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3-D Divide: Upfront vs. Retrofit

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood March 31, 2010 at 1:29AM

No one in Hollywood will listen now that Avatar and Alice in Wonderland have scored the mother-lode of grosses as 3-D movies. Could Alice have done as well in 2-D as a perfect match between name director, beloved children's book, and family-friendly studio? No, confirms Disney, because 70% of its grosses came from 3-D screens.
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Thompson on Hollywood

No one in Hollywood will listen now that Avatar and Alice in Wonderland have scored the mother-lode of grosses as 3-D movies. Could Alice have done as well in 2-D as a perfect match between name director, beloved children's book, and family-friendly studio? No, confirms Disney, because 70% of its grosses came from 3-D screens.

This isn't just about the appeal of the technology for viewers---which will wear off as soon as they get burned enough. It's about greed: charging more for tickets. Avatar's premium numbers are dancing in studio chief's heads. Apres Alice, the deluge.

Truth is, Cameron knows how to do 3-D: he set a mile-high standard with Avatar. I'm spoiled. James Cameron has been proselityzing for movies designed from in-front to be 3-D: smooth, immersive, not in-your-face. The folks at DreamWorks (How to Train Your Dragon) and Pixar (Up) also know what they are doing with CG and 3-D. It makes sense in the digital universe to move the viewer's eyes around inside a 3-D space. Doing it well is expensive, though. Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Joe Letteri are building on Weta Digital's Avatar knowledge for the 3-D performance capture movie Tintin, another movie that will likely look sensational in 3-D.

Thompson on Hollywood

What bothers me most is the retroactive refitting of movies into 3-D. When designed in advance and shot in 3-D, a movie can work really well. But turning movies into 3-D after the fact looks awful. That's what happened with Warner Bros./Legendary's Clash of the Titans (forcing a clash of the studios over 3-D turf) and Alice. Clash of the Titans throws you out of reality, blurs and muddies the action, makes the movie look even worse than it probably is. That good old-fashioned feeling of getting lost inside a fantasy space is GONE.

Tim Burton is a tactile guy who hates CG and prefers putting his hands on real objects. ("Nous ne faisions pas Avatar!" he told Le Monde.) Alice in Wonderland's 3-D was weird and fake. Again, I'd rather see it in 2-D. From now on, I will see every movie in the format it was shot in. It makes sense that Burton plans to return to 3-D with the stop-motion animation project The Addams Family. Then he can fold his brain--and hands--around puppets in a real space: like Corpse Bride.

Bourne series producer Frank Marshall (@LeDoctor), who knows a thing or two, tweeted thusly: "So far, feels like it's better to shoot in 3-D rather than convert..." He's right. And so is Cameron, who also hates the 3-D conversion craze, along with Michael Bay. Roger Ebert (@ebertchicago) tweets, "3-D is a distracting, annoying, anti-realistic, juvenile abomination to use as an excuse for higher prices" (and expounds further here).

Ridley Scott wanted to turn Robin Hood into 3-D--probably wanting to add some pizazz to a pricey project that needs to be as commercial as possible. But Universal balked at the extra cost, thank God. To his credit, Darren Aronofsky was reluctant to shoot MGM's RoboCop remake in 3-D. Financeer Relativity asked Stephen Norrington to direct his reboot of The Crow in 3-D, but the director didn't want to shoot that way, figuring they can do it retroactively.

No! The whole point of 3-D is to immerse the audience in exotic worlds like the jungles of Pandora and Up. It's not about the pop! wow! pixel-antics of Clash of the Titans. If audiences flock to see that too, Hollywood will continue to rush in, ruining a good thing by trashing, debasing and over-using it. As always. Too bad.

This article is related to: Box Office, Directors, Franchises, Stuck In Love, Exhibition, Production , Spring, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, John Lasseter, James Cameron, Avatar, Roger Ebert Fellowship , 3D, VFX


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