Is 3D Unavoidable?

In an earlier blog post, I warned you that not all 3D is created equal. There are lots of reasons to skip the flashier 3D film for the plain ol’ 2D version. Sometimes quickie, after-the-fact 3D conversions actually hurt the quality of the film. Or, sometimes, even if the 3D is fine and reported to be great, if you’re only mildly interested in a film you might not want to fork over the extra $3 for the 3D experience. You might hate 3D in general, as Roger Ebert does. My question: Do you have a choice anymore?

There used to be very few screens that had the capability of playing 3D films. Movies had to compete for those screens, and as a result there was usually only one 3D film playing at a time. As theaters have switched to all-digital projection, though, the number of 3D screens has increased. This conversion is definitely to the theaters’ advantages: They get to use the number of 3D screens as a selling feature—you can’t get that on your fancy home-theater setup!—and charge you a premium for the experience. Why would they waste a screen on a 2D film when they’d get an extra three bucks out of you to show you the same film in 3D (shoddy effects quality or not)? Plus, new 3D features are coming out all the time. If a theater had switched to all-digital projections, next weekend instead of choosing one 3D film they could be charging you this premium on Toy Story 3, The Last Airbender, *and* Despicable Me.

So, where does that leave those of us who want to stay in two boring dimensions?

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The picture isn’t looking so rosy. I was in the City last weekend. It was hot. (It still is.) I wanted to kill some time in a nice, over-air-conditioned movie theater, but the only big movie playing that I hadn’t seen was The Last Airbender. The movie has some lousy reviews and is held up as a shining example of how not to use 3D. Against my better judgment, I still wanted to check it out—but not at 3D prices. We hit the Internet, and found that less than a handful of theaters in Manhattan were playing the 2D version. We went to the first theater only to find that the online listings were incorrect—the theater did have Airbender on two separate screens, but they were both in 3D. (“But 3D is better!” a theater employee told us when we complained.) Okay, we thought, that was a big multiplex. Of course they’d have the capability of showing 3D on multiple screens. So we checked the listings again, and found a smaller, two-movie theater much further uptown that seemed to have a 2D print of the film. Again, the listings were wrong, and it was only showing in 3D. Big or small, mega-chain or local franchise, we couldn’t find a single movie theater on our side of the City that wasn’t showing a fan-rejected, critically panned film for less than $16. After that, we gave up and saw Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Nobody wants to show that in 3D.

Luckily, it hasn’t gotten that bad in our area yet. Most of the theaters here seem to be showing the 3D Airbender and Toy Story 3 alongside the 2D. But as theaters in our area convert to all-digital projection, stories like these will become more and more common. My advice: If you’re looking for a 2D version of a film, check the price when you look up the movie times. That would’ve saved us a lot of time this weekend. If a theater doesn’t specify if a movie is in 3D or not, some listings sites will assume it’s not—which, obvious to me now, isn’t always the case. But once you see that inflated ticket price, there won’t be any doubts.

What are your feelings on 3D? Worth the extra few bucks? Let me know in the comments.

Photo credit: Zade Rosenthal / Industrial Light & Magic Copyright © 2010 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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