I’m a 2D kinda guy in a world apparently gone mad for 3D. The films come at us like a factory popping out like toasters and all are advertised wildly as: “In 3D..!” – the posters inferring that the whole thing is in 3D. Theatre-goers excitedly ask “Is it in 3D?” and we patiently explain: “Not around here, it’s not.” All the smartest people in the room: Spielberg, Cameron, Katzenberg; and all my other closest friends opine that it’s just a matter of time before every theatre will host 3D. Maybe so. But will it actually mean much when they do?
The latest news is that Ice Age in 2D grossed more in the first three days of a March release than the first five days of Ice Age 2 with 1,620 3D screens to help pump up the love. That does not infer a great big everlasting bump for 3D. If we were tracking this on a chart, installations would be up at a nice slant while the grosses would be starting to flatline.
Roger Ebert wrote a beautiful review of Monsters vs. Aliens and, to put it mildly, he does not care much for 3D. Not that he doesn’t find it mildly entertaining to see an eyeball impaled on the point of a pick axe floating in front of his face. But ‘mildly entertaining’ is not the same as essential. As Ebert said: “Is there one child anywhere that would have said: “I don’t want to see Monsters vs. Aliens if it’s only in 2D?” Not likely. The modern 3D is entertaining and, used well, remains a welcome addition; but is far from essential.
Another significant Ebert line: “Since the birth of the cinema, billions of people have happily imagined 3D.” I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of movies and I can’t remember that I ever felt I was missing something. Oh, maybe a plot, or good acting, or a script worth the time, but I never felt for a moment: “If only this was in 3D…”.
The reality is: you can’t have 3D until you have digital projection and once you are committed to the new technology it’s not that much more money for the 3D, so I expect we’ll see 3D saturate the screens apace with Digital. My own cinemas are smalltown downtown theatres and, for me, the relationship of cost for Digital and 3D to replace my 35mm projection would exceed what I paid for the theatres. I’m not trying to decide about Digital, it’s simply a long-term ‘when’ at this point. As prices continue to lower and standards solidify, I am primarily interested in not being the last guy to buy the instantly retro-system. I can’t afford to get it wrong, so I wait.
And while I wait, I notice this: No-one has noticed. No-one has come up and said: “Why are you still showing 35mm?”. Because they can’t tell the difference and we certainly aren’t losing more than a very small handful to our competitors 60 miles away. Of course the public is very interested in Digital; all the cognoscenti bring it up, and you know what... if I said we had it, they’d believe me.
Compare the 3D/Digital roll out to the Michael Jackson funeral that was shown live in theatres around the world. That’s the market pushing demand and not the product looking for customers. If I had to bet on Alternative Content vs. 3D, my smart money would be with the house and the house always wins. Connectivity to live or programmed events will trump 3D.
I’m not saying I don’t like 3D. I do. I saw Battle For Terra in 3D and loved it and can’t wait to don my cool Ray-Ban[ish] glasses along with the rest of my audience. I’m just thinking it’s not a big deal. 3D is a fun accessory like a scarf or a big hat but I don’t think I ever saw James Bond looking like he needed to accessorize. Sometimes the little black dress and a diamond bracelet do quite nicely. Let’s not lose sight of what people go to the movies for, and if they’re neither shaken nor stirred by the movie, the story, the acting, the photography, the sound, the editing or – oh yes – the theatres, then it won’t mean a thing, even with a 3D thing.