Is the “Avatar”-Sparked 3D Revolution Sustainable?

10 Jan, 2010 | by


By now, you probably know a friend or a friend of a friend who has seen the blockbuster movie “Avatar,” a film that undoubtedly touts the creative genius of James Cameron, with a plot that seems to be universally appreciated, visually stunning cinematography and cutting-edge 3D technology that puts the proverbial cherry on top. Anecdotally, it just seems that moviegoers are actually excited about going to theaters again, a trend of which Hollywood is keenly aware.

As the “Avatar”-sparked 3D revolution continues to build momentum, I find myself asking a profoundly simple question: Is it sustainable? 3D has been around for a very long time. Yes, the technology itself has evolved in tremendous ways, but the original concept goes back over fifty years, not to mention there have been 3D resurgences in both the 50s and 80s. However, the spikes in usage during those periods were seen as gimmicks that quickly lost popularity.

In the January 6, 2010 Yahoo News article “Blockbuster ‘Avatar’ to accelerate 3D revolution”, the author states that “[a]ccording to organizers of a recent 3D film festival in Belgium, more than 150 3D films are currently in various stages of production. Among them is the long-awaited movie adaptation of comic-book hero ‘Tintin,’ directed by Oscar-winner Steven Spielberg and tentatively scheduled for release in 2011.”
It’s clear that Hollywood sees the current 3D revolution as an opportunity to accentuate the moviegoer experience and glean profits in the process. But I for one feel that the 3D zeitgeist will pass and ultimately succumb to one irrefutable principle: Technology without substance or meaningful content is destined for failure.

In other words, a bad movie is a bad movie, regardless of how impressive the 3D is. “Avatar” was a gamble in many ways – a staggering $500 million budget, no-name actors, and a sci-fi world that people were either going to love or hate. It just so happened that the film resonated with audiences in a very universal way. The film has grossed over $900 million in the foreign market alone. Do you really think that was attributed in any significant measure to the 3D technology? If technology was enough, then “My Bloody Valentine 3D” would have been box office gold.
Over the past decade, Hollywood has made a significant investment in promoting the 3D experience, the last five years alone having produced over seventy-five 3D films. Some notable 3D movie successes since 2004: “The Polar Express”, “Chicken Little”, “Monster House”, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, “Beowolf”, “Bolt”, “Monster vs. Aliens”, “UP”, “Ice Age 3”, “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” and “Disney’s A Christmas Carol.”

What do all of these movies have in common? They are all good movies that appealed to the masses. The formula is that simple. The 3D technology may have played a hand in setting them apart a little bit, but it was the movie itself that appealed to movie-goers. I can guarantee you that the euphoria of 3D will be knocked down a few pegs once Hollywood experiences a few failed 3D experiments. Mark my words.
With that said, the technology undoubtedly enhances the moviegoer experience. I must confess that I found myself saying “wow” more than once during “Avatar”. The reality is that the technology will become more prevalent in the movie industry for at least the next 3-4 years, but time will tell if 3D has the staying power that movie executives are banking on. As I mentioned earlier, technology without substance is destined for failure.

One quick side note:
Back in 2003, James Cameron created “Ghosts of the Abyss”, which had a paltry $12 million dollar budget to “Avatar’s” massive $500 million cap today. How far away do you think we are before we see the first $1 billion dollar budget?

39 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Stephen
    January 10th, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

    Awesome article here Richard. I can’t agree with you more about your message. I have one minor detail that I disagree with though:

    It looks like every visual media industry is pumping money into the 3D machine. Since that includes video games that have a development time-frame of 12-16 months (or longer) I think the 2-3 year window you mentioned is a bit short.

    Change that 2-3 years into 4-5 years and your words are the same as mine (albeit more well written).

    Stay Casual!

  2. Houston Animation Guy
    July 2nd, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    Thanks for the article. However, I believe it does have staying power. It is simply a calculation of ROI. Even if one in ten movies that they release in 3d draws the type of return that Avatar did, they are far ahead. 3d animation greatly enhances the user experience and I believe it will continue to expand.

    Nice blog by the way. I look forward to reading more.

  3. Maryam Kaur
    August 22nd, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    3d movies are so cool, i just wish that we could watch 3d movies on TV:,:

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