The Siren Song of 3-D

Whenever the movie industry feels threatened, the siren song of 3-D starts playing. In the 1950s, the threat was television. Hollywood responded by flinging a barrage of rocks, arrows and aliens at audiences who initially responded by ducking, then removed their cardboard glasses, and stopped buying tickets to 3-D movies. Stereoscopic movies proved to be a fad and soon faded away.

Now, Hollywood executives’ sleepless nights are inspired by fears of illegal downloading, Pay-Per-View and other alternative viewing platforms; along with a general anxiety that they will soon be following in the footsteps of their troubled brethren in the music business. Once again, the movie studios are turning to 3-D for their salvation. Led by James Cameron’s mega-blockbuster Avatar, a squadron of 3-D flicks have invaded our theaters and studios are even spending extra dollars to add that precious third dimension to films that were originally shot in 2-D. The result has proven to be a tonic for Hollywood’s frayed nerves. They are naturally thrilled that audiences are buying more tickets for 3-D, but most of all, they are thrilled that people are willing to pay more for that extra dimension.

For many years, movie attendance has been slowly falling. However, gradually rising ticket prices have balanced that equation and kept the business profitable. Each year the price creeps up almost imperceptibly, with people only noticing dramatic milestones. Some people complained when tickets broke the ten dollar mark, but quietly accepted $10.50 or $10.75. 3-D allowed the industry to radically accelerate this process. Fifteen, eighteen and even twenty dollars are now commonly accepted.

Movie executives are happily guzzling these extra dollars, but could wake up with a nasty hangover. One of the appealing things about movie going has always been affordability. While going to the theater or attending a concert has become insanely expensive, movies have remained a pretty good deal. However, the artificial inflation of 3-D ticket prices threatens that paradigm. In these hard times, many people are thinking twice about expenditures they used to make casually. If the cost of a family going to the movies starts to exceed a hundred dollars, they may start to think three times, four times and perhaps not go at all. Saying no might be even easier if they have paid these big bucks for mediocre conversions of flicks that were shot in 2-D but given an extra dimension in post-production. Post-converted films like Clash of the Titans look dark, murky and decidedly odd (and I’m not even talking about the fact that this was a bad movie in any dimension).

The experience of going to the movies has steadily deteriorated over the past forty years. Audiences have put-up with ever-smaller screens, poor customer service, being treated like cattle, a seemingly-endless barrage of pre-movie commercials, and fellow moviegoers who can’t whisper, shutup, or stop checking their cellphone. Having to pay skyrocketing prices for this privilege could be the final straw that finally convinces everyone to just stay home.

dylan skolnick

Dylan Skolnick lives in the East, but loves a good western. He can be found most days and many evenings at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, where he is co-director (