When’s the last time you specifically set out to watch a film in 3D? Can you even remember? For me it might even have been as far back as Avatar. Now that was a film that really gave us a glimpse into a possible future for film – an immersive, exciting experience that made us feel closer to the action than ever before. So despite the fact that the film was rather by the numbers in terms of plot, it nonetheless went on to smash the all time box office record and has yet to be beaten.
Since that time though, you’d be hard placed to argue that hollywood has gone on to make the most from that innovation. Instead of embracing the technology as a new way to tell stories, it seemed that most studios were content simply to use post-conversion technology to introduce a new more lucrative revenue stream and raise ticket prices. This has been reflected in home cinema technology, with production of 3D tv’s falling off a cliff without anyone noticing.
So is is just short termism and lack of imagination that has led to this situation? Well undoubtedly, they have both played their part. Studios of course will be the first to be blamed but there is no doubt that there is plenty to go around here. Filmmakers themselves seem reluctant to use the technology wholeheartedly for a mixture of reasons, some more sensible than others. Shooting in 3D can be expensive and although conversions have got better there is no doubt what the superior alternative is in terms of how to produce the films themselves.
A lot of people would argue these days that 3D is a passing fad and there is no need to attempt to resurrect it. Indeed I can see the logic – beyond Avatar I could only name a handful of films where I’ve felt 3D has added something to the actual film. This fact alone seems to point to one overwhelmingly simple conclusion that most people seem to overlook: 3D is a niche concept in film that only suits certain kind of films. What hollywood tried to do in its own predictable way was to take it ‘mainstream’ i.e. find the way to make the most money from it. I cant blame them too much really: they are after all in business to make money.
The fact remains though that 3D simply doesn’t work for the majority of films unless they are built from the ground up with that technology in mind or that it somehow makes them inherently better base don the nature of the action (think ‘Gravity’). This for me is the answer to making 3D relevant again: don’t conceptualize, produce and shoot a film and then make it 3D to fit your business model. Come up with a concept for a film that makes inherent use of 3D technology and then build the film around it.
Now I know for most creative filmmakers this would be absolute heresy. However, if you want to harness a new technology that only works in a specific niche, then you have to build your film around it: not the other way around. Until filmmakers and studios realise this, we will continue to get mediocre upon mediocre 3D shot films that frankly we’d be much better off watching in 2D (as a lot of people prefer to do these days anyway).
To make a parallel, look right now at the world of Virtual reality and gaming. A magnificent and exciting technology (that can also change the face of film but thats another post) that has game changing implications for the way we experience entertainment. However at the moment it simply isn’t capturing the general public’s imagination as much as something like the Nintendo Switch because software producers are as yet not diverting enough resources into producing experiences purely for it. Instead they’d rather release Call of Duty 88 or that lastest FIFA. Again from a business standpoint of not taking too many creative risks this makes sense. Once again though it leaves a potential game changer sitting idle.
3D cinema is very much the same, although with less potential in a mainstream sense. It seems unlikely now that 3D will become relevant again and the next major leap forward for film may be in the virtual reality world. However if studios and cinema chains want to continue to earn extra coin from 3D ticket sales then mayb they need to change their approach and build experiences truly worthy of the technology.
What do you think? Comments welcome as always below…