmmaker can tell a story – but the novelty has worn off. No longer is a movie that wasn’t enough without 3D, enough with it.

What is new in 3D tech is 3D Televisions. We certainly didn’t have those six decades ago. But if you think a few bucks is an upcharge, compare a 3D TV to two-dimensional options.  Again, numbers are difficult to nail down, and depend on many different factors, but according to Cnet, the average upcharge for a 3D model is roughly $300. Perhaps that’s why TVtechnology.com reports that a recent survey showed that 40 percent of owners felt theirHow-to-buy-a-TV-Digital-Trends-definitive-TV-buying-guide 3D TV’s weren’t worth the price they paid for them. That may sound like a positive number, but for a major purchase, 60 percent satisfaction doesn’t quite cut it.  With the at-home 3D option, you can add all of the same bugaboos of the theater, plus a paucity of available programming. Our advice: Keep the $300 in your pocket. So far, that seems to be exactly what the public is doing

In lieu of new, movie theaters have decided to re-mold the old, and TV manufacturers have followed suit. As consumers, we’re ready for a real revolution in entertainment. Provide us with something that we’ve truly never seen before, and few consumers will fret about forking over a few extra bucks, but reintroduce us to a dimension we’ve already visited, and we’ll just feel ripped off.