Thursday, September 15, 2011

3D Movies

Slate has an article on Who Killed 3-D? When they say "killed" they are talking about receipts per screen. A couple of years ago a screen showing 3D saw a significant box office increase over screens showing the same movie in 2D. That has vanished and, in some cased, reversed. This Summer's Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean releases earned less on their 3D showings setting new lows for 3D releases.

So what's going on? Slate offers four suspects: an increase in the 3D premium, a flooded market, pickier customers, and the lowering quality of 3D movies. I think that all of these are factors but there is more to it.

Personally, I am sick of 3D releases. When they first started there was a modest premium and only suitable movies were shown in 3D. As the craze took off, the 3D premium was raised. I have been at some movies where 3D added 40%-50% to the ticket price. Very few movies are worth that extra. We have gotten to the point where we see if we can go to a 2D showing instead of a 3D one. The theaters have anticipated this and adjusted their schedules. The 7:00-8:00 showings which are the most popular are devoid of 2D offerings. So you have a choice - go to a 2D movie at an inconvenient time or pay the 3D surcharge. This means that 3D movies are doing even worse than the statistics would indicate. It might also be keeping people home since the third option is to skip it and wait for the DVD.

Too often 3D adds little or nothing to the movie. We saw Pirates of the Caribbean 4 in 3D. This movie was actually shot in 3D instead of being shot in 2D and converted like Harry Potter. This gives the 3D a more natural look which actually hurts it. Why pay more for 3D if you don't notice it? The movie managed to work in a few swords coming out of the screen. Otherwise the 3D it didn't add much.

I was impressed with the 3D in Captain America. This raises a different question - is it a good thing for the 3D to distract you from the plot? Color movies went through this phase. Through the 1950s, color was considered a distraction. Serious movies were filmed in black and white. You can see echoes of that today. 3D movies are mainly CGI or adventure movies. Part of this is that the process itself is costly so only potential blockbusters are given the treatment. It is cheaper to make a CGI movie in 3D than a live action one so they tend to be 3D.

Horror movies are also being given the 3D treatment. Fright Night was only available in 3D. In fact the full title is "Fright Night 3D". It might as well be called Fight Night Splattervision. Most of the movie takes place in fairly small rooms so the 3D is wasted. The only time it is noticeable is when a vampire dies. That is accompanied with splashed of goop and sparks flying into the audience.

Had the studios and theaters restrained themselves, 3D would have been a small but viable market. Instead, by overpricing and oversupplying, they threaten to eliminate it.

It would be nice if that happened by next Summer's blockbuster season.

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