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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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No Surprises Dept.: Hollywood killing 3-D golden goose faster than expected

Despicable_me Whenever Hollywood finds a new cash cow, it dives in and loots its riches faster than any pickpocket on the planet. That's what the movie industry has been doing with its much-ballyhooed 3-D technology, which has spawned one legitimate masterwork ("Avatar") but otherwise has been little more than a cushy new revenue source for exhibitors and studios. Both have been raking in loads of moola from the extra $4 to $5 theater owners charge at the box office for admission to 3-D movies.

I always suspected that even the most gullible moviegoers eventually would figure out that few films are worth the extra tariff -- especially the ones, like "Clash of the Titans," that were the product of quickie 3-D transfers. But according to this story from the always enterprising Daniel Frankel in the Wrap, audiences are abandoning 3-D at an even faster rate than previously suspected. The story is accompanied by a fascinating graph detailing the percentages of opening-weekend box-office revenue that came from 3-D screens. The graph's arrow is heading in only one direction: straight down.

"Avatar," which offered a mind-blowing glimpse at the creative potential of 3-D, earned 71% of its opening weekend bucks from 3-D screens. That number went down to 61% by the time "Shrek Forever After" opened, dropped a notch to 60% for "Toy Story 3," dipped to 56% for "The Last Airbender" and now has plummeted to 45% for "Despicable Me."

What's scary about these numbers is that they are all culled from hit movies that people were actually eager to see. You'd have to assume that the numbers get worse with each ensuing weekend, since the hard-core fans who turn out on opening weekends are the ones most likely to shell out the extra cash for 3-D showings. So if the numbers for want-to-see movies are dropping steadily, imagine what the numbers will look like next year when every studio in town is churning out 3-D programmers. I mean, a sizable chunk of moviegoers might still want to pay an extra $4 or $5 to see "Cars 2" in 3-D, but are they really going to pay more for "Mars Needs Moms" or "Fright Night," two of the other Disney films slated for 3-D release next year?

The paltry numbers for 3-D tickets sold for "Despicable Me" come as no surprise if you have kids, since I've heard dozens of parents with children usually age 10 and under say their little ones can't stand wearing 3-D glasses, complaining of either discomfort or headaches. So far, studio execs are putting on a brave face. As Warner Bros.' distribution chief Dan Fellman told the Wrap: "You can't look at just three or four movies in a row and say it's over."

I'm not saying 3-D is over either. But I don't think it's the Next Big Thing anymore. Audiences aren't cattle. They've come to realize that, with some exceptions, most Hollywood films simply aren't noticeably better in 3-D. When Jim Cameron brings another film back to market, they'll be happy to see his work in 3-D. But too many movies simply don't gain that much sizzle from the 3-D experience.

When the studios realize next year how much they've cannibalized their audience by rushing dozens of films into a 3-D release, they will be cutting back, not ramping up their next round of 3-D releases. The Big Event films still will have the ability to draw large 3-D crowds, but when it comes to the lesser releases, moviegoers are going to be smart shoppers. The brave new world that 3-D tub-thumper Jeffrey Katzenberg imagined, where the multiplexes would be overflowing with 3-D movies on every screen, is still a long, loooong way away from reality.  

Photo: A scene featuring Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, with two of his minions from "Despicable Me." Credit: Universal Pictures-Illumination Entertainment

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The problem isn't the 3D, it's the extra four bucks.

3D would have been a brilliant way to get people off their couches and into theaters where they could have a different experience, but paying an additional four bucks on top of already inflated ticket prices is simply too much.

It's a shame theater owners and studios simply saw 3D as something they could charge extra for rather than something to drive audiences into theaters to begin with.

No, the problem IS the 3D. Many of the films have been rushed out and have very poor quality 3D. Most of them weren't shot in 3D and look flat, like Alice in Wonderland, which was quite unimpressive in 3D despite the fact that they put some effort into the conversion. Clash of the Titans was washed out and looked terrible in 3D. Even if you do shoot in 3D you have to do it right, and most directors and cinematographers have no clue how to do it. It's tricky, as this article points out:

Hollywood needs to sit back and do some thinking here: you can't just throw out 3D films and expect a big boost in revenue. If they keep putting out crappy 3D people will give up on 3D altogether.

No, actually the problem *is* the 3D.

I'd pay 4 bucks if the films were shot by cinematographers with three dimensions in mind instead of two-plus-some-jokey-poke-something-at-the-screen moments, if the projection weren't mind-numbingly dimmer, if the heavy rubberized 3-d LCD shutter glasses weren't so ghastly ...

Only in a time of poor content does the industry look for another layer of visual distraction.

I'm not a small child but I wear glasses. The 3D glasses are a nightmare. Also Toy Story 3 was not improved one bit by the addition of 3D. It was story and character driven and the 3D ended up being nothing more than a nuisance.

I agree with the previous comment. The extra money for 3D is not worth it at all. By the time my family of 4 has our tickets, that's already $60-70 we have paid, not counting concessions (which are wildly overpriced) and at some theaters, parking...and you are looking at a movie night in the range of $100. Insanity.

Ill wait and rent the blu-ray DVD that will be out in less than three months.

IMAX (when watching on a true IMAX screen, not one of the chopped up versions tacked on to a theater) gives certain films an extra bit of spectacle, and is well worth the money. 3-D, in my opinion, adds nothing. If anything, watching a film through sunglasses seems to diminsh the quality of the color. In addition, one is always aware of the 3-D effect, which makes it difficult to let yourself sink into the story. True immersion is an interaction between the mind of the viewer and the shapes on the screen; 3-D, like CGI, is a poor substitute for the magic Hollywood used to create.

I hope studios and directors begin to realize that it was the charm of old fashioned special effects and matte paintings that let a film linger in the mind. Those trick images felt real because of their unreality... CGI and 3-D have no charm, and the "reality" they try to create is dull. Let's get back to drama and magic. Then the audiences will show up in droves again.

If it's not in 3D natively shot, rendered in a full 3D pipeline, it's simply not worth your extra money, and the same goes for IMAX (especially fake IMAX)

TRON Legacy is the next movie that actually deserves to be in 3D, and Batman Begins Yet Again will almost certainly be virtually all IMAX. Don't waste time on silly conversions, start shooting for the theater again. 70mm and real 3D

3D is a fad. It was a fad back in the 1950s, it was a fad in the 1970s, and it's a fad now.

And the 3D aspects of "Avatar" must not be very important to the film since it was released on DVD in 2D. Sure, it will be released in three-dimensions by year end, but the extra dimension is obviously irrelevant to the film.

To me, what's interesting is suddenly, it seems that the trend is to call oneself a "Stereographer" now, from the usual title of DP or Cinematographer...Or is it just a passing fad just like 3D?

Good 3D blockbusters to follow up Avatar (and not necessarily only hybrid human-cgi movies) , requires Studios, and Directors to "Think in 3D" rather than just cash in on it... or assembly line 2D to 3D "flatties".

Similarly, will a crash course on shooting with a beam-splitter rig be enough? to know how to produce a 3D movie worthy of merit and the digital technology that is available for this round of 3D?

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