Three years ago, the 3D movie was heralded as "the next big thing" that would save cinema. Over the years Australian ticket prices had steadily risen as home theatre became a serious threat, leaving cinemas to try and bridge the gap.
Image: The 3D juggernaut may be coming to an end. Photo: Simon Dawson
The objective was to up the "experience" that the public pay for, enhance the "immersion" for a premium ticket price and offer something that you just can't duplicate at home: enter the third dimension.
3D movies aren't anything new, but they've gone through a renaissance in recent years. When made well and actually filmed in 3D — such as James Cameron's Avatar — movies can be a triumph of cinema and a visual delight.
Advertisement: Story continues below Too often though we're presented with a slapped together conversion of a normal film, much cheaper to produce and resulting in a film a bit more eye-watering to watch, but hey, it was still a new age of cinema, right?
Slowly but surely, we moviegoers began to sort through dimensional shifts and see what was really in front of us. Yes, in some cases, the movie industry used 3D well, and made the few extra bucks worthwhile. But more often than not, we were being distracted. The honeymoon period was over all too quickly and in the past year 3D movies have seen a noticeable decrease in audience.
A factor that just accelerated this drop, in Australia in particular, is the ticket price. The average ticket price in the US in 2010 was $7.89, an extra $4 or so for 3D, with the glasses thrown in.
In Australia you were doing well if you could get a ticket for double that price. With our dollar near parity, we're paying $17 a movie ticket, $20 if you want to see a 3D film, more if you need the glasses. Quite a difference in price there, and it's even more if you have a family in tow.
There's been another wake-up call recently, in the form of a study by L. Mark Carrier of California State University, who found that people watching 3D movies essentially have the same immersion experience as those watching a 2D movie, but with the extra three-fold increase of eyestrain, headache, or trouble with vision.
This year has seen a vast reduction in the worldwide takings for 3D movies and the industry is catching on, as fewer movies are being provided in the medium. Whereas a movie such as Shrek Forever After made 65 per cent of its box office take from 3D screenings a year ago, this year's big summer flicks such as the final Harry Potter and The Green Lantern barely scraped 30 per cent. With the cost of converting a movie to 3D at $80,000 US per minute of footage (let alone going the step further and filming in it) it's fast becoming a reality that it isn't worth the box office take.
Here's where it starts getting a bit sneaky though — many that went to see movies like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Thor, The Green Lantern or Captain America in an Australian cinema this year would have had little choice but to see it in 3D. Normal 2D screenings were available, but they were few and far between. Have large cinemas like Hoyts and Village become so fond of the increased ticket prices that come with 3D, that they schedule the majority of their big audience screenings in it?
And what's next, you may ask? 4D cinema, that's what (technically the fourth dimension is "time", but this is hardly the moment to insist on scientific correctness). Found in the US, Canada, and now New Zealand (Australia can't be far away), using "d-box" technology your seat will now "pitch, roll and heave" along with the movie. Not immersive enough for you? There's a few cinemas in Asia that spray water and smell at you, with the recent Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon accompanied with the smell of burning rubber. It's taking the cinematic experience one step closer to a car wash.
3D movies aren't going anywhere soon. There's The Adventures of Tintin at the end of the year, The Amazing Spider-Man in July next year, and somewhere in the distant future, the tantalising promise of Avatar 2 and 3. Even with these tentpoles, it's undeniable that 3-D will never be the draw card it once was. Once the saving grace of cinema, the philosophy of making more money off less viewers has just led to less viewers overall.
How do you think 3D movies impact on the film industry? Creative genius or tacky money maker?