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Rethinking 3-D: Audiences Rebel at Crap Movies, Ebert Protests, Sony Explains, 2-D Loses Luster

by Sophia Savage and Anne Thompson
May 31, 2011 1:00 AM
5 Comments
  • |
Thompson on Hollywood

It was all too predictable. Hollywood, in its rush to collect premium ticket prices for 3-D fare, has overdone it, pushing too many grade-B movies into 3-D release. Now, not only are moviegoers often not getting value for their money, but 3-D is actually making the theatrical experience worse for audiences who want quality 2-D.

3-D is starting to fizzle, and Hollywood's starting to fret, reports The NYT. IMAX president Greg Foster tells them: "Audiences are very smart…When they smell something aspiring to be more than it is, they catch on very quickly.” The greedy assumption that we're idiots may have run its course. NYT:

Consumer rebellion over high 3-D ticket prices plays a role, and the novelty of putting on the funny glasses is wearing off, analysts say. But there is also a deeper problem: 3-D has provided an enormous boost to the strongest films, including “Avatar” and “Alice in Wonderland,” but has actually undercut middling movies that are trying to milk the format for extra dollars.

And that's not all. While 3-D is taking over theaters like a rash -- with the assumption that it was the future of movies -- good old-fashioned flat films are getting the short end of the stick. Take Lincoln Specter. Having seen Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3-D (the only film he insists people see in 3-D) at two different theaters, he learned an important lesson: "The difference between people who love digital projection and people who hate it may be the difference between the theaters they patronize." The problem: not all cinemas can afford to do the technology properly.

Ty Burr brings to light 2-D films left in the dark thanks to new digital projectors and 3-D "polarizers" (which absorb 50% of the light of 2-D films) that aren't removed for 2-D showings. Why? Because it takes time and money and theater staff with technical know-how.

But it's not like we aren't paying for this new technology--we are! Audiences should get value for their money and Hollywood chasing 3-D should neither lead to crappy movies nor hurt the experience of seeing 2-D. People should certainly complain.

This piece by Matthew Humphries explains that "the reason theaters are doing this is more complicated than you may think." He includes a Sony defense of their lenses.

Alamo Drafthouse's Tim League welcomes debate on this issue and offers more specifics on the complexities of the Sony 4K projectors and lenses in question.

Part of the problem, suggests Roger Ebert, is that not everyone was trained by the world's best projectionist (he was) and therefore they don't know they're being screwed with movies that don't look the way they're meant to. Ebert's not happy and neither are we. He says:

The film should have a brightness, a crispness and sparkle that makes an impact. It should look like a movie! -- not a mediocre big-screen television. When people don't have a good time at the movies, they're slower to come back. I can't tell you how many comments on my blog have informed me that the writers enjoy a "better picture" at home on their big-screen TVs with Blu-ray discs. This should not be true. Nobody at Ebertfest confused the experience with sitting at home and watching a video. A movie should leap out and zap you, not recede into itself and get lost in dimness.

I despair. This is a case of Hollywood selling its birthright for a message of pottage. If as much attention were paid to exhibition as to marketing, that would be an investment in the future. People would fall back in love with the movies. Short-sighted, technically illiterate penny-pinchers are wounding a great art form.

[Hat Tip: Balboa Theater's Gary Meyer.]

5 Comments

  • Brian | June 2, 2011 6:48 AMReply

    I'm giving 3-D one more chance with TRANSFORMERS 3 (despite the absence of Megan Fox). If Michael Bay can't get giant robots to rock in 3-D, then I'm giving up the format altogether.

  • Tim Wilson | June 2, 2011 4:34 AMReply

    "Hollywood chasing 3-D should neither lead to crappy movies nor hurt the experience of seeing 2-D." This is nonsense almost beyond speaking. How is 3D hurting the experience of 2D? It's simply not. Don't want to see a movie in 3D? Don't.

    --And if you can find ANY force in Hollywood that would lead to fewer crappy movies, by all means, bring it on. Crappy movies have also been blamed on chasing teenage boy audiences, sequel-itis, conservative studios pushing formula scripts, and so many other forces that are responsible for hundreds of crappy movies every year, when 3D can at most be responsible for a few dozen. By pointing at the wrong target, you're making it even easier for studios. "Well, it's crap, but at least it's not 3D crap."

