3D or not 3D, that is the question. Summer's the season for big-budget blockbusters, but in recent years it's also become the season for studios to saturate the market with noisy, effects-laden popcorn flicks that come with a hefty 3D mark-up but little to actually show for it.
These days, film fans often find themselves forced to shell out 15 bucks a ticket for some fuzzy, poorly converted action movie that require a pair of goofy shades. Afterward, all you're left with is a headache and a sizable hole in your wallet.
So, in the interests of saving you and your paycheck from the so-called "3D revolution," Moviefone has compiled a list of newly released and upcoming flicks that we think are worthy (or not-so-worthy) of your hard-earned cash this summer.
Of course, with movies that have yet to be released, we can only guess at which might do justice to the 3D process, especially since so few summer releases were actually filmed using 3D cameras (as opposed to being converted in post-production). We'll have to judge those based on trailer footage and buzz, if any, from preview screenings, but we think we can make a few educated guesses.
See in 3D:
'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' (June 29)
This sounds like motion sickness waiting to happen, but as one of the few summer movies that was actually shot in 3D, we're prepared to bet that the third installment of the 'Transformers' franchise will be a spectacular viewing experience in three dimensions. We're not promising that the plot will make any sense, obviously, but it's definitely going to look good, if the full-length theatrical trailer that debuted with 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' is any indication. It also helps that Moviefone recently sat in on a conversation between director Michael Bay and 'Avatar' mastermind James Cameron on the pros and cons of 3D, which helped convince us that Bay is taking the process seriously. And let's face it -- who doesn't want to see the Autobots and the Decepticons laying the smackdown on each other up close and personal?
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II' (July 15)
For Potter fans, this is a no-brainer: You want more wizarding bang for your buck, and 3D is all the better to admire Tom Felton with. Even though 'Deathly Hallows, Part II' was converted to 3D, the producers have gone to great lengths to assure fans that the final product will be high-quality, and we're inclined to believe them, given that Warner Bros. scrapped plans to convert 'Deathly Hallows, Part I' to 3D once they realized that they wouldn't have time to do the process justice. Since this is your last chance to see Harry and friends on the silver screen, let alone in 3D, we say go big or go home.
'Captain America: The First Avenger' (July 22)
Though it's another 3D conversion, we're nevertheless interested to see how Marvel's most patriotic hero measures up in three dimensions, especially since director Joe Johnston had some pretty compelling arguments regarding why he chose to film in 2D and convert.
"I couldn't move the camera at a high rate of speed, I couldn't fit it through tight spaces, lens changes took 45 minutes ... If the two lenses weren't perfectly calibrated to the exact same focal plane, the shot was unwatchable. It's harder to fast-cut an action sequence because your eye needs time to re-establish the depth of each shot. The biggest drawback is that it would have added 30 days to the schedule. For all these reasons and more, I decided to shoot the picture 2D and convert it," the director recently explained. "We're shooting a whole separate pass on every setup to record the information necessary to convert to 3D in a seamless and undetectable way. When conversion is done right, you can't tell the difference between it and full 3D."
Sounds sensible to us, and superhero movies seem intrinsically designed to serve up spectacular scenery and impressive effects in 3D, although some upcoming releases haven't quite convinced us of their validity yet ...
Could Go Either Way:
'Green Lantern' (June 17)
Warner Bros. may have knocked the superhero genre out of the park with Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise, but we're still a little dubious about 'Green Lantern.' Much of the movie's awesomeness will depend on its special effects, and while the film is still in post-production, it's hard to gauge exactly what we'll be seeing come June 17. Previously released shots of Ryan Reynolds' CGI costume look a little cheesy, and because so much of the film will be set in the blackness of space, we're concerned that 'GL' might run into the same problems that equally "dark"-looking 3D conversions, such as 'Priest' and portions of 'Thor,' have faced -- namely a loss of clarity that will make certain sequences hard to follow. Still, if Warner Bros. pulls off the conversion, the film has the potential to be spectacular, especially if audiences can feel as though they're flying along with Hal Jordan as he explores mysterious new planets like Oa.
'Thor' (May 6)
Since it's still in general release, we figured we'd weigh in on Marvel's other 3D blockbuster for those who haven't seen it yet. Your writer viewed 'Thor' in 3D, and I was impressed by the dazzling design of Asgard and some of the dimension-hopping effects, but as previously mentioned, certain scenes do look a little muddy and confusing when set against dark backgrounds. You won't miss out on anything too spectacular by choosing the crisp 2D option, but there's enough eye-candy to justify the extra bucks if you're a hardcore comics fan (or just want to admire Chris Hemsworth's abs in an extra dimension).
See in 2D:
'Kung-Fu Panda 2' (May 26)
'Cars 2' (June 24)
'The Smurfs' (August 3)
Call us cynical, but it often seems like studios release family movies in 3D purely to cash in on their captive audience of frazzled parents and demanding tots, and for every enthralling Disney/Pixar release like 'Tangled,' 'Up' and 'Toy Story 3,' there are still more like 'Yogi Bear,' 'Gulliver's Travels' and 'Mars Needs Moms' -- films that most discerning moviegoers wouldn't pay to see in their regular format, let alone at a mark-up.
Sure, those with kids might choose to pay out for the gimmicks that will entertain your little ones, but for the rest of us, these animated or live-action hybrids often hold little to differentiate themselves from regular releases -- they certainly won't offer the immersive experience that made 'Avatar' so impressive. Store up your hard-earned cents for movies that will offer a little razzmatazz.
'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' (May 20)
Though 'PotC 4' was shot using 3D cameras, you wouldn't know it to look at the film. Sure, the jungle scenes have a little more depth and the ships seem more imposing, but the fourth entry in the blockbuster franchise offers nothing new or spectacular from the technology. I found myself lowering my glasses and noting a number of scenes that contained no 3D at all, and fans of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) won't miss out on any of his shenanigans by saving their doubloons for a more adventurous 3D offering.
If you've seen 'On Stranger Tides' or 'Thor' in 2D or 3D, weigh in on what you thought of the experience in the comments below, and let us know which 3D movies you're most anticipating this summer. Is 3D worth the additional cost, or do you wish Hollywood would find a new gimmick to fixate on?
Follow Laura on Twitter: @LauinLA