3D R.I.P.

It was the last hope for business as usual for the entertainment and consumer electronic industries


The first (and last) thing that needs to be said about 3D movies themselves is that they aren’t.

Three-dimensional, that is. A layer of schmutz floating around a few feet in front of your nose while a movie plays behind it is not a reasonable simulation of our tactile physical universe. We can sit around arguing about the increasing quality of this floating schmutz in the digital age, but schmutz it remains–distracting bits of pollen hovering around our theaters. For a moment it amazes us, and then we struggle (consciously or not) to ignore it so we can focus on the story.

And the story is at the crux of this. 3D advocates point to early resistance to sound and color in the movies as proof that they are on the right track. But sound and color became crucial elements in cinematic storytelling. We’ve yet to see a 3D film where the floating schmutz is integral to the plot, and which could not be understood if you took the goofy glasses off. 3D is a gimmick, and has been since the days of the drive-in.

Poor Hollywood. The industry’s hopes and dreams were pinned to 3D. It was supposed to be a piracy-resistant bit of spectacle that would levitate teenagers out of their basements, away from their Playstations and smartphones and into movie theatres, where they would gladly pay a hefty surcharge on an already hefty ticket price for an “in-your-face” experience. 3D was also supposed to perpetuate the endless consumer gadget cycle, compelling overcompensating dads to ditch last year’s 52 inch HD LCDs for giant 3DTV flatscreens that let them bring the schmutz home. This in turn would propel the next wave of physical media sales, wherein we all would dump our DVD (or Bluray) collections at yard sales, replacing each classic flick with a new edition, digitally upschmutzed to 3D. George Lucas was moist with anticipation!

In short, 3D was the last best hope for business as usual in both the entertainment and consumer electronic industries. A couple of years ago at CES, the massive electronics trade show in Vegas, 3DTVs were everywhere. A couple of years ago, Avatar made Hollywood salivate. But as CES 2012 gears up, the reality is sinking in: Consumers don’t really want 3D at home, and Avatar was a one-off. Sports fans are lukewarm on floating balls, and people feel ridiculous wearing those goofy glasses in well-lit living rooms where they can be seen by their friends and families. Even gamers who bought Nintendo 3Ds are tiring of the optical illusion and turning 3D off.

There are still a few (hundred million) bucks more to be squeezed out of 3D before consumers grow completely sick of the experience, so we will surely see a slew of schmutzy pictures in the months and years to come. And of course, there will be an Avatar 2.

But this thing is on the wane, and Hollywood may soon have to resort to actually producing movies people want to see on account of their content.

Or they could just bring back Smell-O-Vision.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown


3D R.I.P.

  1. “Poor Hollywood. The industry’s hopes and dreams were pinned to 3D. It was supposed to be a piracy-resistant bit of spectacle that would levitate teenagers out of their basements, … and into movie theatres, … for an “in-your-face” experience.”

    Haha!  Are you saying 3D is the “Poochy” of movie innovations? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHOMIL_6x7k

  2. The one thing that might save it is if someone manages to do decent 3D without the glasses. Until then, I’ll be sticking to 2 dimensions.

    • Hence Jesse’s comment about the 3DS.
      I have one, it is decent 3D and glasses free, and Jesse’s entirely right.. I mostly shut off the 3D viewing anyway. The main use it gets is for taking 3D pictures of art/sculptures/animals.Also, I suppose if they had a decent music visualizer on the system like Whitecap, that could be pretty trippy in 3D, but sadly they don’t.

      Still not regretting the purchase though. The old super-nintendo games of my teens, an MP3 player, plus a couple of regularly used apps (a notebook and a scientific/converting calculator), and, of course, Plants vs. Zombies (I swear that game comes from Columbia it’s so addicting) keeps it in my jacket pocket even if I don’t make use of it’s 3D features much.

  3. I’ve always felt the same way about 3D as you.  But the manufacturers were trying so hard to create a new reason to buy more TVs, so it’s interesting to see that they’re not succeeding.

    I agree that content is the key.  There used to be a lot more grand movie productions, from Apocalypse Now to Star Wars to the Godfather.  These days it seems few producers want to go ahead with one of these, although I suppose James Cameron may be trying to buck the trend, but he too is heavily dependent on special effects.  But for the most part, too many movies are simple boiler-plate productions these days.

  4. We already had and have a 3D movie gadget.  It’s called two tokes and they cost next to nothing.

  5. a good director would be able to use 3d to better tellba story, their was shity movies befor 3d, and their well be good and bad 3d movies, holleywood did not sell out, they havexalways bin sell outs. 3d is not bad for you its technoligy inhancing story telling. but 3d well need to be inproved at home and mobile to glasses free at any angel. this well be the challange in the world of tech, notvstory telling

  6. For whatever reason, I have been unable to actually see the 3D part of 3D so I’d not be a customer anyway. In any event, it all seemed so stupid and as this all gets shook out, it seems that unless the movie was actually filmed at the outset for it, then it was a pointless add-on. From what I understand of 3D films as well, the 3D is a neat effect, but it looks nothing like the reality version of what we understand as three-dimensions.

  7. It’s not that I dislike the idea of an illusionary 3D experience, and I don’t even terribly mind the glasses, but it’s that the various 3D methods available currently are still rudimentary and unrefined. The technology just isn’t that good yet.

  8. “3D advocates point to early resistance to sound and color in the movies
    as proof that they are on the right track. But sound and color became
    crucial elements in cinematic storytelling.” This is where the article lost all credibility and I stopped reading. Color is still not a crucial element either, it’s just an improvement. I’m not gonna read an article with such bad argumentation thanks.
    (Though, yes, I am tired of 3D already myself as well, I’d never argue it that badly).

    • I’d argue with you about whether colour is crucial or not. Besides the obvious examples such as “The Color of Night”, where much of the plot revolves around the lead character’s colour blindness, or “The Sixth Sense”, where colour is intentionally used to give the audience subtle indications of what’s happening, there’s also such movies as “Cube” where colour was crucial in how they *didn’t* apply it (apparently when they were first filming someone noticed that they’d made all the “trapped” rooms red without thinking about it, thus requiring some re-shoots and post-production editing.)

      Then we have films such as Sin City, where colour is deliberately used (or not) throughout to add to the weight of the images in the film.Beyond that, what would “The Terminator” have been without the red glowing eyes lighting up again? Without colour, that scene simply would have lacked the punch, or perhaps not even been intelligible (are the eyes lighting up a reflection of the fires going on around? or something else?)

      Of course, it’s not crucial in all movies, but by contrast is there even one 3D film where the 3D was crucial to the telling of the story?

  9. The only 3D movie that I thought honestly benefitted was Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The sensation of the cave around you worked.

    Everything else has been varying degrees of awful.

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