Is 3D Worth It?

Ouch! Some movie theaters raised prices again this weekend. The hike is most noticeable when you also add on the extra surcharge for a 3D film. If you want to catch a showing of How to Train Your Dragon at Greenburgh tonight, you’ll have to shell out $10.75 for an adult ticket. See the same movie in 3D, and the price shoots up to $15.25. Sure, that might not break the bank—but is 3D worth it?

There’s no doubt that the use of 3D has exploded recently. By my own personal, really rough estimate, just a few years ago (2007/2008), there were only about 1,000 theaters nationwide that could even play a 3D movie. Now, that number has been estimated to be anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 3D screens. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular: the novelty of a 3D “event” can drum up excitement for a movie—and theaters can get away with charging an extra $4.50 for the premium. Showing a movie in 3D also means that theaters can once again offer something that a home-theater system can’t—at least for now.

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And, a couple of years ago, these were the reasons that I would have hands-down recommended going to any 3D movie. (Roger Ebert famously disagrees, but I think more recent movies have chilled out on the throw-stuff-at-your-face gags and use 3D to increase depth of field.) It was novel. The technology finally had evolved beyond those old, dorky red/blue glasses, so the 3D was actually good-looking and enhanced the movies. And, since the process was so arduous for something available only on 1,000 screens, the people who made 3D movies had to feel passionate about making them in 3D. There needed to be a reason for the 3D, which was mapped out from the start of the filming process (for the most part).

Now that 3D is the hot trend, things have changed. It’s not just that you get a handful of 3D films to indulge in each year. This month alone, there’s Alice in Wonderland, How to Train Your Dragon, and Clash of the Titans all vying for your 3D dollars, with Iron Man 2 and Shrek Forever After right on their tails. (And, as it turns out, competition for these 3D screens is getting ugly.) That’s a lot of $15.75 tickets to shell out in a two-month period. And, in truth, now not all movies are worth the 3D.

So, how can you tell the good ones from the bad ones? First, I’d check to see that the movie always had been envisioned as a 3D venture. The execs at Warner Bros., for example, only recently decided to make Clash of the Titans a 3D film. It was conceived of and shot in 2D, but after the success of Avatar, they shipped it off to be converted into 3D post-production. (Iron Man 2 also is a product of an after-the-fact conversion process.) Since these decisions were made last-minute and after filming, the 3D obviously isn’t essential to the storytelling or the overall vision of the film, and it probably could be skipped.

Instead, I’d look for directors who have a clearer motivation to use the 3D. James Cameron obviously designed Avatar‘s Pandora to be a completely immersive environment, and 3D was integral to that. Even Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland used the 3D for something more expressive: When Alice was in her repressed, Victorian world, the movie was flatter, but when she heads into the wilds of “Wonderland” the 3D becomes more extreme and her worlds open up a little more. “I think it puts you in this world more,” Burton told fans at Comic-con, “plus with the Alice material, the growing and shrinking and the weird kind of spaces and places you’re in, it just kind of helps with the experience.” If you read that a director is able to explain his or her use of 3D beyond, “We wanted to be state-of-the-art! 3D is the future!” you can take it as a good sign.

Finally, I’d say it’s a good bet to see animated films in 3D. I’m not sure about the technical details of this, but I know it’s just easier to make a 3D animated film than it is to make a 2D animated film. That means they’re able to do a lot more in 3D—hence, all the flying and zooming around in How to Train Your Dragon. It’s actually pretty cool.

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So, what are you going to see in 3D? What do you think of 3D in general? Let me know in the comments.

How To Train Your Dragon ™ & © 2010 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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