Animadversion: The 3-D Fad – by Kamran Jawaid

The following feature appeared in my column Animadversion, in iMAGES on Sunday on the 19th of September 2010. Below is the touched-up copy followed by the link to the published version.

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The Bigger Picture Isn’t Always Better in 3-D

By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid

Evolution comes at a price. And that price is sometimes in premiums that hike 3-5 dollars in ticket prices. To think that business is blooming during inflation is nothing short of an understatement.

What started out as an oh-so-wow experience has become a point of argument: to 3-D or not to 3-D, that is the question? For an audience riding the 3-D wave and the exhibitors willing to put as many as 5000 screens by this year’s end in North America, the argument is as small as a blink-and-miss blimp on worldwide radar.

So far the answer is subdued between a clash of the titans. Between old-school 2-D filmmakers and studios looking for better business. Between aesthetic and technicality. Between good filmmaking and the so-called 3-D fad started by Polar Express in 2004 and heightened by the rampaging business of Avatar – that made around $3 billion worldwide – and Alice in Wonderland – which made a little over a billion.

The debate is just as prominent as the one about shooting on negative or going HD, or Ultra-HD (or whatever it’s called).

If everything goes according to plan, as many as 60 3-D films will hit cinemas in the next two years, including a new installment of Saw 3-D, which illustrate that the supply isn’t just limited to big-budget films with native 3-D like “Avatar”, animated films like “Up”, “Toy Story 3” and “How to Train Your Dragon” or up-converted films like “Clash of the Titans”.

Recently I saw the trailer of “Drive Angry 3-D”, a revenge film about a father tracking down his daughter’s killer that stars Nicolas Cage and lets off the aura of a bad B-grade grind-house flick.

Drive Angry 3-D

Yet, the argument still persists. Is it necessary to hurdle together so many 3-D projects?

While, from the business perspective, it does sound plausible to have enough 3-D cinemas to keep films from crashing into each other when they are released in jam-packed seasons like summer or winter. “The Clash of the Titans” by Warner Bros. and “How to Train Your Dragon” by DreamWorks were two films that suffered drastically because of fewer available 3-D screens.

It is considering is that with an investment weight of billions worldwide has spun-off from the popularity of movies with the “watch it in 3-D” added after its title – including those with 3-D as part of their titles like “Step Up 3-D”, “Piranha 3-D”, “My Bloody Valentine 3-D”; and it helps matters little that premium ticket prices boosted revenues by 20% this year.

Picking up the beat in Pakistan is the soon to be unveiled “Atrium” cinema project (principled by Nadeem Mandivalla), which has three digital screens. One of them is in 3-D. The project is to be unveiled sometime this year.

As it happens with everything, the novelty does wear-off easily with this generation.

Take for example this keen survey by David Engber in his article “Is 3-D Dead in the Water?” where his findings show an inconsistent drop of revenue in recent 3-D releases.

The Polar Express

In, what he dubs as the “start of the revival”, “The Polar Express”, “opened in “3,650 theaters around the country, of which just 59 were equipped to show in 3-D. But the revenue from each of those premium screens was almost $40,000, compared with $6,000 for flat (normal cinema) showings. At the beginning, the 3-D bonus (for the film) was an incredible 575 percent

Now, “Flash-forward” to Christmas 2009 and Avatar, where the extra revenue from the films 3-D screenings was 70 percent. When Alice in Wonderland came out in March the revenue from 3-D had “dropped to 53 percent”. In May, “Shrek Forever After” saw a “boost of 48 percent”. “In July, “The Last Airbender” managed just 24 percent”.

Many critics agree that 3-D up-converted films, most of them garish and loud tent-pole movies jumping on the bandwagon, should be left off in 2-D. At least that way people wouldn’t have to pay more for results that look murky and blurred. The dim look is a kitschy, unavoidable, side-effect that all but hurls the audience out the theatre. Two prime examples, hardly criticized for their 3-D conversion and filmmaking were “Clash of the Titans” and “The Last Airbender”.

To film in 3-D or not, also comes from the artistic choice as well as the requirement of the movie. Like “The Last Airbender” showed, not every film should be hex to 3-D for instant sales. If it’s made for the medium, well that’s another matter. Defining borders or advocating against movies also conflicts upon the creative choice of filmmakers.

Meged Voiced for 3-D

Case in point, the recent skirmish between James Cameron and “Piranha 3-D” producer Mark Canton. In a recent Vanity Fair interview Mr. Cameron openly lambasted Piranha of “cheapen(ing) the medium”. According to Mr. Cameron it is “exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D”. Mr. Canton, a veteran of the field whose credits include over 300 films including “300” shot back in an open letter that Mr. Cameron’s “comments are ridiculous, self-serving and insulting to those of us who are not caught up in serving his ego or his rhetoric”. Mr. Canton also writes that Mr. Cameron constantly celebrates himself as a “team of one” who “singles himself out as a visionary of movie-making” yet “seems to have a small vision regarding any motion pictures that are not his own”.

This week in an unwarranted release, Mr. Cameron’s “Avatar” was reissued in 3-D with 9 minutes of added footage that included minor scenes of skirmish and drama and an introduction of a Pandoran animal he forced himself to cut in the original version.

Recently at Comic-Con San Diego event, “Star Trek” director J.J. Abrams and the upcoming “Avengers” director Joss Whedon, openly took “potshots at the 3-D boom”. Quoting the New York Times the directors believed that shooting in 3-D “hasn’t changed anything except (making the films) harder to shoot”. When Mr. Wheadon was asked if his yet to be released horror film “The Cabin in the Woods” will be converted to 3-D, he said that “(we’re hoping it will) be the only horror film coming out that is not in 3-D”.

Iron Man director Jon Favreau, talking about his upcoming DreamWorks and Universal film “Cowboys & Aliens” said that the 3-D format didn’t serve the purpose of the film. And while it was a mutual decision for “Cowboys”, Stacy Snider, the DreamWorks chief executive said its “naïve to think we wouldn’t be having it on any movie that has effects, action or scale”. I mean, how else are exhibitors willing to work their newly erected 5000 screens for the next couple of years?

The published version can be found at:

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/in-paper-magazine/images/animadversion-the-bigger-picture-isnt-always-better-in-3d-990

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