2009 3D

3dIs 3D the future? The L.A. Times throws the idea out. On Cartoonbrew.com, Jerry Beck throws it back. It’s a time when knowing your history is instructive … or oughta be. In the 1950s, 3D was considered a TV-killer by the studios, as was Cinemascope and Cinerama. By offering audiences the sensation that things were coming out of the screen, it was hoped they’d turn off Milton Berle and spend their evening with the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Cut to half-a-century on and the threat to cinema is bigger–DVDs, films on demand, Netflix, home theatre systems which are more impressive than some hole-in-the-wall multiplexes … ugh! So again we have 3D, seen at its spiffiest in Coraline and Monsters vs. Aliens. We also have big, big screens, at least if you have access to a nearby IMAX theatre. The thing is, these tactics have been employed by the studios before and turned out to be passing fads. So does 3D, if you will, step off the screen and into our lives permanently?

Beck doesn’t think so, because the 3D process is essentially unchanged since the 1950s (does that mean the glasses will give you a headache?) And ultimately, it doesn’t matter. 3D is actually serving another agenda:

Sorry… it’s a fad. A fad concocted and controlled by the major studios. The question is “why”? Here’s the answer: the studios are promoting 3-D films right now in an effort to convince the theaters to convert to digital projection. Once all theatres go digital, there will be no need for the studios to create expensive 35mm prints, they’ll be no more costs for reels and cans; the cost of transporting 100 pound film canisters coast to coast, the cost of storing prints in film depots and later, the cost of destroying worn prints will be eliminated. The savings to the studios will be enormous.

This explains why, prior to Monsters vs. Aliens release, the big story was not whether Ginormica was a new standard in cartoon hottie, but that not as many theatres had converted to 3D as Jeffrey Katzenberg would have liked. It also explains why moguls are so zealous about the artistically meh notion of 3D at a time when BO is up over past years.

Right now, 3D seems marketed at children (MvA) and teens (My Bloody Valentine 3-D), who will presumably outgrow the process. The next test will be James Cameron‘s Avatar, which opens on Dec. 18. The sci-fi spectacular follow-up to Titanic ought to encourage plenty of exhibitors to shell out for the digital 3D process. Just as Star Wars brought improved stereo to movie theatres, so Avatar could establish 3D as the fantasy medium of choice for a decade to come.

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