WILL 3-D SURVIVE?
It is a well accepted belief that technology is grossly unnecessary so frequently. The old saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention. In the 2000’s like every decade however, technology turned invention into the mother of necessity. Amidst the new forms of home and exterior entertainment from the previous decade, every technology eventually became a standard cell phone feature once it caught on. Time however, tells how much technology we need as opposed to what survives as a sheer novelty for a while. The question of how far technological novelties can go can largely be answered through film history. When Thomas Edison first comprised the kinetoscope to put Eadweard Muybridge’s image into motion, did either one actually envision what would become likely the most dominant art form over the next century and beyond?
3-D. Need I say more? Is there a syllable pair moviegoers feel they have heard more in the last year? See a trailer for a film, purchase tickets for it, and get offered 3-D glasses for 4 bucks more. Watch the movie and see one shot (maybe) that actually was enhanced by 3-D. As insane as movie prices now are, four dollars make a difference. Yet, the market remains. Despicable Me and Shrek Forever After remain in theatres with a combined total of just a tad under 480 million dollars. With 17 days of summer left, they should easily combine for 500 million. Toy Story 3 finished last weekend with a worldwide income now of over a billion dollars. Meanwhile Warner Brothers has attempted to salivate the Potter-heads with the final story in 3-D as well; a pair of films guaranteed such massive sums, that one cannot help but question what actual financial value 3-D will bring those films. I may pay an extra four bucks to have 7 Harry Potters fly into my face, but there are always exceptions. I have watched the new Resident Evil trailer and have seen several lame attempts to sell me on certain visuals. I am not spending 66% of what I charge for a piano lesson to see zombies charge at me.
Commercially, there is no immediate sign that 3-D is jeopardized, but how long will that be so? Before Avatar entered theatres last year, there had only been four films in history to gross over a billion dollars. As of this month, there are now 7. In 2010, Avatar, Toy Story 3, and Alice in Wonderland joined that digressively prestigious plateau. Whether or not that dictates 3-D's future, numbers speak for themselves. Although the 2010 holiday season is several months away, it looks like an interesting one to show the direction of 3-D and blue rays. Offering little if anything that could justify replacing perfectly efficient DVDs, blue rays now attempt to sell on the 3-D screens not compatible with DVD’s. Is 3-D really the reason most 3-D films draw anyway? If it still is the selling point, it will not be for much longer. Avatar is the lone exception to films that can rely on 3-D as largely as it did. As massive as the income has been for the three films to pass the billion-dollar plateau in 2010, that stat is highly deceiving. By adjusted inflation, Avatar is the only film to be released in 3-D that is on the top 20 highest grossing films. Toy Story 3 ranks 89th and will likely finish somewhere between the high 80’s and low 70’s. Gone with The Wind and Star Wars figure still hold their 1 and 2 slots for a while. But Avatar was successful because James Cameron he appropriately used a new piece of technology. The visuals in Avatar were gorgeous and the treatment of the design within a theatre created a move going experience noone figures to immediately replicate. From a literary standpoint however, it was little if anything more than Dances with Wolves in 3-D. The 3-D experience was minimal in Alice and even good use of 3-D would not have been enough to save that stinker. Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me have sold on script primarily, the way it should be.
