Yes Indeedy, Producers Are Greedy And Needy For 3-D


Two articles in one day about the push to make 3-D the Future of Movies, one in the Wall Street Journal, the other just in Time.

I will confess to being on the side of the skeptics, like Leonard Maltin (briefly quoted in the WSJ article), who point out that every time 3-D comes around, producers and executives announce that it’s going to change everything, and it never, ever does. True, 3-D is more advanced now than it used to be, but having to wear glasses is still a major turn-off (particularly for people who are nearsighted and already need glasses to see the screen). Jack Warner was so certain that 3-D would be the new version of sound, something that would completely change the medium of film, that he shut down the Warner Brothers cartoon department in 1953; he’d decided that all films would probably be made in 3-D and that it was too expensive to make 3-D cartoons. He re-opened the cartoon studio a few months later when 3-D imploded.

Of course they also said that sound would never take over, but if the studios had been trying to launch sound for over 50 years, only to find every time that the public didn’t care whether a movie had sound or not, then I might also be skeptical of an announcement that now sound would take over because of an improvement in recording techniques.

And while I promise not to illustrate every post with a strip from the newly-discovered Peanuts archive, I just can’t resist this one from 1971, because it’s so darn relevant here:


I’ll admit, though, that I have a slight bias against 3-D because one of the things I love about movies is their kinship to painting; directors used to study their favourite painters and imitate their work on film in terms of composition and shadows and light. That’s already starting to get lost, and with 3-D the visual look of movies will be… already is, actually… kind of ugly. But again, you could say the same things about silent vs. sound. (And you’d be right: silent movies may not have been “better” than sound, but they were a unique art form, and it was sad to see them go, even though the popularity of sound made that inevitable. If 3-D takes over eventually, the loss of 2-D as a unique art form will also be sad.)

The advantages of 3-D movies, as described in the articles, have less to do with the technology and more to do with the fact that these movies are booked for high-cost, limited-run engagements. They are, in other words, a modern version of the “roadshow” movie, those big-budget ’50s and ’60s movies like Ben-Hur or The Sound of Music where studios would book movies into relatively few theatres, at high ticket prices and with an intermission, and make lots of money by making moviegoing into a high-end entertainment like live theatre. This practice died out in the late ’60s, and even at its height it depended on the prosperity of the ’50s and ’60s (charging huge ticket prices in the ’30s or ’70s would not have worked).

Anyway, here is the one cartoon that Warner Brothers made in 3-D, though it hasn’t actually been seen in genuine 3-D since 1954. (And the only thing to indicate that it was in 3-D is the opening gag with the WB shield.)

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Yes Indeedy, Producers Are Greedy And Needy For 3-D

  1. We’ll see if 3D takes off or not, but one place where I can see it taking off is VIDEO GAMES.

    You can already get cool modern 3D glasses and systems that allow you to play 3D video games (with a compatible video card) and I can see 3D games becoming VERY big. Even the glasses thing is less of a barrier, as wearing glasses while playing a game is less onerous (imho) than while trying to relax watching TV. (for one thing, while gaming you’re pretty much sitting up (somewhat) straight, and looking at the screen head on).

    I too am somewhat skeptical that 3D will be the revolution some espouse, but I think 3D gaming could be big.

    • Yeah, games, definitely. They also have the benefit of being a newer art form than movies or TV, and they don’t have to change as much to accommodate true 3-D.

  2. You have my vote — keep punctuating your posts with Peanuts cartoons! Please! Every one!

  3. This practice died out in the late ’60s, and even at its height it depended on the prosperity of the ’50s and ’60s (charging huge ticket prices in the ’30s or ’70s would not have worked).

    Which, of course, makes now the perfect time to revive it.

    Seriously, though, is there anyone out there over the age of ten who actually likes 3D? Cause I don’t actually know anyone who does. It’s mostly just annoying.

    • I think people tend to like it if they don’t see it very often. I saw a few films in 3-D over the last couple of years and enjoyed the novelty aspect at first; I think that’s a common reaction. It was after I saw a few in close succession that I started to feel really strongly that it was an irritation. If that’s a widespread response, and familiarity really does breed contempt, then the prospects for wider adoption do seem bleak.

      I don’t think it will completely die as it did after its 50s boom and 80s revival, since the technology is good enough that it will continue to have a place: the prevalence of computer animation both in animated films and special effects movies will also help, as such animation / effects are inherently suited to the format. But instead of the widespread takeover people like Robert Zemeckis seem to anticipate, I think it will hang around as a niche / sepcial event format the way IMAX has.

  4. You’re wrong about LUMBER JACK RABBIT not being seen in 3-D since 1954. I saw it in 3-D at the World 3-D Film Expo at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood back in 2006. I don’t think there were very many 3-D movies that *weren’t* shown over that week and a half. You’re right, though, that aside from the opening titles the cartoon ignores gimmicky “comin’ at ya” gags. Jones did stage a number of shots in perspective (e.g., Bugs strolling along in the foreground while the giant puppy is following him in the background) that were quite effective in 3-D. If 3-D had become the norm, I imagine that would have been typical of how cartoons would have dealt with the process once the novelty of throwing objects at the audience wore off.

  5. LJR does show up in 3-D revivals now and then. I saw it back in the 70s, as part of a month-long summer tribute to 3-D films in Greenwich Village (IIRC, it was paired with “House of Wax”, and other showings included the 3-D shorts with Casper and Woody Woodpecker from 1953).