Regular Moviefone contributor and indieWIRE film critic Anne Thompson recently called up her indieWIRE pals Leonard Maltin and Eric Kohn for a lively discussion about where the 3-D phenomenon might go next.
Maltin kicked off the conversation with his take on 'Jackass 3D' opening with $50 million a few weeks back. "I felt they ought to have a huge asterisk next to that saying, 'And we built most of that out of overages in the admission price,'" he argued.
Thompson agreed that the movie wouldn't have brought in as much money in standard 2-D, but also felt that the format itself greatly helped drive audiences to theaters to check it out. "If you want to be surrounded by poop," said Thompson, "don't you want to do it in 3-D?"
Kohn noted that the fast and loose usage of 3-D equipment in the film was novel; it was as if the filmmakers didn't care if the cameras got banged up or vomited on. "There is probably something historical about that alone," he quipped.
A transcript of their entertaining conversation -- which touches on upcoming 3-D films and whether the trend has a shelf life -- is after the jump.
Maltin: I like 3-D when it's fun, but I don't want to hear directors say "I've made subtle use of 3-D." To me, that's the ultimate oxymoron of the day. For example, I loved last summer's 'Step Up 3D' because the director, John M. Chu, chose to stage his dance numbers in a very flamboyant way and really have fun with it. But people didn't go to see it. 3-D alone isn't enough anymore. We've had several 3-D flops. Take 'Clash of the Titans.' Say you're at Warner Bros. and you have, on the one hand, a guy saying, "This 3-D quality sucks," but then another says, "Yes, but look at how much money we made this weekend with it anyway."
Thompson: Anything created in a digital universe is wonderful in 3-D. But we've had too many bad 3-D movies done retroactively and in shoddy, horrible, 'Clash of the Titans' form. Studios have to calculate where they are going to lose audiences by burning them. I think it's very interesting that Warner Bros. decided not to go with 3-D with the latest Harry Potter, 'The Deathly Hallows,' because they finally didn't want to rush it and they wanted a high quality movie. Now 3-D is starting to be equated with crap.
Kohn: Look at 'Paranormal Activity 2.' People are talking about it running up against 3-D as sort of counter-programming for horror fans, since this is a movie that is done in a very classic style. It's not based on any technologically advanced decisions; it's just based on things that go bump in the night. And people respond to that. I think even with 'Avatar,' if you didn't have the genre hook, the technology behind it wouldn't be nearly as impressive to the people; they are responding to something that goes beyond 3-D. 3-D is really just this asterisk on the title. It's like a bonus.
Maltin: That asterisk costs you an extra $3 to $5! I read a statistic that 'Toy Story 3' made as much money in 2-D as it did in 3-D. If you look at parents -- and I've heard this from more than one person -- they are tired of spending the extra money. Especially if their kids are younger and often don't like the 3-D glasses -- they end up being uncomfortable or taking them off. They just wasted a lot of money.
Thompson: The charts show that while 3-D was new and young -- i.e. 'Avatar' and 'Alice in Wonderland' -- a higher percentage of people went to see them in 3-D, and now the numbers are falling off radically. More and more, people are choosing 2-D, partly because of the recession, and they don't want to spend the extra money. It's interesting that James Cameron has doubled down and gone forward with 'Avatar 2' and '3.' This will remind us again of what high quality 3-D can be. In addition to 3-D cinemas, there is 3-D in the home, and I'm more excited about that. I prefer 2-D in the theatre unless it's Cameron or an animated film.
Kohn: In the future, with more kids are watching 3-D at home and becoming used to that format, 3-D may become a given no matter where they are viewing their media.
Maltin: The question is, what is the long term future of 3-D? Will it continue to be an occasional gimmick, or will it be fully integrated into our everyday experience? I'm not a sports guy, but I can appreciate that a sports nut might really enjoy spending a weekend watching their sports in 3-D. But you still have to wear glasses -- so far anyway. [Editor's note: 3-D without glasses is in development.] That is still an impediment to people embracing 3-D on a full scale, regular basis.
Thompson: I think the studios are becoming more discerning about when it is really appropriate and when films benefit from 3-D storytelling.
Kohn: I'd like to know how this compares to other periods of the history of this technology. If 3-D was a gimmick, wasn't it played out 50 years ago?
Maltin: It was. If you look at the history, in 1953, the first 3-D boom was a tremendous success at the beginning of the year, and completely burnt out by the end of the year. Jack Warner, the head at Warner Bros. at one point, said, "All films are going to be in 3-D," and six months later he had to eat his words. But I don't think it's going away. But the issue remains -- if you are a family of four or six, how many times are you going to endure paying that extra tariff?
Thompson: Now that they've invested all this money in digital cinemas, and 3-D is going into theaters all over the world, I don't think it's going away. I think audiences have reason to pay extra only when they think they are going to get their money's worth -- that is the bottom line.
Kohn: One potential danger is that the more than we put emphasis on 3-D, and if it continues to have any kind of prominence in the culture of watching movies, it could ostracize a lot of really talented filmmakers who are working in a multitude of genres and can't afford to work with that technology. There is a wonderful movie opening this weekend called 'Monsters,' an amazing story kind of like 'District 9,' but made on a guy's laptop, and not 3-D. It's worth seeing, but does a movie like that lose something because it doesn't have that 3-D stamp of approval?
Maltin: Well, look at 'District 9': a great movie that found a huge and receptive audience both from critics and the mass movie-going public, and that was without 3-D. The question is, in a level playing field, if a film is really good and original and provocative, is anybody going to complain that its not in 3-D? Is anyone not going to go see it saying, "I would have been interested but not if it's in 2-D"?
Thompson: I'd like to see 'Harry Potter' do really well so that they decide, "What the hell, we're not going to do the last one in 3-D either." And I'd like to see more and more filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro, Darren Aronofsky and Steven Spielberg say, "We're not going to do our films in 3-D." This may be hopeful thinking, but I hope we'll find that quality will win out.
Anne Thompson -- who has served as Deputy Editor of Variety.com and The Hollywood Reporter, West Coast Editor of Premiere and Senior Writer at Entertainment Weekly -- writes a daily blog on indieWIRE, Thompson on Hollywood.
Leonard Maltin, whose blog for indieWIRE is titled Movie Crazy, is the author of many, many books, including Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide and Leonard Maltin's 151 Movies You've Never Seen.
Eric Kohn, whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, is the lead film critic at indieWIRE. He regularly discusses and reviews movies on his personal blog, Screen Rush.
You can check out some of their latest posts here:
The Stars Who Want to Legalize Marijuana (Thompson)
Maltin on Movies: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Maltin)
Does Tyler Perry Do Enough 'For Colored Girls'? (Kohn)