Alfred Hitchcock, the great mystery movie director, said this about 3D movies (he had just made his one and only 3D film, the drawing room thriller Dial M For Murder): A nine days wonder, and I came in on the ninth day.
That may be what the current crop of directors making movies in 3D may be feeling. For the current state of the movies, 3D technology and visual artistry has been a nine days wonder, but the fad is fading. Recent releases that touted 3D have been box office failures, or at best, disappointments, grossing under 100 million (the sign a film is less than a big hit) for each release: Captain America, The Smurfs, The Lion King Disney re-master.
The only recent films, in fact, that topped out big at the 3D box office were ones with built-in audiences, such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon; most audience members who were polled said that they were there to see Harrys and Optimus Primes last hurrah, not experience the 3D. In fact, box office receipts for theaters with Harry #8 fared as well or better in 2D. People wanted the Hogwarts battle, not the objects flying at the camera.
The loss of popularity of 3D technology, and the blas attitude of its apparently declining audience, can probably be linked to what was perhaps that technologys greatest success, James Camerons Avatar. This astounding film, which remains thrilling at every viewing, succeeds because it combines the spectacular (the stunning battle of evil US Armed Forces v. the good Pandoran race of the Navi), the heartfelt (the heros growing love for the Pandoran world) and the absurd (the Army seeks a mineral called Unobtainium, and the fight is, Camerons pun intended, Army vs. Navi).
Avatar was probably the peak of 3D movies and also possibly their nadir; nothing after this movie has fused spectacle, emotion and sensibility as well into a single cinematic work. In other words, once you do Avatar, what do you do for an encore?
Immediately in its wake came the miserable remake of Clash of the Titans, originally filmed in 2D, which bore home the axiom that like it once, love it twice doesnt work with most technologically-baited audiences. Despite the presence of Avatars star, Sam Worthington, and a hefty special effects budget, Titans was a box office letdown. The film itself, even viewed in 3D, is pretty flat.
Early 3D movies, even the Hitchcock, are fairly risible seen on TV today, and their 3-dimensional effects were limited to shocking audiences with single moments (Grace Kellys arm shooting out during an attack, Vincent Price in House of Wax throwing a weapon at the audience); films such as the remake of Fright Night and Shark Attack 3D are bound to have the same degree of absurdity once they hit the tube.
Speaking of the tube, the market for the new HD 3-dimensional TV screen, which renders everything in 3 dimensions, is fading in popularity, because not everythingsoap operas, Lifetime channel movies, cooking showswill look good, or even comprehensible, in a 3 dimensional experience.
Recent 3D cinema is scrapping the bottom of the box office barrel, simply because James Cameron cleared a technological pathway that few, if any, could follow. These films do not succeed because they are centered on the gimmick, rather than providing a story with sufficient sweep and spectacle to warrant 3D. And audiences, despite lip service to the wonders of technology, do not feed exclusively on that technology. They feed on heart, and emotion, and engagement in a fascinating story.
Anyone attempting to film 3D movies should remember that. Have the spectacle, and have a heart.