We're coming up to three years since "Avatar" became the biggest-grossing film in history, and any thought that 3D film, which James Cameron's picture helped to revive, was a flash in the pan seems to have been wishful thinking. The top two slots at the current U.S. box office are taken by two 3D films that couldn't be more unlike one another: "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," a colorful, star-studded animated sequel, and "Prometheus," a dark, live-action sci-fi horror from Ridley Scott. And yet they happily sit side-by-side, raking in the cash without cannibalizing each other's 3D screens (not to mention those of "The Avengers" or "Men In Black 3," which are still very much in theaters). And these are hardly outliers: when you include the stereoscopic re-releases of "Titanic" and "The Phantom Menace," eight of the all time top grossers were released in 3D.
And yet the medium still proves highly divisive, online and in the real world. Fears last year that domestic audiences were actively rejecting the format seem to have eased off, but it's still easy to find audiences complaining about the added expense, poor presentation and shoddy conversions -- anecdotally, we certainly know more film fans who actively avoid 3D releases, preferring to see them in 2D screenings, than those who eagerly anticipate the next stereoscopic release. But we're coming to an interesting fork in the road, where the format isn't merely a vehicle for CGI-driven action fare and animated fare, but also dramas from major filmmakers. Following Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," two of the major fall releases are Ang Lee's "Life Of Pi" and Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby," both of which are prestigious literary adaptations that wouldn't necessarily be obvious choices for 3D transfers. Even Jean-Luc Godard is shooting his next film in the format.
Clearly filmmakers are enthused by the possibilities from what they've seen from the likes of Cameron, Scorsese and Scott. But even three years on from "Avatar," can the technology really match their ambitions? That's the question raised by Rian Johnson, director of "Brick" and the upcoming "Looper," and one of the smartest young filmmakers around. On his Tumblr, Johnson (who's been a notable digital refusenik, posting some brilliant and technically insightful pieces on things like the Red camera), admits that he's someone who'll go twenty minutes out of his way to avoid a 3D screening, and yet says he agrees with two statements from the pro-3D lobby: "3D is the future of cinema" and "The introduction of stereoscopic photography is analogous to the introduction of color." And yet the filmmaker is less than enamored of the actual reality of what we have. And we thoroughly agree.