Friday, 18 September 2009

Why economics dictates 3D will survive

In Tuesday's Guardian, Cory Doctorow wrote a widely circulated piece about how 3D won't work in the long run. His main argument is that 3D is a cinema-only experience; as he says:
Movies, after all, rely on the aftermarket of satellite, broadcast and cable licenses, of home DVD releases and releases to airline entertainment systems and hotel room video-on-demand services – none of which are in 3D. If the movie couldn't be properly enjoyed in boring old 2D, the economics of filmmaking would collapse. So no filmmaker can afford to make a big-budget movie that is intended as a 3D-only experience, except as a vanity project.

This might be true in 2009, but in the next years a few things are going to happen that will make 3D more than a kids' movies feature: 3D Television, reduced costs of 3D filmaking and finally, respectable filmmakers using 3D for non-mainstream films. Sony have put their muscle behind it. Moore's law dictates that the costs of 3D will diminish.

He also argues that cinema-owners who've shelled out big money to retrofit their auditoriums for 3D projection don't want to tie up their small supply of 3D screens with art-house movies. They especially don't want to do this when there's plenty of competition from giant-budget 3D movies that add in the 3D as an optional adjunct, a marketing gimmick that can be used to draw in a few more punters during the cinematic exhibition window

This is completely untrue - once you have a digital projector, adding 3D capabilities is only an extra £10,000. This is a small investment when you consider the extra cash you can make with 3D product. The real challenge that cinemas face is converting to digital in the first place, but that debate is completely separate from the 3D argument.

Once more, Doctorow:
In 10 years, we'll look back on the current round of 3D films and say, "Remember that 3D gimmick? Whatever happened to that, anyway?

I think it'll be the opposite - when Martin Scorsese wins an Oscar for a 3D film, or the new MAN ON WIRE is in 3D, or the glasses fall out of the equation and we just expect to see things on screen the way we do in real life - in three dimensions - then we'll look back and see 2D the way we see silent cinema or black and white cinematograpy - a relic (a beautiful relic) of the past.


  1. Good response. Just one quibble about "Moore's Law". Technically, the law only considers the number of transistors on an integrated circuit. It's been co-opted to refer to exponential technology improvements in general, but I think that would more accurately be called Kurzweil's Law.

  2. Thanks for the clarification. I think the general principle still applies, as in technology becomes less expensive with time. This will mean low-budget indie filmmakers will want to experiment with the full toolbox- why wouldn't they?

  3. I have yet to be really impressed by 3-D in its current incarnation. The 45-60 Minute 3-D films at the Science Museum IMAX are great - but they're not exactly Feature Films, are they?
    I think I've said before that Avatar will be be the Litmus Test for mainstream cinema. I'm sure it'll make GAZILLIONS - and that's all that matters, right?! I can see the appeal with Big-Budget Sci-Fi Action Movies - but tell me what 3-D would have added to the curiously beautiful Fish Tank...

  4. You could say the same about anything. What would sound or colour add? Or Cinemascope? They're just tools in an ever wider toolbox.

  5. OK, you have a point! I suppose my real problem is with the QUALITY of the movies I have seen in 3-D. I'm not anti-technology or anything like that (Digital Projection is the best thing to happen to Cinema in years.) Put it this way - when Terry Gilliam, Guillermo del Toro, Tarsem and David Fincher start shooting in 3-D, count me in!