It’s late 2009. America is still basking in the glow of Barack Obama’s election win, the Biebs is uncool for anyone over age 15, and everyone is absolutely buzzing in anticipation of Avatar, James Cameron’s unobtanium-infused film that ushered in a new era of 3D. It’s not just for cinema, but for home theaters, video games, televisions, and maybe even etch-a-sketches too.
A little over five years later, 3D is almost gone. After Avatar, every movie had to be in 3D. Studios and exhibitors saw it as a way to justify higher ticket prices. After all, 3D was now at a point where it was improving the movie-going experience, immersing the audience further in the world projected onto the silver screens across the world. It literally added a new dimension to Transformers, because, you know, that’s what the art of cinema needed.
While 3D isn’t quite dead in 2015, it has seen better days, and certainly carried a tarnished reputation. It has inflated ticket prices, which, if anything, has only made a few hours out at the theatres a more unattractive prospect. Turns out people have been flocking away from 3D prints like a fat kid from a treadmill — very slowly, but surely.
3D cinema hasn’t had a “white rice” effect on audiences; it’s been more like brown rice. Sure, it sounds fancy, and in a lot of instances is better for you than white rice, but in the end, your sushi still tastes the same — you’ve just shelled out a few extra bucks for the brown rice. And was it really worth it?
And now you’re all hungry.
Perhaps the biggest lesson for virtual reality lies in quality over quantity. One of the first mistakes the studios made was thinking 3D would immediately improve any movie, that it would make another $2 billion and stuff executive wallets full of new money to spend on cigars, swimming pools, and monocles. After the massive success of Avatar, followed shortly by billion dollar hit Alice in Wonderland, there was a whole new level of money to line the books, and every studio had the same thought. If a movie could be released in 3D, it would be.
Here’s an example. Nobody needed Clash of the Titans in 3D, and though one might argue that nobody wanted it in 2D either, its 3D conversion and others like it really hurt the 3D brand because films like this were well below par, with 3D popping as ineffective as those baller red and blue glasses. And to be fair, it’s not the only perpetrator of this crime, diluting the quality of the product.
When virtual reality pops into consumer hands like a fresh born baby girl, it needs to show the world what it’s got. It’s all well and good to have potential; 3D had and still has potential. But aside from Avatar, nothing has really blown audiences away.
[Pretentious Editor’s Note: Well, one movie did…]
One has to wonder what kind of control Oculus-Facebook and Sony will have over what releases on their virtual reality platforms (Rift and Morpheus, respectively). Would they want a limited, yet great range of software, or would they take anything and everything that they can get, offering variety in both genre and quality, under the assumption that there would be enough diamonds amongst the rocks to boost public perception?
It’s a tricky rope to balance, because experimentation is necessary, especially on a new platform, but there is a very clear difference between experimentation and exploiting the market for extra money (hello, Phantom Menace re-release!). Virtual reality needs to maintain a level of freshness throughout its first years, until it finds a footing in the media landscape — something 3D has failed to do.
Unlike the 80s and 90s, technology has finally caught up to the idea of virtual reality. But ultimately, its success is up to how the technology is handled and demonstrated. The most damning thing one could say about 3D is that it’s an unnecessary gimmick. Virtual reality could overcome the gimmick stigma and have an impact on all of our lives. It could be the next 3D, but it could also be something much bigger.
Article by contributor Ramez Kafrouni.
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