Late last week, The Hollywood Reporter did some Pulitzer-worthy reporting that pointed to a glorious trend: 3-D is on the decline. Three-dimensional movies, which accounted for 21 percent of North American box-office revenue in 2010, accounted for only 14 percent in 2016. That’s a 33 percent reduction in revenue share in just six years. According to the piece, which was coauthored by Carolyn Giardina and Pamela McClintock, movie distributors are deciding to stop selling what audiences have decided to stop buying. “Imax announced last week during its earnings call that it would be reducing its 3-D slate in the domestic market, citing a ‘clear preference’ for 2-D from audiences,” one blessed sentence read. Yes, 3-D is going down.
Never have I felt more fondness for my fellow humans. And the timing of this market correction couldn’t be better. Just when my trust in the wisdom of crowds was wavering, along comes the latest about 3-D’s downfall to restore my faith in the future.
Last year’s divided (and divisive) presidential race eroded our confidence in each other. On November 9, I wrote that for many Americans — and not only liberals — the election’s results “shook our faith in something fundamental: our ability to predict how our fellow citizens feel.” In the wake of that electoral upheaval, it’s reassuring to read that even in this polarized climate, there is one sentiment that can bring us together across ideological lines: our shared resentment of paying more for an often-inferior version of the same movie. In a darkened theater, rows don’t run red or blue. The decline of 3-D is democracy at work, and the box office is our agora.
Better yet, at a time when some are sounding the “death knell for America’s global leadership,” our 3-D divesting is setting an example for the rest of the world. “Globally, 56 percent of all digital screens are 3-D, compared to 39 percent in the U.S. and Canada,” The Hollywood Reporter piece added. Sure, we may have started and helped spread the scourge of 3-D in the first place, but at least we’re leading the cleanup. U-S-A! U-S-A! (And Can-a-da.)
What we have here is a virtuous cycle, in which each decrease in 3-D’s earnings persuades more movie moguls (are we still calling them that?) to offer fewer films in 3-D, thereby reducing 3-D’s market share even further. If 3-D’s death spiral continues, the format may peter out completely by the time we hit Avatar 5.
Based on my typical taste in technology, you’d think I’d be sad to see 3-D go. I’m an early adopter, a gadget guy, someone who usually likes the latest bells and whistles when it comes to speakers and screens. Even so, I never took to 3-D. At its best, when movies were made with 3-D in mind, the medium may have moved me in ways I wasn’t even aware of, but it was rarely at its best. According to Philip Dhingra’s tallies at his site, realorfake3d.com, a large majority of “3-D” movies over the past three years have not been natively filmed in 3-D, instead unconvincingly upconverted at a cost that’s passed on (plus extra) to ticket buyers, who are supposedly paying for a premium experience.
In most cases, of course, that experience is subpar, to the point of being borderline snake oil. Not only do the fictional figures in “fake” 3-D movies fail to leap out of the screen and walk among us like actors in participatory theater, but their images are often improperly projected, leading to darker, dimmer pictures and increased eye strain while wearing 3-D glasses. On top of that, there’s the discomfort for glasses-wearers of having to fit a second pair of eyewear over their own frames. I got Lasik to give up glasses for good, and I didn’t smell the scent of my corneas as lasers entered my eyes so that Big 3-D could bust me back to the bad old days of blurry lenses. Yet, studios have subjected us (and local landfills) to movie-viewing accessories and expected us to pay for the privilege.
In the VR era, 3-D no longer seems sexy, even when it’s well implemented. Aside from the occasional CGI spectacle, it’s time to consign it to the scrapheap of history, where it will join many other overhyped Hollywood gimmicks designed to beat TV, from Smell-O-Vision to vibrating chairs.
Hours after reading about 3-D’s demise, I bought a ticket to The Dark Tower at a multiplex where, in the past, I’ve paid 3-D prices because 3-D screenings so crowded out traditional ones that I couldn’t find a 2-D time. When it was over, a few people clapped. Unless they were applauding because the movie was over, we evidently hadn’t agreed about how good The Dark Tower was. Odds are, though, we were united in the way we wanted to watch it. Maybe the country can’t bridge its differences about things that matter more, but we do have a “clear preference” for film presentation. 2-D or not 2-D, that is the question — and America has answered correctly. We can quibble with the way we pick politicians, but at least we elected the right movie format.Read More...
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