Are 3D films on their way out again?

It appears that the number of 3D films in 2012 will total 33, which compared to last year’s 47, is something of a sharp decline. Is 3D out again?

I tend to hold on to the newer plastic ones. Saves me paying 80 pence.3D films, when I was a child, involved a pair of glasses with one red lens, and one green. They were made of coloured plastic and cardboard, and films back then were in standard definition. In 2012, the whole thing is plastic, though the lenses are no longer red or green, and now even some home televisions are both high-definition and 3D-capable. But it’s just a gimmick, right?

Many would argue that it isn’t – that Avatar was just the beginning of many great films making use of this old-but-new form of visual trickery. But the statistics, taken from The Guardian, would indicate that this may not be the case.  3D seems to be losing it’s appeal, and I think the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the quality of storytelling in the films themselves, rather than the technology being put to use.

Case in point – Toy Story 3. A wonderfully crafted, funny, moving tale, and one that had me in tears throughout its final minutes, realising that this was the end of a trilogy that I had revisited since childhood. But its use of 3D did not set the bar; anyone will tell you that when it comes to visual effects, few can match the might of Disney’s CGI machine, Pixar. Depth-of-field and the fact that the whole film contained no live-action content whatsoever helped us accept the surreal nature of appearing to be able to see around things.

But with, say, Clash of the Titans, the reality is that the quality of storytelling played second fiddle to the visual appeal, and for that reason, any film will suffer. Transformers, 9, even Avatar suffered from bad storytelling (or in Avatar’s case, pinched storytelling), generic action sequences, and CGI and 3D usage simply for the sake of having it there. When it’s of no real benefit beyond public spectacle, it defies logic to imply that it’s worth the price increase.

However, take a film like A Scanner Darkly, where rotoscoping was in heavy use, and the protagonist’s grip on reality frays throughout, 3D could be put into use as a true artistic tool. Each shimmer and perspective would twist our insides, emphasising the surreal aspects of Philip K. Dick’s masterpiece without thrusting explosions and other Michael Bay-esque go-to devices towards us in the hope we’ll grin and clap and pay for more.

Will the technology see yet another resurgence? I’d imagine companies like Sony certainly hope so, given that 3D HDTV technology was a significant investment, and to see everyone abandon it less than two years after its second or third ascent to mainstream popularity must be very frustrating. Especially when the success of the platform would help fund other technological efforts, such as Sony’s SimulView – the ability to use 3D to watch two non-3D videos (or games) at any one time by broadcasting two feeds, one on each “side”. Sounds good, right?

This is all without even mentioning the many issues with 3D – some are finding 3D not only uncomfortable, but sometimes actually painful to watch, and that goes even for 3D hardware that doesn’t require glasses, such as Nintendo’s handheld console, the 3DS (which has a slider to control the strength of 3D effects – something some cinemagoers would find useful).

Frankly, these days my 3D experiences go like this  – I watch the film as I would normally, occasionally marvel at some use of the technology, but spend more time comparing glasses-on and glasses-off than the aforementioned “ooh, that’s good.” 3D is, and always has been, a fad, and the sooner it goes out, the sooner people churning out vanilla action cinema are going to have to take a step back and realise that 3D is no longer there to distract people from the woeful writing. Well, I say this, but let’s be honest – even a ban on CGI might not accomplish that one.

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