3-D will survive as long as filmmakers appropriately find new ways to use it. Color in film caught on very slowly. An early idea with little initial marketability, the first official film in color was Cupid Angling in 1918. Visionary, Leon H. Douglas comprised the idea, but the film gained little following. Color got serious consideration however, twenty years later with The Adventures of Robin Hood. Released two years before Douglas passed on, Adventures of Robin Hood created a path for colored films to follow. That film however, was not the first Errol Flynn and Michael Curtiz collaboration. Captain Blood, another Michael Curtiz film starring Errol Flynn pioneered the swashbuckling trend of the 1930's with no color to assist. Adventures of Robin Hood, the most highly acclaimed swashbuckler of all time, is credited as a treasure for it use of color amidst its many factors. The script is wonderful, the cast gives a variety of heroes and villains to cheer for and against, Korngold's ground-breaking score was pivotal in making film music an accepted art form beyond the silent era, and the rainbow of color only paints a portrait of blossoming quality without looking like a pride march in San Francisco. It is occasionally criticized for sacrificing historical accuracies of costumes to access more extraneous use of color, but audiences traditionally view that as the perfect decoration for this meticulous masterpiece. A year later, Victor Fleming did for colorized film what Monteverdi did for opera and what James Cameron may do for 3-D pending on its fate. Fleming in arguably the greatest year any director has ever had or ever will, made color into a film standard when he directed The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. As films, they both revolutionized the connection to the screen brought by color, but also accessed a core collection of timeless themes that continue to make both films among the most accredited classics film history. With the timeless variety of characters in both films, the magnificent musical numbers of Wizard of Oz, the epic combination of history and romance bound together in Gone With the Wind, and so many other timeless elements; Fleming accessed a new technology and admirably flourished in it while maintaining the core values upon which a great film is built. As for Leon H. Douglas’ vision, he would pass on in 1940, remembered as the first pioneer to what would become one of the greatest additions to film technology.
No use of film technology will forever work. What technical advances in film mesmerize audiences today will bore them tomorrow. Writing, directing, and acting remain the essence of all great theatre be it on an ancient Greek stage or behind a 3-D camera. A pivotal middle ground to evaluate for quality is visual effects. Amidst a long list of genuine pioneers to film technology from Walt Disney, Cecil B. DeMille, Victor Fleming, Billy Wilder, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron, the Wachowski brothers, Peter Jackson; all these filmmakers have been backbones to the development of visual technology. The torch for incompetent film geniuses however, goes to the dime-a-dozen, one-dimensional mercenary himself, Ronald Emmerich. For those of you who have never heard of him, his overpriced yet most profitable era was between 1996-98 in which he did Independence Day and Godzilla. That period of the mid-90’s relied heavily on the monster movie trend brought back thanks to Jurassic Park in 1993. Independence Day, undoubtedly a massive commercial success as the first ever film to gross $100 million in its first week, was also a critical disaster however. 14 years since its release, the flaws are more prevalent. It is an intentionally cliché plot with unintentionally hilarious plot holes, lame characters, progressively outdated visual effects, and marginally exciting action sequences that can only rivet audiences so much with characters that flat. Capable of still making a sizeable profit though, Emmerich followed with Godzilla in 1998. Its well deserved critical response followed. Critics generally considered a haphazard Jurassic Park rip-off in an era in which monster movies exclusively relying on visuals had gotten old. The characters were as dull as in Independence Day, the plot was equally as cliché, and the visuals were nothing new. The film had a solid opening weekend gross, but suffered in later weekends and had highly disappointing merchandise and video profits. But who can you better use for this argument than George Lucas? Lucas has certainly been quite a target for satire throughout his career, but has only gained worse mockery since the release of the Star Wars prequels. Within reason however, he can sleep soundly as the writer of a six-film franchise to gross a combined total of approximately $550 billion, take his criticisms to the bank and bask in the success of the original legendary trilogy. All the same, let us face it, the Star Wars prequels were atrocious corporate rubbish. As bad as the acting was, it consisted of many stars (Liam Neeson, Ewan McGreggor, and Natalie Portman) whose work outside of those films demonstrated that the writing was the problem, not their acting. Even the blue screen visuals looked more like Mary Poppins for generation X. The original Star Wars trilogy did such masterful use of visuals with modeling, puppetry, costuming, and appropriate computer graphic rendering; that George Lucas brought to life the greatest blend of technical and literary development action films have ever seen and very possibly ever will. By the time he released Phantom Menace in 1999, his passion and edge was gone and the quality showed. Unlike Emmerich however, Lucas at one time created something genuine that will forever be an essential part of film history.
3-D may maintain a place in filmmaking for now, but will not survive without more. Films can no longer rely exclusively on 3-D without something. Color, sounds, visual effects; any technology that separates film from stage may sell for a while. Writing, directing, and acting however; will always be the core to filmmaking. The millennia have shown the timeless values of these three entities. Technology rapidly changes in this constantly growing world. If 3-D can not keep up, viewers will embrace good old flat screens.