With the blockbusting success of “Avatar” — the sci-fi epic has earned more money than any other movie ever made — Hollywood’s on-again, off-again relationship with 3-D seems to be on in a big way.
I have seen the future, and it gave me a headache.
With the blockbusting success of “Avatar” — the sci-fi epic has earned more money than any other movie ever made — Hollywood’s on-again, off-again relationship with 3-D seems to be on again in a big way.
The American film industry has been toying with the technology since the release of “Bwana Devil” in 1952.
But the eye-straining films were popping up all over the place last year, culminating with the December release of James Cameron’s “Avatar.”
Earlier this week, the film overtook the director’s own “Titanic” as the top-grossing movie of all time, with revenue just under $1.859 billion worldwide, according to the Web site Box Office Mojo.
“I think this is something that’s going to be with us. It’s not a fad,” said Scott Cottingham, the film buyer for Kerasotes ShowPlace Theatres, the largest cinema chain in the Midwest.
“The way we experience life is in 3-D — I think it’s just natural that we’d want to watch movies in 3-D,” Cottingham said.
“Avatar” was certainly a lifelike experience. The film tells of human miners studying and fighting the natives on the distant planet Pandora in the year 2154.
The tall blue aliens — or natives, I suppose, since humans are the aliens on Pandora — are rendered using computer animation blended with motion capture of human actors, allowing the characters to exhibit an impressive range of emotions.
And the planet itself is a wonder, with bioluminescent plants, insects and freckles on the aliens’ skin.
Cameron deployed 3-D subtly. The environment of Pandora was immersive, and “Avatar” rarely resorted to the gimmick of hurtling objects at the audience.
The technology has also advanced beyond the red and blue lenses in cheap cardboard frames of yesteryear. When you buy your ticket at Kerasotes, you’re handed a sealed plastic bag containing a pair of glasses with plastic frames. The lenses are uniform in color and fit comfortably over my prescription glasses throughout the movie.
That said, I’d rather have seen “Avatar” in 2-D, saving myself a few dollars and an eyeball-searing headache.
“I think it’s going to have a lot to do with the penetration of digital projection in the country,” Cottingham said. “I think we will reach a point where everything’s digital, where they won’t be making films on film. ...
“And at that point, I see no reason why every exhibitor wouldn’t show a film in 3-D rather than the regular version.”
Indeed, 3-D is better for business than 2-D.
Kerasotes, for example, charges $9.50 for adult evening admission to a regular movie but $12.50 for 3-D films.
As of Tuesday, “Avatar” was still $45 million behind “Titanic” for the record of all-time highest-grossing movie in the U.S., according to Box Office Mojo. But that strength seems to owe a great deal to the higher ticket prices for 3-D.
As Nikki Finke noted on her Deadline Hollywood Web site, “Avatar” ranks 26th when domestic box office grosses are adjusted for inflation. (“Titanic,” released in 1997, is No. 6; 1939’s “Gone With the Wind” is No. 1.)
There’s also a high upfront cost to showing 3-D movies. About this time last year, Kerasotes installed two of the digital projectors needed for 3-D. Each cost about $100,000 and required new screens and carpentry to accommodate the additional equipment in the projection room.
Cottingham said Kerasotes was pleased with the box office performance of 3-D films. (The company, founded in Springfield, Ill., in 1909, announced last week it was selling almost all of its theaters to AMC Entertainment, pending government approval.)
The majority of 3-D movies released in the past year have been animated and horror films. But with the success of “Avatar,” that list is sure to grow.
Some of 2010’s most anticipated movies are slated for 3-D release: Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (March 5), “Shrek Forever After” (May 21) and “Toy Story 3” (June 18).
And George Lucas has been quoted saying he wants to remaster all six “Star Wars” films for 3-D release.
For better or worse, 3-D seems here to stay. Next time you go to the theater, pack a handful of Tylenol.
Brian Mackey can be reached at 217-747-9587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.