‘Dredd’ shows why the 3D film format is doomed… again

Kieran Turner-Dave

dredd 300x225 Dredd shows why the 3D film format is doomed... againLast month saw the release of Dredd 3D, Pete Travis’ big-screen adaptation of 2000 A.D.’s comic Judge Dredd. It topped the UK box office in its opening weekend, becoming the first 18-rated movie to do so since Saw 3D in 2010, but the $50million blockbuster has yet to make even make half of its reported budget worldwide. A possible factor in Dredd 3D’s waning profits is the fact that almost every UK screening of the movie is in the 3D format, with several cinemas’ requests for 2D prints for patrons being denied by the distributor (Lionsgate).

On the face of it, a near exclusive 3D release may be perceived as a shrewd move by Lionsgate. Removing the ability to see the film in 2D means that everyone who sees the film will have to pay for a more expensive 3D ticket and, if the distributors are confident in the film’s ability to attract crowds, they are guaranteed a greater profit. Yet there is a reason why their strategy seems to have failed, and it is the same reason why no other recent big budget blockbusters have attempted exclusive 3D releases – the format is in decline.

Since Avatar’s release at the end of 2009 – and subsequently breaking the record for the highest-grossing film of all time – studios have been desperate for a piece of the 3D pie, and have often resorted to retro-fitting broad and family-friendly 2D movies into the format in order to draw greater profits. However, whilst 3D was once heralded as the next great development in the way we watch movies, it now seems that an increasing proportion of audiences are opting out of watching movies in the format.

Take Pixar, for example, who have released three 3D movies since 2010. When Toy Story 3 came out in 2010 it was the year’s highest-grossing movie, with 72% of the gross coming from audiences choosing to watch it in 3D. This was followed by Cars 2 in 2011, which broke the studio’s streak of critical successes, and saw 3D viewings contributing to only 40% of opening weekend revenue. Pixar’s latest offering, Brave, was viewed in 3D by only 32% of the total cinema audience. This decline in 3D revenue is not just limited to a single studio. Despite the number of 3D films being released increasing by 75%, revenue for 3D movies dropped by $400 million between 2010 and 2011. But why are audiences falling out of love with the format?

A quick look at the history of cinema will show you that the spike in 3D movie releases since Avatar is merely the latest in a long line of 3D movie waves that usually coincide with periods of economic recession. Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), The Mask (1961), The Stewardesses (1970) and Friday 13th Part III (1982) all rode high on 3D waves, and managed to cash in on the novelty value of audiences being scared or aroused in a whole other dimension during periods of recession in the USA. Of course, each of these successive waves eventually crashed after the illusion created by the format was seen to be technically imperfect.

It would not be surprising if imperfection were also a contributing factor to the current decline in interest in 3D. After all, it is estimated that 12-30% of audience members are unable to properly perceive images in 3D due to a variety of medical conditions. Moreover, the 30% light loss from 3D film, blurred edges surrounding moving objects, and high proportion of seemingly 2D scenes within 3D movies are often cited as drawbacks of electing to watch movies in the format.

Considering the technical problems with 3D, coupled with the increasing amount of 2D movies retro-fitted into the format, it is no surprise that Hugo is so far the only movie shot in 3D to pick up an Oscar for art direction, cinematography or visual effects (a pretty bad showing for the alleged future of the medium).

This is somewhat unsurprising when viewed as the latest chapter in the history of the format of course. 3D has been utilised as a gimmick to boost the box office receipts of action, horror, animated or soft-core pornographic movies that would usually be dismissed as mediocre were it not for the novelty to see characters look like they’re trying to poke out at you through the screen. Unfortunately, each successive generation of movie-goers eventually tires of the novelty when they realise how much they’ve paid to watch quite low quality movies.

Ultimately, the cause of the declining public interest in 3D is the same as the cause of its re-birth – recession. In tough economic times, studios will only risk money on sure-fire bankable hits (hence why 2011 saw the release of the most sequels in a single year) and 3D is a way of ensuring that plenty of punters will come through the doors to try and grab Thor’s hammer as it swings in front of them. Conversely, recession also means that audiences are more discerning about which movies they spend their money on. Given the 24% rise in the cost when a family opts to see a film in 3D rather than 2D at my local multiplex, not including the pricey drinks and snacks, it is not at all surprising that interest in 3D is falling.

Dredd 3D’s distribution move was always going to be a great risk, but it clearly hasn’t paid off. Unfortunately for Lionsgate, the film apparently isn’t perceived as groundbreaking enough to convince audience members who would consider seeing it to shell out on the extra cost of glasses and a 3D ticket. Until such a time that a wave of 3D movies manages to successfully overcome gaping technical flaws, below average critical reception and association with novelty – whilst still justifying the raised ticket price – the format will be doomed to wane just like every other previous incarnation.

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  • stonedwolf

    Some gimp voted you down for some reason. The Raid is really good, well worth a watch.

  • Simon Sieverts

    You seem to concentrating only in the economics of 3D. If you become curious about the art, please read Adrian Pennington & Carolyn Giadina’s new book “Exploring 3D” published by Focal Press.

  • ArccaDaton

    3D sucks if you’re colour-blind.

  • LJB57

    I suffer from double-vision… 3D not for me!

  • ADS

    With their next films in 3D – I’m sure that Alfonso Cuaron, Bryan Singer, PeterJackson, Baz Lurhman and Ang Lee may have a differing opinion! 3D in fact is maturing and moving beyond gimmick to eventually achieve the creative potential thus far only hinted at.

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