Hollywood still struggling to focus 3D technology

Dec 21, 2011 by Michael Thurston
Canadian film director James Cameron shows 3D glasses prior to a show of his movie"Avatar" on the side line of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in 2010 in Davos. Two years after breakthrough 3D megahit "Avatar," Hollywood is still struggling to decide how best to use the new technology, as filmgoers tire of the novelty and say no to annoying glasses.

Two years after breakthrough 3D megahit "Avatar," Hollywood is still struggling to decide how best to use the new technology, as filmgoers tire of the novelty and say no to annoying glasses.

While 2011 ends with a couple of well-received 3D movies -- including Steven Spielberg's holiday smash "Tintin" and Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" -- filmmakers need to focus on what works in and what doesn't, say experts.

Following a series of 3D flops over the last 12 months, the coming year will see a new crop of releases, including a suped-up version of "Avatar" director James Cameron's record-breaking "Titanic" in April.

But experts say filmmakers can no longer count on the simple fact of putting "Now playing in 3D" on the posters to attract cinema-goers wary of paying a few extra bucks for a questionably improved experience.

"3D film distribution in 2011 has been a lesson in learning for studios and theaters alike," Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at industry data provider Exhibitor Relations told AFP.

"While there were nearly 40 (3D) films released this year, studios have been scaling back in terms of the type of films released in this new format. The reason? Audiences won't pay for a 3D engagement that isn't a premium picture."

The 3D revolution -- or the latest attempt to bring 3D to cinema, following earlier failed efforts -- comes as the film industry is struggling to reinvent itself as the ways of watching movies multiply.

Hollywood could arguably be said to be seeking its "iTunes moment," like the arrival of the Apple song purchasing site for the music industry, as pirate copies of films proliferated from DVDs to illegal downloads and online streaming.

But signs that 3D has struggled came this year not only from summer box office flops -- "Fright Night," "Conan the Barbarian," "Glee," and "Spy Kids -- but also from flagging sales of 3D televisions.

"Two of the major pain points for consumers are still the price of the TV and the need to wear glasses," market research company NPD said in April, although sales figures later in the year looked better.

Nintendo's handheld game console 3DS and its game titles are displayed at a Tokyo electric shop in 2001. Two years after breakthrough 3D megahit "Avatar," Hollywood is still struggling to decide how best to use the new technology, as filmgoers tire of the novelty and say no to annoying glasses.

Japanese games giant Nintendo was forced to slash the price of its new 3DS console by up to 40 percent in July, following disappointing sales of the new version of its popular console.

Nevertheless filmmakers keep embracing the new technology: at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea in October, low-budget 3D productions were keen to take on the big studios at their own game.

"Budget doesnt matter, it is story that matters in cinema and its the same when you are using 3D," said South Korean Choo Sang-rok, director of the 3D feature "Persimmon."

Back in Hollywood, Spielberg says that 3D should be used only when appropriate. "I disagree with my colleagues who believe that every film should be in 3D. It's another tool in a very large tool chest," he told the industry daily Variety.

"I think 3D should be used when there is something to be achieved from it, not just to be able to slam the 3D brand on a movie ad," he said.

There have been reports that Spielberg is contemplating making a 3D version of his iconic movie "Jurassic Park" by converting it -- a process which critics say is purely a money-making ploy.

Proper 3D movies are filmed using two slightly off-set cameras, the images from which are fed into a moviegoer's left and right eyes by the glasses handed out to watch the film.

Converted 3D movies -- or "fake 3D" -- are films made with normal cameras, but then processed using computers in post-production to give the impression of multiple layers of depth.

A number other other classic films are also set to be revived in three dimensions, including "Star Wars," said Exhibitor Relations expert Bock. Others, like "The Lion King," have already appeared in 3D.

Scorsese meanwhile said he was apprehensive after deciding to make "Hugo" in 3D. "We were scared," he told the BBC. "It was like walking a tightrope, the whole picture."

"People start to have rules: You can't do this, don't do that," he recalled. "I said, 'I don't want to hear what can't be done." "I'm not usually that intrepid but I wouldn't let people confuse me," he said.

Analysts say Hollywood is not going to turn its back on 3D, but will learn from its mistakes.

"Studios are going to be much more savvy as to what they choose to release in 3D in the years to come. Make no mistake -- 3D is not going anywhere, it's just adapting, as long as the audience responds," said Bock.

Hollywood 3D movies expected out in 2012 include "Men in Black III," "The Amazing Spider Man," "The Avengers" and "The Hobbit," he said, but added that one of the biggest films of the year will only be available in 2D.

"The one that won't be: 'The Dark Knight Rises.' Which will probably be the highest grossing film of the year. So, what does that tell you? It still comes down to story," said the Exhibitor Relations expert.

"Always does. Always will," he said.

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User comments : 6

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not rated yet Dec 21, 2011
A movie needs to be filmed in 3D and also directed for 3D, as Avatar was. Short of that, the 3D is going to suck and most people have caught onto that it seems.
Cinema is expensive enough as it is without charging extra for 3D showings.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 21, 2011
I'm reminded of the '60s when zoom lenses became available, and filmmakers "tromboned" (zoomed rapidly) in scenes. Made me sick to my stomach. As a kid, I wore those cheesy red/blue cardboard glasses to see House of Wax and Bwana Devil. Sic transit fad. I have to agree with Stephen Speilberg that 3D is just another tool in the box. Just because you CAN do something doesn't mean you should. The time, money, and effort is better spent on story and character. Finally, I would rather be able to choose from 20 films costing $5 million each than 2 films costing $50 million each.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 21, 2011
People need to stop focussing on the technology and focus more on the substance of the movie. IMO the best movies aren't the big budget blockbusters, they're the small-medium budget movies with creative plots, character development, and present new ideas or thoughts.
5 / 5 (1) Dec 21, 2011
Converted 3D movies -- or "fake 3D" -- are films made with normal cameras, but then processed using computers in post-production to give the impression of multiple layers of depth.

But that's still a problem with 'true' 3D filmed movies. I've only seen one 3D movie, Avatar - arguably the best exponent of the technology. But it also suffers from fake looking layering effects where action appears to take place in well defined zones: extreme foreground, middle ground and background. There isn't a sense of true, continuous depth of field, which can lead to viewing fatigue.
not rated yet Dec 22, 2011
How about putting the money into, oh lets say, the script?

I've only seen one movie where 3D actually made a difference and that was, much to my surprise, Glee. In a concert movie the 3D actually creates a more immersive experience. For standard movies, including Avatar, its really just a gimmick that I find adds very little to the experience.

I end up watching movies in 3D because those theatres tend to be slightly better then the older ones that run the 2D version of the same movie. So 3D is still effective at getting my money but I feel I have received no value for the extra cost and wearing glasses is a minor annoyance. Overall I would say that the current excessive use of 3D has made me less inclined to bother going to a theatre to see a movie.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 22, 2011
Finally, I would rather be able to choose from 20 films costing $5 million each than 2 films costing $50 million each.

no chance good sir. there are plenty of actors that i will be fine with never seeing again. I care more about the superb quality than a choosing from a bundle of mediocrity. story snory. its all been done before, thats why i stick to big budget movies and non fiction.....of course thats not in stone but im making a point

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