    --It is also absolutely IMPOSSIBLE for 3D revenues to undercut 2D revenues. Impossible. 60% of the audience saw Thor in 3D. The audience for 2D was in no way diminished by that: every venue that showed Thor in 3D had at least one screen showing it in 2D. Is the argument that a MARVEL COMICS fan would be so turned off by the idea of 3D that they wouldn't go see it in 2D anyway? Impossible. If I'm wrong, show me a single survey or data point from somebody who isn't an anonymous analyst. Can't be done, because it's not true.

    I'm serious about this. ToH has repeated this so many times, with zero substantiation. Step up, or cut it out.

    --The problem that Ty Burr reports is easily observed, but has NOTHING to do with 3D. It has strictly to do with the transition to digital cinema, which has been underway for years, and would still be without 3D. You say "hard bargain for the theater owner to swallow?" Much of it has been subsidized by distributors who will benefit first by eliminating film prints - and indeed NATO pres Fithian says that there will be NO film prints by 2013. (Which I first read about on this very site.)

    Again, no relation to 3D, which will obviously be a beneficiary...but not in any way the real point of the exercise. Eliminating the cost of film prints that only last a few weeks, but also eliminating piracy - you can't use a camcorder or cell phone to record digital cinema.

    This is not unlike the congressional mandate to DTV, which included no relation to HDTV. DTV is strictly transmission of content that includes both HD and SD. The law was passed to standardize TV delivery in a way that predictably used bandwidth that is shared by cell phones, emergency response, satellites, radio, remote controls, and everything that transmits anything. It HAD to happen, just as digital distribution and exhibition HAS to happen.

    Sorry to belabor this part of the argument, but if you don't get that digital distribution is NOT oriented toward 3D, but toward dramatic savings AND new kinds of piracy protection, you can't follow the rest of the story.

    --The problem of low light levels and wrong lenses likewise has nothing to do with 3D, but with the bungled projection that has been the case for more movies that I've seen since the 60s than not.

    Ah, for the days of the professional projectionist! Roger has no idea how bad it has been for the rest of us for decades. It's a pity that he's only now noticed. The view from his balcony has apparently had nothing to do with us until now.

    --The first 12 minutes of Harry Potter 6 were in 3D at IMAX theaters, and it was spectacular. With that successful experiment in hand, the plans were for 7 and 8 to be entirely in 3D, but running over schedule on non-3D aspects of the production of 7 led them to stick with 2D. The right call of course. The 3D plans for 8 have been in place for a long time, and will come to pass this time.

    Apologies for the length of this, the general ranty-ness, and bringing up a point I've made in other comments here. But it's only fair because of how often this stuff keeps coming up. Look, if you don't like 3D, fine. If you want it to fail, fine. That's an entirely discussion.

    In the meantime, the arguments here are a mess, and expose a basic ignorance of facts being presented elsewhere on this site! It's a great site. You should read it.

  • Tony | May 31, 2011 9:06 AMReply

    Before we declare 3D dead, we should wait until the end of the summer. Family films like Kung Fu Panda 2 and Pirates 4 are notorious for their low 3D % shares; also Transformers 3 and Harry Potter could up the defense for 3D. From what I know, Jeffrey Katzenberg's thinking on 3D is: If an animated films skews older, then that crowd will pay for the premium. In the end, its the exhibitors who get the short end of the stick. They've invested in this revolution and if the majors cut their supply of 3D films to a handful of tentpoles a year, that's a hard bargain for a theater owner to swallow.

  • Ivan | May 31, 2011 4:58 AMReply

    Why is the last Harry Potter being shown in 3D? It makes no sense since none of the previous episodes were in this format. I guess it will take a major collapse of a film like this for 3D to finally be killed.

  • Brian | May 31, 2011 4:40 AMReply

    I saw CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS in digitally projected 3-D at the IFC Center, hoping to finally see a film that used 3-D in an intelligent, appropriate, creative way. While the scenes of the cave art in 3-D were quite fascinating, I found the rest of the film a chore. All the talking heads scenes did not need to be in 3-D. In fact, I would estimate that the 3-D glasses reduced the brightness of the image by nearly 50%. So I took the glasses off whenever they left the cave (which was most of the movie). Sure, it was blurry, but at least it wasn't as dark. Also, the seats at IFC Center were quite low, or the screen was too high--or both! Which may have made a difference.

    So far, my experiences with 3-D in the "new" era have not been good ones.

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