Fin - Breakout - US

3D Movies: Dull. Dreadful. Doomed.

Jeff Macke
Breakout

Roll the closing credits, the 3D movie fad is done.

The demise of 3D will be gleefully embraced by parents weary of donning Elvis Costello glasses and paying a premium for the right to sit through the latest beaten-to-death action hero movie or Shrek sequel. Even an industry notorious for cost-overruns and sham accounting will be forced to take its losses on the former Next Big Thing. By this time next year, Hollywood will have to surrender simple economic fact -- not all the 3D and CGI in the world can save a bad movie from itself.

Given the lengthy production cycle of films, 3D's death throes are likely to be more extended than Ali MacGraw's demise in Love Story. What's worse, being a Hollywood exec, like love itself, means never having to say you're sorry to film goers or anyone else. Regardless, the knowledge that 3D isn't worth the investment for the industry will make your popcorn taste just a little bit better from here on.

For those of us who recall the atrocious 1981 3D offering "Comin' At Ya," a film so desperate that it actually contained a scene in which the audience was treated to a threat of a villian's bowel movement come at them, 3D's demise will seem familiar. Move over "Jaws 3D," and make room for "The Green Lantern."

This wave of 3D took flight with the wildly successful "Avatar," the highest grossing movie in history. Though to some (OK, me) Avatar was primarily a CGI endeavor that made watching the movie akin to watching someone else play a video game, the film's enormous box-office success coupled with the fact that the majority of its box-office revenue came from 3D showings was bound to lead to imitators. The surprise was just how big an investment Hollywood has made in 3D.

Despite a tight economy, studios such as DreamWorks (DWA), and more "pure 3D plays" such as recently public RealD (RLD), have dumped billions into producing 3D movies and retrofitting existing theaters with the digital equipment required to project 3D. These firm's return on investment was going to come from the incremental revenue increases not just from higher numbers of viewers but higher box-office receipts from hiking ticket prices for the 3D experience.

As a movie lover with an MBA, the foreshadowing of the death of techno-flix is as delightful as it is predictable. I don't just hope 3D dies, I know it will. Here's why:

The economics don't make sense.

3D films cost anywhere from 40% to 75% more, depending on where you get your estimate. The cost will certainly go down as technology develops, but as it stands filmmakers need to make up this cost in expanded audience size and revenue per ticket. In other words, studios need more people to see a movie in 3D than 2D.

Ironically, the first 3D films to hit theaters, the ones where the cost of production for 3D vs. 2D was at its worst, paid off. Avatar, the highest grossing film ever, got over 70% of its box office from 3D in its opening weekend. This summer, that number has dropped to under 50% opting for 3D on would-be blockbusters such as "Kung Fu Panda 2" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Please, God, Make It Stop" (fine, not its real name, but you get the idea).

Percentage of box-office falling below 50% for 3D vs. 2D is even worse than it seems given the surcharge for X-ray specs. Depending on the premium at theaters, roughly two-thirds of viewers are opting out of 3D by choice. This isn't a function of the weak economy. It's a function of taste.

3D movies are objectively worse than 2D.

Yes, I said objectively. One-half of my college double major was Film Studios. Granted, I sort of backed into the degree as a function of simply enjoying film classes over, say, Physics. Regardless, my degree makes my cinematic opinions fact. 3D movies stink.

Supporting my view is the fact that 3D movies require different cuts, transitions, movements and framing for background characters and, of course, the obligatory scenes in which objects are thrown at the audience. None of this actually improves a movie.

The glasses are horrendous.

It's been 60 years since 3D came on the scene, and we're still wearing those absurd glasses. One size does not fit all when it comes to spectacles. Not even two sizes fit all. Little kids have more cheeks than nose, causing the glasses to fall off their faces for the duration of the film. Grownups have more nose than cheek, not to mention the spectacles that often accompany age. The combination means daddy spends the movie adjusting his kids glasses and then emerges from the theater with red welts from the pinch of his own specs.

Theater chains just finished renovations designed to make their seats more spacious and better-cushioned. Being forced to jam glasses on my face rather minimizes the amount of comfort improvement, no?

We've seen this movie in the 50's and 80's, and it always ends with the death of the 3D fad. This installment is ending in tears for companies and investors. The stock prices of DreamWorks, RealD and Imax (IMAX) are all down in the neighborhood of more than 20% since the start of the summer movie season.

The one upside of this is an unintended consequence. Just last night, my 5-year old announced that the "neatest thing" about seeing "Toy Story 3" on DVD at a friend's house was "not having to wear those glasses." My love for him at that moment allows me to give this column an optimistic close that would make Pixar proud: Hating 3D movies is a family bonding experience!

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