The reproduction of life has and always will be the manifest destiny of humans. The evolution of cinema and its cousins television and video games have continually pushed our species closer and closer to this reality–to engulf ourselves into another reality. Technology will eventually reach a plateau when it comes to reproducing reality and will ultimately fail long term.

3D technology dates back the earliest moments of cinema but came to prominence in the 1950s, where theaters were in a tense battle with television. The on set of television created a panic in the film industry to maintain their viewership.

Dozens of gimmicks were employed to keep seats filled. By the mid-1960s nearly all gimmicks used during this time period had disappeared. Film studios chose to succumb to the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” motto and simply began to purchase television stations, and later entire networks.

The two elements that brought asses back to the seats were Widescreen or Cinemascope and the New Hollywood movement. Film studios essentially began to profit from both film and television and the synergy between both.

50 years later, 3D has moved back into mainstream and may be the next generation of cinema. The issue with 3D taking over American screens is three-fold; the price of admission, novelty and gimmick, and the battle over piracy.

Price of Admission

In Orlando, Florida the price for a 3D film is $12. This is expected to jump in the next year. I’m guessing that Los Angeles and New York will be enjoying 3D and IMAX films for $20 by the end of 2010. A family of four may need to drop $120 for tickets and food to see recent movies. Studios are still sour that millions are circumventing the box office and passing over the home releases to easily download movies. While studios are crying over lost income, they are apparently dancing themselves to bank as 2009 was highest grossing year on record, growing 10% over 2008.

Battle Against Piracy

While several television manufacturers are announcing 3D television sets, currently 3D is pirate proof. Since these films cannot be accurately captured on any consumer medium at this juncture, studios will be able to bank exclusively on 3D.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as I cannot condone piracy. The issue I have with this is that blockbuster films may only be released in 3D to prevent this piracy. This pigeonholes movie goers into paying these grossly over-priced tickets, if they can even afford it.

If the price of admission for a 3D film does indeed go up, it prevents lower-income families from enjoying these films. Essentially making the 3D movie-going experience an elite upper mid-class experience, and not an American experience.

A Gimmick That Adds Nothing

3D is double-edged sword. If you become immersed in the story, the initial goal of the screenwriter and the director, then you are wasting the extra cash on the 3D experience. However, if you are focused on the increased depth, then you are not invested in the story. Where deep-focus allowed the director to extend the stories like a 3-ring circus, 3D actually narrows our attention. The wow factor is the shallowness of the image. A film with great shots that support the story is the wow factor that we should be reaching for.

Like the migration from silent films to talkies, standard definition to high definition, 3D can reduce traditional filmmaking to art-house and film festivals. As more theaters retrofit their theaters with 3D projectors, we may see the extinction of traditional films in mainstream theaters.

The Clash of the Titans remake was converted into 3D after filming had wrapped. This faked 3D is a disgusting attempt capitalize on the success of Avatar and other films released on 3D. Avatar broke technological ground and such the 3D experience has more ground to stand on, even though the film still lacks an original thought or storyline. More films and studios will jump on the bandwagon. Alice in Wonderland has been panned by critics, yet broke weekend box office records. Perhaps the typical movie-goer is content with the 3D experience, choosing visual nothing.

Hollywood Has It Wrong

A variety of 2d films will be released in the coming years that will be retrofitted into 3D alongside films filmed specifically in 3D. The list is growing and it is also alarming.

Hollywood is the only industry that is always ready to follow popular trends and push them into bubbles that ultimately pop. It is my estimation that the 3D crazy will reach an eventual plateau before consumer backlash ensues. With extra equipment lying around curious artists will have a chance to finally push the medium.

Digital 3D technology and the mainstream acceptance of 3D is still in infancy. There is possibility that a skilled cinematographer and storyteller may come upon new ideas and create a new cinematic vocabulary to be used in the future.

However, this wish will remain quashed while the larger studios–who are the only gateway into 3D–only produce eye-candy that are designed to put butts in seats and money in their wallets. 3D will have much more potential in the long run, only if can lay in the hands of a soulful artist.


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Aaron Weiss founded CinemaFunk in September 2009 after recieving his degree in Cinema Studies from the University of Central Florida. In 2012, he received his Master's in Cinema Studies from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He works full-time as a Senior Web Strategist at Tampa SEO Training Academy. When not doing either, Aaron is watching Indycar races, taking a hike, or riding his bike in Tampa, FL.