Wednesday, January 12, 2011

3D Technology - Wave of the future or gimmicky fad?

The concept of 3D movies dates back to the 1950's where it was hailed as the next big innovation in filmmaking technology. Mainly designed for monster and science fiction movies, the audience was treated to a 3D effect with the aide of awkward and horribly unstylish glasses that, combined with film process, would create a three dimensional effect that would trick the eye into seeing people and objects come off the screen. It was, and remains, a novel idea that saw a resurgence of popularity in the 1980's and has become all the rage today. The technology has advanced and 3D has been hyped up to be the wave of the future, but is it really? Read on for my opinions on the topic.

Movies being released today wave the 3D banner high in the hopes of getting people back into the movie theatres, which have admittedly fallen on hard times. Due in equal part to the hard economy and the advancement in home theatre technology, fewer people are going to the movies and what was once a treasured past time is now a diversion at best. High ticket and concession prices, combined with speedier DVD releases, provide equally low incentive for people to go out to the cinemas. 3D seems to be one of the few aces up the sleeves of the movie executives and they are milking it for all it's worth, even incorporating "3D" into the title of the actual movie. Aside for some nice immersion and a good depth-of-feel effect, I find 3D technology to be largely unimpressive and overused, and it doesn't enhance the experience so much that a bad movie would seem better because I'm watching it in 3D. The movie that is considered the paragon of the format, James Cameron's blockbuster "Avatar", was visually stunning but this was due to the production value, not the 3D effects. It looks just as beautiful on Blu-Ray and, quite frankly, even the high production values didn't distract me from the fact that the story was very garden variety. The innovation was in the filmmaking, not the writing.

Unfortunately, it seems like they will slap the 3D tag on any movie and hope it sells, which leads to an onslaught of cinematic shovelware. All of a sudden, we have Pixar movies in 3D, horror movies in 3D, romantic comedies in 3D and so on. Most of the movies I have seen in this format benefit nothing from the technology and it fails to mask the weaknesses of the acting and writing. Case in point, I saw "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" and the 3D looked nice but didn't enhance the experience in any way for me. On the lower end, there was "Clash of the Titans" which was obviously a 2D movie with 3D slapped on top - the quality was beyond horrible.

"Avatar" aside, it seems that the onslaught of 3D movies has not filled the box office coffers as much as they had hoped, so the next "next wave" is 3D television sets that allow you to experience full 3D in your own home. Sounds like a good idea, right? Sure, until you look at the price of owning one of these sets. At launch, your average 3D television ran for around $3,000 on the low end, and that's not including the glasses that will set you back $150 a pair. If you want a pair for everyone in the house, you're looking at a substantial amount of money for something that's not even well established yet. Very few TV stations have programming that supports 3D at this time and the quantity of DVDs that support this technology is still limited. However, if you're a gamer, you'll be happy to know that Sony is leading the charge by releasing Playstation 3 titles that support 3D, "Batman: Arkham Asylum - Game of the Year Edition" and "The Sly Collection" being recent examples. Given the cost of the technology at a time when it's still relatively new has prevented it from meeting it's potential right out of the gate, which is important in a market of consumer skepticism.

This is not to say that I don't believe in 3D technology or see it's potential, but I think it's becoming a crutch for a failing industry that's battling for our dollars. Movies like "Avatar" that were built from the ground up for 3D have proven profitable, but it still feels gimmicky at this point. As a surprise to nobody, George Lucas plans to release the Star Wars movies in 3D starting in 2012 and he has promised a "different approach" to 3D, whatever that means. Sitting her now, in early 2011, I feel that 3D is gimmicky and it amounts to little more than a commercial fad. Having said that, people were also skeptical about iPods, Blu-Ray, HD TV and other technologies that we now cannot live without, so time will tell if I'm right.

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