Getting in-depth with 3D movies

3D films have changed the way audiences experience cinema. How did this trend capture our interest so rapidly?

Innovative moviegoing experiences are becoming increasingly popular with audiences. According to Dean Leland, vice president for Studio Relations and Media of Empire Theatres, 3D movies generally generate three to four times more business than 2D movies.
Innovative moviegoing experiences are becoming increasingly popular with audiences. According to Dean Leland, vice president for Studio Relations and Media of Empire Theatres, 3D movies generally generate three to four times more business than 2D movies.
Photo: 
In 2009, James Cameron’s 3D film Avatar became the number one movie of all time in box office sales.
In 2009, James Cameron’s 3D film Avatar became the number one movie of all time in box office sales.
Credit: 
Supplied

Cinema has made astounding leaps forward over the last century.

Digital projection replaced 35 mm reels, colours were enhanced, a single mono-speaker behind a screen evolved into surround sound and theatres have gone from one or two screens to nearly 20.

Now, 3D films are becoming more mainstream than ever.

Professor Sydney Eve Matrix from the film and media department said audience interest has grown with the technology.

“3D films came out in the 50s as a new technology,” Matrix said. “[It was] innovative but not necessarily something you want to watch a lot of.”

“[People are more] accustomed to computer-generated special affects, spectacularity and 3D television,” she said, adding that younger audiences are more eager for big spectacles, especially with the popularity of big-budget superhero blockbusters.

While the general reaction to 3D movies has been positive, there are also some reservations, Matrix said.

“My issue with [3D movies] now would be those glasses and how they intervene with the social experiences,” she said, adding that this is not the only setback.

“We do hear criticism from audiences that say that 3D is used in film that is not necessary,” she said.

Audiences are becoming so used to 3D technology that it’s almost become an essential feature of a successful blockbuster, she said. While it’s a natural element of science-fiction features, it doesn’t always add to the experience of watching romantic comedies and intellectual dramas.

Meaghan Wray, ArtSci ’14, said she agrees that 3D should be used carefully, depending on the type of movie being watched.

“[3D films] can be distracting from the message and it just becomes like an amusement park ride rather than a thoughtful experience,” she said. “But I suppose they only really use 3D in movies that are mainly for entertainment value.”

Some may find it surprising that 3D films had already begun to sneak into mainstream entertainment in the early 1950s.

In 1890, William Friese-Greene and Frederick Barley made the first attempt to create a 3D feature. They projected two films side by side and used a stereoscopic sequence camera to converge the images.

Although the projection was unsuccessful, they paved the way for future advancements.

The Golden Era of 3D began 62 years later with the release of the first colour stereoscopic feature, Bwana Devil.

Dean Leland, the vice president for Studio Relations and Media of Empire Theatres, works in Halifax. He started his career with the company as a concession salesperson 33 years ago.

He said he’s watched people’s taste in movies change a lot over the years.

“By today’s standards, people would not have been impressed looking at [the first 3D movie made] … but 50 years ago it was pretty impressive,” he said.

Leland said all Empire Theatres will eventually be converted to include 3D technologies within the next few years. The Empire Theatres on Princess St. already has 3D technology.

In 2011, approximately 30 to 35 3D films will be released, he said, adding that this number has increased since 2009 and 2010.

Walt Disney Studios, Universal Studios and Paramount Studios all made forays into 3D technology, but financial difficulties and the inability to produce sharp screen images marked the fad’s decline in the mid 1950s.

In the years to come, few film projects were released in 3D until 2003, when James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss hit the box office.

For his film, Cameron used what is called the reality camera system, which made higher optical resolutions and higher dynamic range achievable in 3D.

Then, in 2009 Cameron’s record-breaking film Avatar set world-wide standards for the future of 3D technology.

Grossing approximately $1.8 billion profit worldwide, it sits as the number one movie of all time in box office sales.

The only other movie to come close to such numbers is Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King, which brought in around $1.11 billion in profit.

But would Avatar be just as successful if it was not made in 3D?

“When James Cameron introduced Avatar … It’s really described by most as the game changer to the world of 3D,” Leland said. “So the real answer, in my opinion, is absolutely not.”

Looking back at its earliest trailers, the film’s 3D effects were certainly advertised as the main feature. Marketing strategies emphasized Avatar’s three-dimensionality so prominently that hype surrounding the film’s release seldom addressed the plot.

However, 3D technology has not always been up at the Avatar standard—the earlier technology has been known to cause dizziness among motion-

sensitive moviegoers. Earlier films used anaglyph technology, where viewers wore blue and red lenses to create dimension. Now, people wear polarized glasses to view realistic images from high frequency digital projectors.

“The technology itself has improved … if you compare 3D now to five years ago it’s like night and day really.” If ticket sales say anything, audiences have responded to the improvements.

“The 3D presentation usually [generates] three to four times more business than the 2D,” Leland said, adding that 3D films also charge a premium price to view, which generates even more profit.

“Frequent movie goers love the innovation and … the immersive element to it,” he said.

“There are some people who think all films should be in 3D because that’s the way we live in the world, in 3D.” People are drawn to these movies because it allows them to be closer to what’s happening on-screen. “[It] puts you right in the action and right in the story.”

Blaine Allan, a professor from the film and media department, said that because of the 3D trend, some 2D films were digitally converted to get on the bandwagon.

“My first thought is that a big audience was attracted particularly to Avatar and enjoyed that experience … [they] apply that enjoyment to other films that are being sold to them as 3D spectaculars, whether or not they should be made in 3D,” he said.

Are these rising tendencies to transform almost every movie into 3D positive, or will they begin to diminish 3D film culture?

“If history tells us anything, the producers and the studios will reach a point where they will lose a significant amount of money on a 3D project,” Allan said. “They will stop doing it or be more selective about the projects.” “The question is whether 3D is supposed to be a novelty or a normal way of watching movies,” he said. “I don’t know the answer to that.” Annelies McConnachie-Howarth has experience working in film and TV production and is currently working in production for a documentary TV series. She said she thinks 3D technology has reached its peak.

“Everyone’s caught on by now that if the movie was bad to begin with, 3D isn’t going to enhance it in any way,” McConnachie-Howarth told the Journal in an email. “Very few genres actually benefit from the use of 3D as a story-telling vehicle.”

She said the high 3D ticket prices may start to alienate audiences.

“At the end of the day, great films are all about the actors and the story,” she said. “No gimmick will ever change the heart and soul of the filmmaking process.”

With files from Kelly Loeper

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.