The Rise and Fall (and Rise?) of 3D

3D squareIf anything, 2010 will be remembered as the year Hollywood made its (arguably) strongest push to make three-dimensional films part of the constant mainstream.  The concept took audiences by storm in the 1950’s, though it proved to be nothing more than a fad associated with C-grade sci-fi films.  It was something to take a date to, but seemed to offer little staying power.  The red-lens/blue-lens cardboard glasses were synonymous with effect and were an on-again, off-again tease that eventually made its way into the way into our homes.

Today, viewers have encountered an onslaught of 3D films with the likes of Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans, and the upcoming August release of Piranha 3-D.  So far, some of these films have utilized the technology better than others.  For instance, Alice in Wonderland thrived in the immersive environments provided by 3D while Clash of the Titans’ use of the effect was an aftermarket (and afterthought) hodge-podge that fell quite short of leaving movie-goers with a positive impression.

3D alice

Check your newspapers’ Sunday ads and you’ll find electronics retailers pushing the latest in three-dimensional hardware as certain Blu-ray players and televisions are hitting the market, capable of producing the same effect we have witnessed in theaters.  In all reality, 3D is a gimmick.  It always has been and always will be, despite the funds being sunk into its mass marketing as we speak.  Nintendo president Satoru Iwata recently spoke at a conference where he mentioned how his company’s competitors are spending gobs of money on developing 3D machines, but Nintendo is choosing to steer clear of this path.  Iwata stated, “I have doubts whether people will be wearing glasses to play games at home.  How is that going to look to other people?”

That brings us to another obstacle; the necessary peripherals.  A good portion of the populace wear eye glasses, myself included.  It’s not a big deal.  They’re fitted specifically for you and they’re comfortable.  Sometimes you forget you even have them on.  But when it comes to watching a 3D movie, whether it’s at home or in the theater, the glasses can take on a different feeling.  We know they are there.  They can be uncomfortable and just a general nuisance.  Then the factor comes into play of how many you should own.  If you only have a few of the optic enhancers, I guess you won’t be inviting the neighbors over to watch the 3D version of Avatar.

3D avatar

Add cost to the issue and you’ve got yourself the meat of the problem.  Blu-ray, in its standard non-3D form, has faced two obstacles in securing a market foothold.  One; it was introduced during a lackluster economy.  Leisure is the first expenditure to go when times are tough for people.  Two; the general public did not want to rebuild their large DVD libraries.  Many jumped at the chance to switch from VHS to DVD.  The resolution was the same but there are no moving parts on a disc, they take up less space, don’t wear out like a tape does and are generally easier to play.  They weren’t, and many still aren’t, aware of the bang and pop that Blu-ray offers audibly and visually.  Take those same people and now try to convince them to buy a $399 3D Blu-ray player and the $1,000+ TV that can utilize those visuals.  In the words of a wise man, “It ain’t gonna happen.”

3D fish

We haven’t even touched upon the issue of nausea yet that some folks encounter from these films.  We are talking about headaches to a general sensation of motion sickness that has befallen a few in the audience of the casual film fan.  History has shown that the three-dimensional effect has anemic staying power at best.  It was a fad in the 50’s and has been tepid at best in terms of public acceptance.  Nintendo made their attempt in the mid-90’s with the Virtual Boy gaming system.  Billed as displaying true 3D graphics, the goggle-like unit disappeared from store shelves almost as quickly as it arrived, and it wasn’t due to high sales.  The multi-dimensional, scarlet graphics caused many a complaint of illness and annoyance back in the day and a follow-up effort was nowhere to be found.

3D virtual boy

In closing, is it possible for 3D to become a mainstay in the mainstream?  Yes.  However, companies need to abandon their current attempts.  The successful 3D I envision will be reminiscent of Leia’s holographic message to Obi-Wan in A New Hope.  Laugh as you may, but such technology would not require glasses, goggles, or helmets and is the break from the norm and necessary innovation that the public could be seeking.  I’m not saying this is what will be the eventual winner, but companies working on 3D technology need to realign their thinking and abandon their current efforts.  Sure it is some years off, but I can wait.  After all, with a price tag I can only guess at, we’ll all need time to save up those recreational dollars.  For now, the masses are quite content with the beauty of our good old 2D.




4 Responses to “The Rise and Fall (and Rise?) of 3D”

  1. Brian White

    I’m not sure how I feel about all of this. Okay, I lie… I really do know how I feel about all this. While the effect is cool when done right (i.e. captured in 3D like Avatar, but not rendered afterwards like Titans), it just feels like a gimmick and I am so scared Hollywood is going to release anything with the 3D name attached to it, whether the film is good or bad. I guess now’s my time to write a few bad film scripts and sell them as 3D ready 🙂 As far as watching 3D at home, if it’s not hologram technology, then I want nothing to do with it. I’m not going to replace all my A/V equipment for this latest go around with 3D nor do I want to wear those special glasses each time I try to enjoy watching TV or a movie.

  2. Gerard Iribe

    Blu-ray will probably be my last venture into physical media.

  3. Gregg

    The one gent that oversees the website Digital Bits mentioned that at Comic-Con 2 years ago. He believed (and likely still does) that Blu-ray is the last disc-based media. All indications point to that being the likely outcome.

  4. Brian White

    I’ll be sad to see physical media die 🙁 I’m hoping I can at least have a movie on a SD card or something. I am not sold, as of yet, on digital downloads or streaming and worst of all…I’m a collector. I take great pride in looking at all those pretty Blu-ray boxes and cool artwork. Long live Blu-ray!