The Death of 3D and What It Means for Virtual Reality

Laser Time, 3D, virtual reality, goodbye to language, avatar, Oculus Rift, Sony, Project Morpheus

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?

Laser Time, 3D, virtual reality, goodbye to language, avatar, Oculus Rift, Sony, Project Morpheus

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.

Laser Time, 3D, virtual reality, goodbye to language, avatar, Oculus Rift, Sony, Project Morpheus

[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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8 thoughts on “The Death of 3D and What It Means for Virtual Reality

  1. As a 3D tv owner, my main gripe is the price of 3D content. I was just at bestbuy and Lego 3D is 49.99 and Avengers (3years old) is still 34.99 so when its a choice between eating or watching a movie? I gots to eat! Honestly thou, ive skipped buying deodorant once or twice durring black friday but those deals! Great article Sir. P.S. Lego 3D did come with a lego Morgan Freeman so maybee I am wrong.

  2. I really never thought 3D added all that much, pretty glad it’s going away. Sure, avatar was cool five years ago, but for the most part it never did a whole lot to me. I’d rather have a movie focus on good acting, effects etc.

  3. Since Avatar, the only truly amazing 3D experiences I have seen were Hugo, Life of Pi, and Gravity. These are the types of movies that are meant for 3D: movies with long uninterrupted shots that let you fully admire the beauty of the spectacle on screen. Action and sci-fi are excruciating in 3D because everything is so fast-paced and disorienting (made even more so by the 3D) and it’s hard to truly appreciate the scope and the visuals.

  4. I have an anonymous source who sees the raw unfiltered numbers from the box offices… and 3D movie takes have pretty much stabilized to consistent % of the box office for every release in the US and Europe. In Canada it has stabilized at a much higher % and in China it is consistently trending upward (part of the reason the foreign box office is murdering US domestic and Michael Bay is filming his “movies” in China). Though to be fair, in many place of China they are just now building their first theatres as their economy matures so it is easier to install 3D systems in them skewing the numbers (if you only show 3D movies they don’t have a choice, muwahahahaha).

    Long story short, declaring 3D dead is really premature… but calling it a gimmick? 100% accurate.

    I 100% agree with you too, that VR devices are the future, but they have a huge hurdle… people like me can only play it for 15 mins or so before becoming violently sick from motion sickness. My eyes and ears are saying we are moving around shooting people in half-life 2, my inner ear says we aren’t moving. My brain tries to compensate for both = me vomiting into a bucket in the research lab.

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