It's stupendous! It's electrifying! It's amazing! It's a 3D movie (and magazine and TV) epidemic! Yes, the weirdly geeky movie gimmick from the '50s is enjoying a renaissance moment in the 21st century with its new incarnation, Digital 3D! We take a look at the past, present and future for the phenomenon.
Way back when: The jungle movie Bwana Devil (1952) enjoys the distinction of being the first full-length movie filmed in 3D, and it set up a cascade of other films using the technique, including Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder and Hondo, starring John Wayne. In a nutshell, it allowed moviemakers to take flat two-dimensional scenes and create the illusion of depth. Often, though, the 3D was more for marketing than for moviemaking. Still, it worked to great effect for Creature from the Black Lagoon, which was filmed in Wakulla Springs. The movie was considered by many to be the most memorable 3D movie from this so-called golden era of 3D. The whole craze faded out in the '60s because of the viewing complexity: awkward paper glasses (subject of a memorable Life magazine photo), double synchronized film projectors and silver screens. It just made your head hurt to view a movie that way.
Just when you thought it was safe: 3D reared its double-edged projection again in the early '70s and into the '80s with cheesetastic classics such as Jaws 3D and Friday the 13th — Part 3. Again, the clunky viewing experience proved its demise and it disappeared again.
A dreamer steps in: Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of Dreamworks, began a big hard pitch to theater and movie industry heavyweights in the past few years to move them toward digitizing more screens because he intended to shoot all of his company's animated features in 3D beginning in 2009. His spiel: 3D can increase the industry's box office take, because theaters could charge as much as $5 more per ticket for 3D films; the technology keeps viewers away from DVDs (3D films can't be seen on disc, yet); and it discourages piracy because 3D movies are harder to record. He had reason to celebrate in early October last year, when five film studios agreed to help cover costs (up to $75,000 per screen) for converting roughly 14,000 screens to digital projection in the next three years.
3D to the max: Now that the technology for showing 3D has caught up with the technology for shooting the entire movie that way, expect an explosion of 3D events headed your way that tout the effect. Among them:
• Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience opened over the first weekend of March at No. 2 with $12.7 million in box office. (But it couldn't match the Hannah Montana 3D concert movie of last year, which had an opening of $31.1 million.)
• Tiger Beat, the iconic teen idol magazine, produced its first 3D issue that hit newsstands this week to celebrate the bros' new movie. Other teen superstars who participated in the 3D photo sessions include singer/actress Demi Lovato, iCarly stars Jennette McCurdy and Nathan Kress, Wizards of Waverly Place star Jake T. Austin and Nickelodeon's musical movie Spectacular! stars Nolan Gerard Funk and Victoria Justice. The issue includes free 3D glasses, and the mag's Web site promises bonus 3D photos online.
• The movie Monsters Vs. Aliens is headed our way March 27, just one of several Digital 3D movies released this year. Also scheduled are James Cameron's Avatar (May 22) Pixar's Up (May 29) and Robert Zemeckis' Christmas Carol (Nov. 6).
Home 3D home: While today's 3D is confined to the movies and to a few special TV episodes (NBC's Chuck last month), technology is gearing up to respond to demand for it for home entertainment. In fact, a study by the Consumer Electronics Association found that 16 percent of consumers are interested in watching 3D movies or TV shows in their home, and 14 percent are interested in playing 3D video games. And those geeky glasses that come with the experience? More than half of U.S. adults said having to wear special glasses or hold their heads still while watching a 3D TV would have no impact on them purchasing a 3D set for their home.
Information from BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times, Sensio.com and the Miami Herald was used in this report.