‘Avatar’ And The Current 3-D Craze: Is This The Future of TV And Cinema?
In his Oscar speech for Titanic in 1998, James Cameron (seen above dipping into his own product) declared himself “King of the World.” Some would argue that he’s been re-elected, seeing as his new film, Avatar, has become the highest grossing movie of all time (booting Titanic out of the water), not adjusted for inflation — the real honor belongs to Gone with the Wind. I beg to differ. It’s 3-D technology that is actually the “King of the World” (well, the world of entertainment, that is).
It’s unbelievable how long it has taken the technology to catch on. In the 1950s, there was a fad for 3-D pictures (House of Wax, Dial M For Murder, The Creature From The Black Lagoon) and then it died out until the 1980s when it resurfaced (Friday the 13th Part 3, Jaws 3, Space Hunter). By then, the technology had gotten much better, and what with changing times, there was nowhere to go but up.
That didn’t happen. By the end of the decade, the fad had fizzled out and the 1990s saw absolutely no major 3-D releases. Not one. Zilch. You had to go all the way to Disney World if wanted to see things jump off movie screens (Honey, I Shrunk the Audience is still one of the best uses of 3-D that I’ve ever seen…and that was way back in 1995!). In the 2000s, a few 3-D features finally started sprouting up again, but mainly as teasers in only a handful of scenes (most notably in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Beowulf) or awful B-movies (Journey to the Center of the Earth, Fly Me to the Moon).
Then 2009 hit and 3-D became as ubiquitous to movie theaters as popcorn and milk duds. Countless features were released in a wide array of genres, from My Bloody Valentine to A Christmas Carol. Oh, and Avatar happened. It’s still happening. Thanks to the action pic’s record breaking grosses and high raves, 3-D has finally been legitimized. What was once thought to be a tool for obvious gimmicks (which can also be fun — see House of Wax‘s paddle ball sequence), is now a means to enhance films. Many skeptics are now believers.
Famous anti-3-D critic, Roger Ebert wrote this is his review of Monsters vs. Aliens last year:
I will say this first and get it out of the way: 3-D is a distraction and an annoyance. Younger moviegoers may think they like it because they’ve been told to, and picture quality is usually far from their minds.
I agree with him that many times the picture quality does look faded (especially in Up and A Christmas Carol). But that’s when it’s done wrong. It’s like anything else. A bad-looking film in 3-D (if its intended to be viewed that way) is exactly that: a bad-looking film. When Avatar was released in December, Ebert changed his tune about 3-D, writing:
I’m a notorious skeptic about this process, a needless distraction from the perfect realism of movies in 2-D. Cameron’s iteration is the best I’ve seen — and more importantly, one of the most carefully-employed. The film never uses 3-D simply because it has it, and doesn’t promiscuously violate the fourth wall. He also seems quite aware of 3-D’s weakness for dimming the picture, and even with a film set largely in interiors and a rain forest, there’s sufficient light.
Ebert’s not alone in his assessment. Upon seeing Avatar, George Lucas told Access Hollywood:
I liked it. I make movies like that, [so], I can appreciate what [Cameron] went through to do it. [I'm] happy it’s so successful, and worked very well in 3D. [I] haven’t been a big fan of 3D, but that movie definitely improves in 3D. We’ve been looking for years and years and years of trying to take Star Wars and put it in 3D. But, [the] technology hasn’t been there. We’ve been struggling with it, but I think this will be a new impetus to make that happen.
There’s nothing better than seeing one Sci-Fi icon/tech geek slightly envious of another Sci-Fi icon/tech geek. Keeping in mind how far the 3-D process has advanced, just think of how other films could be subtly enhanced by it (and not only for third installments in a franchise). Imagine Requiem For a Dream in 3-D for a moment. I’m not kidding. That would be intense and, at the same time, serve the narrative perfectly. Who wouldn’t understand what’s it’s like to be wigged on heroin after that experience? I’m not saying that every movie should be made in 3-D. I’m merely suggesting that the format has many uncharted waters left to explore. We’ve seen kiddie pics and actioners, but no dramas yet.
The CEO at Dreamworks, Jeff Katzenberg, has been one of the few longtime supporters of 3-D. It’s safe to say that he’s rejoicing right now. He tells Variety:
I went to the Imax 3D theater at The Bridge and saw The Polar Express. I was dazzled. It was the most exciting theater experience I had had. I found it so exhilarating. And to now here we are years later, and to see these new tools and this new platform and the technology put in the hands of good storytellers, and be able to deliver that experience in the films, and to have people reacting to it now, today, as I did in that theater years ago, is exciting. When you look at how, in probably the most stressed economic times in our lifetime, people have chosen to take the premium experience and not only choose to sample it, but having sampled it come out and say this absolutely worth paying an incremental cost for it. We’ve seen it everywhere in the world.
2010 will certainly be another big year for 3-D, as the craze shows no sign of slowing down. First off, Sony and Panasonic are looking to launch 3-D home viewing systems. That’s right, it’s coming to television! ESPN is the first network to test the technology, which would bring Brett Favre straight into your living room (whether you’d want that is another matter). And this coming Sunday there’s going to be a Michael Jackson tribute in 3-D at the Grammys. (If it’s as underwhelming as the Monsters vs. Aliens commercial during last year’s Superbowl, then I think I’ll pass.)
Then, of course, there’s also a whole bunch of 3-D films that will be comin’ at ya again. Currently in development are Gremlins 3, Saw VII, Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story 3, Halloween 3, How to Train Your Dragon, a remake of Yellow Submarine (from Robert Zemmeckis who directed Beowulf, The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol) and many, many others.
My hope is that 3-D becomes just another artistic choice, such as shooting on digital video or 35mm film. Okay, fine. I know that technology is expensive and usually, depending on the budget, people do what they got to do to survive. So yeah, a 3-D indie is highly unlikely. And I’m aware that theaters quipped with 3-D projectors are in the minority. But somewhere down the line it’d be nice if the technology regarded more for its possibilities than its gimmicks. That day, in fact, may have already arrived.