Almost a year ago, animation journalist and historian Jerry Beck made a rather stringent pronouncement on his Cartoon Brew blog:
"3-D is a fad."
Beck, a self-proclaimed 3-D fan, was quite harsh in his then assessment of the future of 3-D presented films. He made this arguement:
" . . . the studios are promoting 3-D films right now in an effort to convince the theaters to convert to digital projection. Once all theatres go digital, there will be no need for the studios to create expensive 35mm prints, they’ll be no more costs for reels and cans; the cost of transporting 100 pound film canisters coast to coast, the cost of storing prints in film depots and later, the cost of destroying worn prints will be eliminated. The savings to the studios will be enormous."
" . . . as soon as all theaters (or a majority of them) eliminate film and go completely digital, I predict the current 3-D fad will end."
Other well known film historians and critics have weighed in with similar harsh assessments of the current wave of 3-D movies. Roger Ebert commented in 2008, "The 3-D process is like a zombie, a vampire, or a 17-year cicada: seemingly dead, but crawling out alive after a lapse of years. We need a wooden stake."
But this current wave of 3-D is showing no real signs of abating any time soon. The movie-going public has apparently embraced the process and are enjoying the enhancement. It is by no means everyone's cup of tea. But at least at my local multiplexes, customers are given a choice of 3-D or 2-D; no one is being slighted in the movie-going process.
So returning to Mr. Beck's seemingly adamant statement of 3-D being a fad, he and others of similar persuasion will need to bring a lot more to the argument before I myself am wholly convinced.
The previous high-water mark for 3-D movie exhibitions extends all the way back to the general debut of process back in the early 1950s. It's ultimate mainstream demise by 1955 related not so much to a public rejection of the principle of 3-D movies, but an inability to refine the process enough on a technical level to overcome issues of eye strain, picture quality and compatibility with theater venues that were more and more expanding to accommodate widescreen presentations. Today's digital projection technologies have dramatically overcome these prior hurtles. Sure, there are still occasional criticisms relating to eye strain and picture quality, but they have been very, very minimal and do not seem to pose any type of threat to the long-term viability of current 3-D digital processes.
More notable is, that beyond the backlash from a very vocal but distinctly small minority of critics and moviegoers, both the public and the film industry seem to have accepted 3-D and moved on. So much so that the average moviegoer seems to have no problem ponying up the extra $ surcharge that theater owners attach to 3-D tickets. And a 3-D connection to a film no longer necessarily comes with any critical baggage, as all the various awards and accolades for both Avatar and Pixar's Up would indicate.
Relating this discussion to " . . . the many worlds of Disney entertainment," as our tag-line suggests, is fairly obvious. The Walt Disney Company has been one of the leading proponents of Digital 3-D, and has very much been reaping the box-office benefits thereto. My first exposure to a digital 3-D film was Disney's Meet the Robinsons back in 2007 and I was extremely impressed with both the movie and the 3-D process. I have since enjoyed Bolt, Up and Alice in Wonderland in 3-D presentations; I regret that I was not able to see the converted 3-D versions of The Nightmare Before Christmas and the Toy Story films. I personally find that animated movies are far more compatible with 3-D, but cannot deny that Avatar was stunning in its 3-D presentation. I found the picture for Alice in Wonderland to be a tad bit murky and dark, but I'm not sure whether to attribute that to the quirks of my own vision, Tim Burton's vision, or to the fact that the film was converted to 3-D in post-production.
Speaking for myself at least, the intention on the part of Hollywood to draw people back to movie theaters via the enticement of 3-D, is in fact effective. Since last year, I have been quite content to see movies for the first time via my own high-definition home theater set-up, but a 3-D presentation of a movie I particularly want to see will send me out to a big-screen venue.
In the end, current digital 3-D is simply an enhancement to the movie-going experience. It appears that most enjoy it, some do not. It is not an essential component of any particular film; I have thoroughly enjoyed movies such as Up, Coraline and Meet the Robinsons in non-3-D presentations. At the same time, I do not think that seeing Monsters Vs. Aliens in 3-D would have redeemed it for me on any level. Three-dimensional mediocrity is still, well . . . mediocre.
With all due respect to Jerry Beck, who I have long followed and admired (and Roger Ebert to some extent as well), making predictions is a dangerous way to gamble with your own credibility. Is it really worth the potential "I told you so" payoff that, at least in the case of digital 3-D, may not materialize any time soon?