James Cameron -- 3D, blue alien and Sigourney Weaver enthusiast -- seems to think he's reached some sort of God-level of movie-making. Making Avatar and Titanic probably does that to a guy. I wonder if Cameron and Roland Emmerich have considered joining a support group.
Anyway, Cameron recently sat down with the BBC and had some stuff to say about 3D (quelle surprise):
For me it's absolutely inevitable that entertainment will be 3D, it'll all be 3D eventually, because that's how we see the world. When it's correct and convenient for us, we pre-select for that as the premium experience.
Cameron seems to think that 3D is here to stay, and that when given the option and presented with high quality 3D, we'll always choose that over 2D. He also points out that three of the four last winners of the Best Cinematography Oscar were 3D films (Life of Pi, Hugo, and Avatar) because a group of old white guys who make arbitrary choices about who gets a golden statue every year knows best -- when have a group of old white guys ever known best? I digress.
Cameron blames poor post-conversion practices for poisoning the well and turning movie-goers off of the format, and that's where he's not wrong. But the problem is that not every studio is going to spend James Cameron money every time they make a 3D film, and most films are post-converted on the fly, not to guarantee a bigger box office take in the US, but to play to audiences in China and Russia, where 80-90% of the tickets sold are for 3D films. G.I. Joe: Retaliation was pushed back last year for a 2013 release because Paramount realized the film wasn't going to be a huge hit in the US; in order to ensure the film's box office success, they needed to think globally, and 3D was the key to getting more cash.
3D releases have taken a huge drop this year in the US: World War Z's 3D ticket sales only accounted for 34% of the box office take (at this point I'd already forgotten the film was offered in 3D at all), but the more startling statistic comes from Pixar's Monsters University, where 3D tickets only accounted for 31% of those sold. Clearly the people of the United States have spoken, and if box office sales functioned like a democratic election (and they do, to an extent; we vote with our dollars), 3D would be the clear loser. But in our voting system, there is the good ol' electoral college, an undemocratic process in which electors, chosen by the voting body of each state, represent the constituency in the presidential election. No matter how the people (you and me and your granny) vote, our president is chosen by these elected officials. Maybe movie theaters are the electoral college in this situation -- we the people certainly aren't choosing 3D films nearly as much as we were a couple of years ago (P.S. I am so proud of all of you), but these overseers who decide which movies are placed in our theaters are still giving us 3D movies. 31% and 34% don't sound like a lot, but that's still enough -- given the premium rate of 3D tickets -- to ensure that we will continue to be offered a 3D option at the box office.
Maybe China and Russia are heading into a future where everything is 3D, but that's the flaw with Cameron's logic: if most of the 3D films in the US are post-converted and are muddying up his precious format, then most of the 3D films from the US that China and Russia are paying to see are of the same quality. Clearly, increasing the quality of 3D isn't going to have an effect on either of these nations, who seem perfectly fine with the 3D films they're getting now. I don't think (or hope) that increasing the quality of 3D films and bringing everything up to James Cameron's standards is going to improve 3D ticket sales in the US.
The format has always been a gimmick, and even at its best (in Avatar or Life of Pi), it's still little more than a visual trick. At its best, the format can lend depth to a film and make the viewer feel as though they've been immersed in the narrative -- if movies are an escapist experience, some would argue that 3D nourishes that escapism. But it also detracts and distracts from quality when it's really bad, and when not projected or lit properly (as is the case with the majority of chain theaters who have given up on proper projection practices to save money), the end-result is murky and confused.
In James Cameron's utopia (Elysium?), all films would be made in 3D to his exacting standards and would cost over $200 million to make, and every theater would have an expert projectionist who knows how to operate a projector and change a bulb (this part I am not opposed to). That's not going to happen as long as there is always a cheaper alternative.
I love to escape at the movies just as much as the next person, but I don't want to escape into movies. I want to watch a beautifully-shot and crafted narrative unfold on the screen before my eyes, and maybe it makes me a little curmudgeonly old lady to say that I'm not enchanted, but annoyed by the optical illusion of objects flying at/around me from the screen -- in that case, I say, pass the Werther's Originals. And according to ticket sales for 3D films this year, I'd say I'm not alone.