If you are so inclined, you can watch tonight’s NCAA Championship game at movie theaters around the country in eye-popping three-dimension ($25). Next weekend, you could watch Tiger Woods’ return to the PGA in life-like-ish 3-D. Let’s not forget, NVidia has recently announced a 3-D video card for your PC to give games a startling new look and 3-D is headed to both the Nintendo DS & Apple iPad. It seems like nearly any movie with half a chance at mediocre box office is being reformatted to be released in 3-D-glasses-required glory.
Everywhere you look these days, 3-D is all the rage. It’s become so bad that some movies are being marketed with the afterthought, “also in 2-D.”
Stop by your local electronics store and all of the excitement (for the salespeople) surrounds the new 3-D televisions ($2,400 and up). Of course, to get the full experience, you’ll need a 3-D Blu-ray player ($350), active shutter 3-D glasses ($149-200 each pair) and a 3-D HDMI cable ($47) — although your current HDMI cable may still work.
Unfortunately, even if you run out and buy all this equipment this afternoon, there is very little content that would allow you to test out your new rig. With just a few movies and only plans in place for a couple of dedicated 3-D television channels – ESPN and Discovery/Imax – is it worthwhile to be an early adopter for a technology without the content to support it? I guess you could always create your own movies with a “consumer” handheld 3-D digital camcorder ($21,000) coming to market soon.
3-D film has been around for more than a century, but has really only seen its popularity rise in 30-year cycles, first in the 50s, again in the 80s, then a big surge in the past year or so. This year, alone, there are nearly 50 movies slated for a 3-D release, including Jackass 3-D. (If there’s anything I really don’t want to see in 3-D, Jackass might be it.) But, unlike Jackass, which will likely be shot with one of those 3-D camcorders, many movies are just being shoehorned into the 3-D format in order to make an extra buck, often with dubious results.
And in true Hollywood fashion, the 3-D craze has arguably focused more on the technology and visual effects, rather than the story. The rumor is that Avatar lost best picture in this year’s Academy Awards because Academy voters watched the film via 2-D DVD screeners on their home televisions, instead of in the stunning 3-D theaters where it was meant to be viewed. Unfortunately, it seems that once the shine’s off, the story isn’t as great.
But Avatar certainly had its impact. Thanks to its monster box office, Avatar – and movies like it – have influenced what we pay for regular movies. Last month, movie prices were raised across the country – by up to 20%, depending on the theater and the type of movie – all due to the popularity of 3-D.
Talk about price hikes! Just a few years ago, I could get my family out for an afternoon of entertainment for not much more than thirty bucks. Now, with the recent increases and surcharges for all kinds of stuff I didn’t know I needed, like reserved seating and meal-and-a-movie deals, the dollar signs are spinning at a rate that would make a Washington politician smile.
Today, if I want to take my family of five to go see a movie on a weekend afternoon, it will cost me no less than $65 for about 90 minutes of entertainment — and that’s before even getting close to the concession stand, where I am implored to pay 900% markups on a cold bag of popcorn. Thank goodness I’m done with dating; I feel sorry for teenagers going on movie dates in today’s theater environment.
Now, I know this might sound like a lot of complaining about encroaching technologies, but I’m no Luddite. I’ve got closets full of gadgets and devices I latched onto too early. From Dreamcasts to HD-DVD players, I own it (mostly because I can’t sell it to anyone else). But I am certain of one thing: I am not buying a 3-D TV, player or game … because I’m simply not interested. I don’t want to wear expensive and clunky glasses when I’m lounging on the couch and I don’t intend to upgrade a houseful of perfectly good electronics for an intrusive technology that has a limited stream of content with questionable worth. And I’m not going to pay more for the 3-D version of a movie … unless my kids really beg and do that sad-but-cute thing with their faces and promise to help around the house for the next week.
I may be wrong, but I really hope that – like the 1950s and 80s – the gimmick of 3-D will only be a passing trend.