Is 3-D The Future?

As this is typed James Cameron’s Avatar should be steaming its way toward box-office immortality and receipts overtaking the $1.84bn garnered by Cameron’s previous 1997 monster hit Titanic.  With all emphasis on the ‘quality’ and the cinematic experience of this 3-D phenomenon, how will the sheer scope of Avatar effect the future of cinema, and is 3-D the way to go?

Cinema over the last 10 years has shown that the traditional ‘star’ picture is all but dead (The last of the big names will die out with Tom Cruise). Titanic was promoted on the basis of its doomed love story and the aesthetically pleasing mugs of the two leading actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

Saccharine schmaltz aside, Titanic is a fairly classical film borne straight out of the memory of the studio era. Avatar on the other hand has no recognisable box-office star and is far more complicated with its narrative.   So what made it a success? The simplest answer is that the visual experience is the true ‘star’ of the Avatar, or more specifically, 3-D.  The visual effects take centre stage and although most reviews testify that the plot is contrived and ineffective and for the most part, boring, it is forgiven these trespasses because it is so visually enthralling.

3-D is the latest fascination of the studios and an easily marketable gimmick on which to hook their audience, and at the moment they’re biting.  Without doubt ‘Hollywood’ will push for 3-D screens throughout the world and aforementioned gimmick will add credo to previously troubled scripts, resulting in the green-lighting everything from Spiderman 4 3-D, to converted classics, Gone With The Wind 3-D. But as soon as they novelty of seeing stuff fly towards your face fades, it’s hard to imagine how 3D can endure in the long run.  After all, 3-D is an expensive process, and though it is impressive on the big screen, Avatar aside, it will take longer to recoup costs.

Perhaps more importantly is how it will translate to DVD – the real profit making market behind Hollywood.  Avatar cost upwards of $500m in negative costs alone and even with hedged bets few studios will want to take such a risk.

Converse that with a more modestly-budgeted film The Hangover, another movie with no discernable ‘stars, One of the biggest of 2009, with a gross of $600m of box office receipts alone, The hangover should serve well on DVD because nothing will be lost in the translation; the visual experience will be almost the same as in theatres.

3-D is touted as the great hope because CGI films are becoming tired and no longer awe-inspiring; it offers cinema-goers a cinematic ‘experience’ that is being mistaken for ‘freshness.’  Avatar’s captured its success because it offered something that isn’t viable on DVD yet, not because it amounts to a ‘sure thing.’ And as studios and industry insiders already know, with movies, there are no guarantees. A Christmas Carol 3-D is case and point.




About craig shaw

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