Monday, March 29, 2010

3D Revolution

I was singing “Good Morning” to my daughter the other day since she seems to love Broadway showtunes. The song is from “Singing in the Rain”, and stars Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. It was the first “Mamma Mia” or “Movin’ Out” of its time. I say that because it was not written as a cohesive musical. It was simply a bunch of songs that were written and organized around a plot. The plot of the movie was about the transition from silent to talking movies. It was a revolutionary phase of media.

If you look back to those days, there were a lot of naysayers and pessimists about talking movies. Everyone was so used to silent movies that talking movies were too strange to be appealing. Also at the time, talking movies were more expensive to make and took longer to make. In the end, however, talking movies became mainstream and are now known as just “movies”.

Now we are at the beginning of another revolution. With James Cameron’s Avatar, three dimensional movies are coming into vogue. We should not forget that 3D movies were available three decades ago. However, the technology to create the 3D effect was still in its infancy and relegated to those awful red and blue paper glasses. Since that time the technology has advanced significantly. In fact, Avatar was filmed with proprietary equipment designed just for 3D movies. And the glasses have also advanced and are able to cycle rapidly to allow alternating images to each eye. All these advances means that the 3D image that you see if more realistic.

Of course, making a 3D movie is more expensive that making a regular movie. And not all theaters are able to show 3D movies. And only the newest of televisions may even have the capability of showing a 3D movie in your home. I may sound like a naysayer about 3D movies, and in part I am a little bit. Now that is not to say I think 3D movies will fail as they did in the 1980’s. With the technology today and the success of Avatar, there will certainly be a boom in 3D movies over the next five to ten years. But they will likely not take over the regular old 2D movie.

I say this for several reasons. First, with the rapidity that most movies end up on DVD, coupled with the likely increasing availability of 3D capable televisions, there will be less money to be made at the box office. I also do not believe that the difference will be made up on DVD sales. Thus 3D movies, which will always require far larger budgets to create, will run a far smaller profit margin overall. And given the difficulty to having a blockbuster movie, there will be times when a 3D movie flops, costing the studio even more money.

The second reason is that 3D movies offer a different experience overall to regular movies. The difference between silent movies and talking movies was sound. Not a great game changer unless you were hard of hearing. But there were always subtitles to fix that problem. The difference between 2D and 3D movies is obviously that third dimension. For I do not that it will be a tremendous issue since Avatar has broken box office records, but I personally find 3D movies difficult to watch. If they are too long I start to get a headache. It is not necessarily any different than a movie that is filmed using a handheld camcorder without image stabilization, but it is still a headache and makes it impossible for me to enjoy the movie. I do not know if this a common problem among moviegoers, but I would bet it happens a number of them.

The last reason that 3D movies will likely not take over is that not everything looks better or need to be filmed in 3D. Most if not all of your romantic comedies and love stories would look unimpressive in 3D. Can you imagine “When Harry Met Sally” in 3D? You did not give a very excited response I am sure. It is far more likely that video games go all 3D before movies do. That’s right. You heard it here first. Once those 3D televisions are more affordable the first 3D video games will show up in stores. Imagine Grand Theft Auto or Casualties of War in 3D. Or even Mario Kart. It’s a guaranteed winner.