The latest example comes with the news that 'Spider-Man 4' director Mark Webb is consulting with Cameron himself on how best to use 3-D in his Spidey reboot. Just a month ago, you may recall, 'Spider-Man 4' was going to be a conventional sequel, with director Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire still attached, and that Raimi, inspired by 'Avatar,' wanted to make a film with unusually elaborate -- but not 3-D -- special effects. You may also recall that Sony abruptly scrapped this story idea as too expensive and time-consuming, parted ways with its expensive director and star and hired the bargain-priced Webb (whose only previous feature is '(500) Days of Summer'), who agreed to make the new movie in 3-D. It's already become conventional wisdom that 'Avatar's' success will change the way movies get made. What those changes will be and how they'll take effect is still anyone's guess. But we're already seeing a ripple effect, as studios use James Cameron's blue bombshell as a guide for how to make the next wave of blockbusters and even for which movies to greenlight. In other words, in the near term, you can expect a lot more 3-D.
The latest example comes with the news that 'Spider-Man 4' director Mark Webb is consulting with Cameron himself on how best to use 3-D in his Spidey reboot. Just a month ago, you may recall, 'Spider-Man 4' was going to be a conventional sequel, with director Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire still attached, and that Raimi, inspired by 'Avatar,' wanted to make a film with unusually elaborate -- but not 3-D -- special effects. You may also recall that Sony abruptly scrapped this story idea as too expensive and time-consuming, parted ways with its expensive director and star and hired the bargain-priced Webb (whose only previous feature is '(500) Days of Summer'), who agreed to make the new movie in 3-D.
So it seems both Raimi and his studio wanted the new 'Spider-Man' to be more like 'Avatar,' but they didn't agree on what that meant. To Raimi, it meant extra spectacle for the audience. To Sony, it meant the audience should pay extra to wear spectacles.
There were an unprecedented number of 3-D releases in 2009, most of them animated. (Two 3-D pics, 'Avatar' and 'Up,' are even nominated for Best Picture Oscars.) 2010 will see even more, including such highly-anticipated live-action movies such as Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland' (due March 5) and Disney's 'Tron: Legacy.' "This new one has got all of the new technology," 'Tron: Legacy' star Jeff Bridges told Moviefone in December, "It's going to be 3-D IMAX." While 1982's 'Tron' (which also starred Bridges) was groundbreaking in its day in terms of CGI effects, he said, "This new one is going to make the old one look like a black and white TV show." Certainly, the footage already released from the movie looks impressive, even in 2-D.
Then there's August's 'Piranha 3-D,' a remake of the 1978 horror film (whose 1981 sequel, 'Piranha II: The Spawning,' was James Cameron's directing debut). Judging by its trailer, it's using 3-D not just for the usual horror jolts (those snapping jaws are coming right at you!), but also to add more, um, dimension to the bouncing breasts of co-eds in the movie's spring-break lake resort setting. At last, when it comes to 3-D-sploitation, the future is here now.
Piranha 3D - Teaser Trailer 2010 [VO]
In the wake of 'Avatar's' success, Warner Bros. announced it was retrofitting in 3-D some of its upcoming 2010 movies that had been shot in 2-D, notably, 'Clash of the Titans' and 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I.' (Other 3-D movies due this year from Warners include 'Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore' and 'Guardians of Ga'Hoole,' the latest from 'Watchmen' director Zack Snyder.) Warners didn't cite 'Avatar' in its decision to make the 3-D facelifts (the studio noted that it had successfully upgraded such films as 'The Polar Express' and the last two 'Harry Potter' movies), but the timing hardly seems coincidental. Apparently, conversion doesn't take that long (it forced a release date delay for 'Titans' of only one week) or cost that much (about $5 million, a figure easily recouped with the $3 surcharge most theaters demand for rental of 3-D glasses).
Other studios are getting into the act as well. Director Michael Bay is no fan of 3-D, but Paramount is said to be pushing him to make the next 'Transformers' movie in 3-D. Paramount's new 'Jackass' sequel is also being shot in 3-D, and this spring, the studio will distribute DreamWorks' 3-D toon 'How to Train Your Dragon.' Meanwhile, at Sony, it's not just Spider-Man who's getting a 3-D sequel; so is 'Zombieland,' while the fourth 'Underworld' movie may also be shot in 3-D.
The 'Jackass' and 'Zombieland' sequels show that 3-D isn't just for big, expensive, blockbuster hopefuls anymore, but rather, that even modest-budget movies can get in on the action. (And low-budget movies, too, if last month's Sundance Film Festival documentary 'Cane Toads: The Conquest' is any indication.) One reason behind the decision to make even moderately-priced movies in 3-D is the home video market, as a wave of 3-D TVs are coming to electronics stores in 2010, as 'Zombieland' producer Gavin Polone noted in December. "I don't think you want to see 'Ordinary People' in 3-D, but 'Zombieland' is clearly one movie that will benefit from [the technique]," he told Variety.
But if your movie is a non-3-D, 'Ordinary People'-type movie (you know -- the kind of movie they used to make for grown-ups), will it still get made? Disney, whose upcoming 3-D slate includes 'Alice in Wonderland' and Pixar's 'Toy Story 3,' seems to think not. New York magazine reports that the studio just turned down a chance to make a sequel to its 2009 Sandra Bullock hit 'The Proposal.' Sure, the movie cost a modest $40 million to make and grossed $315 million worldwide, but the studio's new policy is to make either expensive special-effects pictures (especially if they draw on Disney's newly-purchased stable of Marvel superheroes) or very cheap movies drawing on young stars already under contract at the Disney Channel. Midrange movies driven by actors are out. The main reason? Merchandising -- some $30 billion in products licensed from Disney movies and characters were sold in 2008, a year that the studio's domestic box office share was $1 billion. Movies have become loss leaders, 90-minute advertisements for the toys and bedsheets and theme-park rides they inspire, and the kinds of movies that work well in 3-D are the ones that move ancillary product off shelves.
That's a trend that may alarm A-listers used to collecting large paychecks -- and fuddy-duddy viewers who prefer story over spectacle. But the studios seem to think no one else will mind, and that, thanks to 'Avatar,' the future's so bright, we gotta wear (polarized) shades.