Thursday, 2 June 2011

The rise and fall (and rise?) of 3-D

Current writing on 3-D tends towards the 'why won't it die?' camp, as if 3-D is some kind of horror / sci-fi monster that never dies, just lies dormant until someone finds the money to fund the inevitable sequel.
The normal riposte to such claims is that audiences are still going to see 3-D, so it must still have some level of popularity among cinemagoers.
Well, if you're anti-3-D (and agree with the likes of Mark Kermode, Roger Ebert, David Mitchell and, more recently, Edgar Wright), then this week the New York Times had some welcome stereoscopic relief for you:
In one sense, it is like every article on 3-D: there is a reference to 3-D as a novelty attraction (3-D is 'gimmicky'), there is a subtle reference to the technology's (limited) links to specific blockbusters and genres (3-D is sci-fi / horror / juvenilia), and there is a reliance on U.S. box office statistics to 'prove' that 3-D is no longer a success. Specfically, here, that Pirates of the Caribbean 4 did made 47% of its money in 3-D ticket sales, while Kung Fu Panda 2 made only 45%).
Yet, if we pause and think about those numbers, they also reveal that almost 50% of cinema audiences are still watching new movies in 3-D in their first weekends on release (which is what the figures are actually counting, not full release stats). And that in itself is quite impressive because, although the ratio of 3-D ticket money is less than, say, Avatar levels, Avatar had no competition for those 3-D screens. With Pirates 4, Thor, Jung Fu Panda 2 and others all competing for a limited number of 3-D screens (3-D cinema screens still only account for a 1/3rd of screens worldwide), then the % of 3-D admissions for 1st week box office is likely to fall, film on film. (as more films enter the marketplace)
So, it may be a bit too soon to be using this as conclusive evidence that we should all jump on the '3-D is over' bandwagon.
This is particularly true as the article also reveals that the overseas market for 3-D is significantly stronger than the U.S. one - Screen Digest reported earlier this year that 3-D's continued success is likely to be fuelled by non-U.S. markets. Which is something you would hope the New York Times would remember, seeing as they published another article on 3-D a few days earlier that discussed some of those ideas:
Now, admittedly that's also a piece about the growth of 3-D pornography - specifically the impressive box office success of Hong Kong period drama 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstacy - but it does point to the problems of using box office statistics to prove or disprove anything useful.
(3-D, pornography and representations of women is a whole other blog post that I'll try and get round to later this month)
So, it remains too early to call time on 3-D film. The figures do show a dip, and some suggest a progressive downward trajectory film-by-film - and that could be more worrying, although their cumulative take would also need to be taken into account. But most figures are only the U.S. box office. International returns (at the moment) seem to tell a different story.
And, lest we forget, this isn't a cinema-only process anymore - and (as I've said before) the expansion of 3-D TV, Blu-Ray and the 3DS may end up being the real game-changers for stereoscopic acceptance, not cinema...
(with thanks to Daithi and Michael for pointing those links out to me)