3-D Backlash Begins
April 2, 2010

With the success of Avatar, studios rushed to convert films made in two dimensions into 3-D. Why? Because they can charge more for tickets, and 3-D films can’t yet be watched at home in the same way, so they drive viewers to theaters.

Alice in Wonderland was converted, and it did very well. So did the next major 3-D releases, How to Train Your Dragon and Clash of the Titans. But with that latest, a backlash has begun.

One big complaint is about the huge jump in ticket prices, which appears to be studios trying to kill the golden goose. Hey, we found something that works to get viewers out and excited about our films! Let’s drain them dry, with prices over $50 for a family of four to go to one movie, even before you add the outrageous food costs. Nothing like being so greedy you turn your customers off a new approach before it becomes established.

Some are beginning to complain that 3-D doesn’t work for them, giving them a headache or otherwise making filmgoing uncomfortable. It probably doesn’t help that the 3-D films so far have been big spectacle movies, with lots of action and noise. According to that backlash article linked above,

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.

Those who know their stuff say that 3-D works best when it’s planned that way from the beginning instead of having movies converted or retrofitted as an afterthought to jump on this trend. As with any technique, it’s best when it’s part of the entire movie-making process, not treated as a way to exhort more money out of your customers.

I’m still planning on seeing How to Train Your Dragon in whatever theater, 2-D or 3-D, is showing it now, but that’s because of the voice talent involved and because I like theatrical cartoons. I was never planning to see Clash of the Titans, because I prefer the cheesy fun of the original. Whatever the next big blockbuster is that ships in 3-D, I’ll be evaluating based on subject and creators, not trendy technique.

11 Responses  
Thad writes:  

“Those who know their stuff say that 3-D works best when it’s planned that way from the beginning instead of having movies converted or retrofitted as an afterthought to jump on this trend.”

I’d say that’s true of live action, but actually, prior to Avatar, the best use of 3D I’d ever seen was Toy Story. It’s trivial to convert a CG feature to 3D, and Toy Story in particular lends itself to the format due to its emphasis on scale and the sheer amount of detail in the backgrounds and foregrounds. IMO it works better there than in Up, which was designed for 3D.

Nick Marino writes:  

i think conversion depends on who did it and how well they did it. for example, the Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D conversion sucked, but that doesn’t mean they all suck. i absolutely loved Meet the Robinsons in 3-D.

Suzene writes:  

Excellent timing on this one. We just opted out of seeing Clash of the Titans today because the 3D add-ons were expensive enough to take the Early Bird first show price from $5 to almost $10! No thanks.

Alan Coil writes:  

How to Train Your Dragon in 3-D in Toledo, Ohio, is $51.50 for a family of four. Not in 3-D is $35.50. $16 more is $4 a ticket.

Toledo is among those cities hit hardest by the recession. Unemployment is over 20%, with many jobs lost in the auto business. The point is that there is no money in Toledo to pay for these high ticket prices.

Is it any wonder online piracy does so well?

El Santo writes:  

Actually the 3-D in Coraline was amazing. It’s the only one of the recent movies I’ve seen in 3-D, actually… but there, because it was stop motion, it felt incredibly appropriate. Stop motion already has an element of solidity that CGI lacks, and putting it in 3D only deepens that immersion.

And if there’s fatigue, I think it may be because up until now, everyone’s been promoting 3-D movies as a special event. Like, “You can’t wait for Avatar to come on DVD! You have to see it in theaters, on IMAX, in 3-D!!!!” But when a new 3-D movie is coming out what seems like every week now, and it feels less special.

Johanna writes:  

Excellent point. As soon as a promotion is shown to work these days, everyone’s eager to overuse it so it stops being effective very quickly. See also: 10- or 25-cent comics.

Simon Jones writes:  

I second the comment about Coraline. There were some wonderful 3D sequences in that film. It had a gradated sense of depth, as opposed to Alice, which had a paper cutout feel to it.

Paul O'Brien writes:  

The only 3D film I’ve seen from the current wave is Avatar, and I wasn’t particularly impressed by the technology. It’s not entirely convincing. Most of the time it didn’t look solid, it just looked like there were different planes of flatness. It makes me much more conscious of the edge of the frame. And although you’ve got the 3D effect, you’re still stuck with whatever the camera was focussing on – so if you try to look at something else, it feels really odd.

I didn’t find it immersive at all – I found it a constant distraction. I think given a choice I’ll go for the 2D option in future.

hardtravelinghero writes:  

For my birthday yesterday, my girlfriend took us to see Clash of the Titans in 3-D and I thought seeing it in 2-D would have had the same effect, since either way, it was a poorly acted and directed movie, where nothing greatly stood out as 3-D. I enjoyed Avatar and its 3-D experience, and I can’t remember much about Up’s 3-D, but I don’t remembering complaining about it, nor the 3-D in My Bloody Valentine, which is probably only truly fun with a huge audience.

We wasted an extra $8 to “rent” those recyclable glasses for Clash, which are probably shipped somewhere far away for their rebaggings (which is probably has a huge carbon footprint) and hopefully they are cleaned beforehand, since I often leave a little sweat line on the top edge.

Anyone I hear saying they’re going to see Clash of the Titans, I’m going to tell them not to waste their money on the supposed 3-D version, just like I did at a comic shop last night.

I’m grateful for the links as this criticism might be useful for my students to have a some professional criticism on hand to learn from.

Ian writes:  

I’m not sure you know what you’re talking about. How TTYD was not ‘converted’. The conversion process you are talking about involves separating 2d elements into different planes. Dreamworks animation movies are already in 3d. Meaning they had to render it out differently, not convert it.

That said, the movie makes, at times, excellent use of 3d. As does Coraline, avatar, and Up. It’s unfair to say all 3d exists merely to ‘follow a trend’.

The 3-D Backlash Continues as Audiences Reject Higher Prices » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] And before this article gets 3-D dislikers too excited, note that I was also writing about a 3-D backlash over a year ago. But that was before customers started putting their money behind their […]


»  Substance: WordPress   »  Style: Ahren Ahimsa
Copyright 2009-2015 Johanna Draper Carlson