Latest 3D films a better theatre experience

The Return of 3D?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

A still from Caroline in 3D

The recent box-office success of 3D films like Coraline and My Bloody Valentine could mean audiences will soon get into the habit of entering the movie theatre with popcorn in one hand and 3D glasses in the other.

The technology for three-dimensional viewing involves projecting two images onto a screen, and with the help of polarized glasses " those with the red and blue lenses " one image is filtered through the left eye and the other image through the right eye. The brain puts the images together, creating the illusion of depth.

3D technology is by no means a new phenomenon and it has been used in the past as a gimmick to get viewers to the theatre. The first 3D film, The Power of Love, premiered in 1922, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that 3D films enjoyed commercial success.

Movie producers used the technology to compete with the popularity of television and people flocked to see feature films like House of Wax (1953) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Proving to be a fad, 3D faded into the background until the early 1980s when it re-emerged in full force with blockbusters Friday the 13th Part III (1982) and JAWS 3-D (1983).

Now with the anticipated releases of 3D films like Dreamworks’ Monsters vs. Aliens, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and James Cameron’s Avatar, 3D is resurfacing in film and appears to be better than ever. But in fact, the technology is the same.

“The technology is precisely as it was 50 years ago,” explains Jacquelyn Burkell, associate professor of media, information and technoculture at Western. “We’re actually a long way from achieving a true 3D experience. We have better rendering and graphics and because of that, we can achieve a better 3D experience, but the basic 3D technology hasn’t changed at all.”

Though the fundamental technique is the same, there have been major improvements over the past 50 years in the field of digital effects.

A still from Monsters vs. Aliens

“Digital technology has quite dramatically altered special effects,” Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg says. “So, too, is it now about to transform the 3D experience into something that can replicate what I think is the most remarkable of all the human senses: the sense of sight.”

In order to screen digital 3D, however, movie theatres themselves must invest in expensive new projection equipment. As of right now, only about 1,300 out of 40,000 movie theatres across North America are able to screen 3D movies; because of the increase in 3D movies being released, the viewing period per film is shorter. As well, theatres have been hesitant to invest in 3D equipment during the recession, meaning 3D film may not become a permanent fixture anytime soon.

Nevertheless, producers and animators are hoping 3D will prove to be more than just a fad this time around. Katzenberg is especially optimistic as he plans to release all of Dreamworks’ movies in 3D this year.

“We are about to enter what will be the third great revolution in film: this new generation of 3D,” he claims. “The first two " sound and colour " were actually about bringing a better experience out to the audience. 3D is about bringing the audience into the film experience itself.”

Western English professor Lily Cho is not convinced, asking, “Will adding bells and whistles fundamentally transform the movie going experience?

“I think there’s something incredibly powerful about the traditional film format that still compels us,” Cho adds. “I mean look at IMAX ... it’s one of those things people should have been willing to pay a few extra dollars to see. It still exists, but it’s not really transforming the idea of going out to see a movie.”

Moviegoers could pay up to $25 per ticket to enjoy 3D film. It seems that only time will tell if people will be willing to pay an increased price for an old technology or if those blue and red glasses will soon collect dust once again.

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