April 18, 2014

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The Return of 3-D Movies

[Today's guest post is by longtime reader and commenter Mitch Golden. Thanks, Mitch! If you're a Freedom to Tinker reader and have a great idea for a guest post, please let me know. – Ed]

Last Friday I was at a movie preview for a concert movie called U23D, which, as you will correctly surmise, was a U2 concert filmed in digital 3D.

A few weeks ago I saw the new film Beowulf, also in 3D.

As I look out the office window to the AMC Loews on 84th St, I see that the marquee is already pitching Hannah Montana 3d, not due out until February.

And outside that same theater is a 3d movie poster for the upcoming Speed Racer movie.

Suddenly everything is floating in space, after decades of flatness. What gives?

Those of us who frequent Freedom To Tinker know that there are two approaches for producers operating in our world of nearly-zero-cost copying. The option most often pursued thus far by the content industries has been to pin hope on a technological fix – DRM – and then use political muscle to get governments around the world to mandate its use. Thus far this strategy can only be said to have been pretty much a total train wreck for all the parties involved – from the record industry to Microsoft – and it has had the disastrous side effect (from their point of view) of persuading an entire generation – and then some – that the media companies are “the man” and so file sharing is not immoral.

Of course the other option – thus far being resisted strenuously by the record labels – is to try a new business model. Sell the customers something better than what they can get for free. Maybe – just maybe – that’s what’s going on here.

As you doubtless know, there’s nothing new about 3d movie or photos. In fact, they go back nearly to the very beginning of photography. To make the 3d effect work, you just need to present different images, shot from slightly different perspectives, to the two eyes. While various systems have been invented over the years to do this (see the wikipedia page on the subject for a bit of the history of the technology), they all to a greater or lesser extent shared the common faults that (a) the theater had to install special equipment (including a more expensive screen that reflects polarized light without depolarizing it), (b) the film was bigger and more difficult to handle, and (c) splicing the film print when it broke required careful treatment to avoid getting the two eyes out of sync. So it just wasn’t quite worth it.

So why are we seeing these movies again now? One possibility is that the explanation for the renaissance of 3d is just that digital technology solves some of these problems (especially b and c), and so filmmakers are interested in trying again.

However, I think it’s possible there’s something else going on. Could it have something to do with the fact that a 3d movie cannot be pirated?

According to IMDB, the LA premier of Beowulf was on November 5, 2007 and the film was officially released in the US on November 16. On the other hand, according to vcdquality (a news site that announces the “releases” of films into various darknets) it was already available for file sharing by November 15.

Isn’t it just possible that the studios were thinking: Hey guys, I know you could just download this fantasy flick and see it on your widescreen monitor. But unless you give us $11 and sit in a dark theater with the polarized glasses, you won’t be seeing the half-naked Angelina Jolie literally popping off the screen!

Maybe the studios have learned something after all.

Comments

  1. Barry says:

    It’s like DRM that gives something extra to the customer!

    To wit, a headache.

  2. jose says:

    It reminds me of the Cinemascope invention…

  3. Reva says:

    Getta mostly naked hunk — Getta mostly naked dish —- Tarzan and Jane, kinda —Getta spaceship — Getta animated monster or two or more— Go to exotic and dangerous places and gotta have lots of space-ship chases –I can see it all now. Let’s charge $20.

  4. Brian Rowe says:

    Great post, I strongly agree that movie theaters need to move to a value added experience. Other options for added vaule include dinner theater, a social space where people can talk about the movie or an MST3K banter driven improv setting.

  5. todd. says:

    Neil Gaiman, one of the screenwriters behind Beowulf, has similar feelings. It’s not clear that he thinks this is why 3d is popular now, but he seems to believe it’s a reason that similar enhanced theater experiences will be popular.

  6. Kaleberg says:

    3D iMax movies are becoming popular because there are finally enough theaters that have facilities to show them. I’ve been iMax junky since I saw an aviation themed movie at the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian back in the early 1980s. I also learned the term “visual dominance”. I can watch movies and television at home, but I don’t have a 60′ high screen.

    When a 31″ television was a big deal, movies on a big screen were still special because they were big. Movie makers moved to a wider format to emphasize the difference. Of course, when I get my virtual home 3D iMax set installed in 15 years, the 3D iMax operators are going to have to come up with something special.

  7. Dougals Kastle says:

    Here here, I think your bang on with the move to 3D for movies to make money. My concern is for books, with the start of the e-readers taking off the experience is very close to the current experience, there is, as yet, no live (for music) or 3D (movies) equivalent for books.

  8. Witch Golden says:

    Doug -

    One interesting thing is that most publishers have stayed pretty far away from e-books. I have a suspicion that entirely apart from the technical concerns, (lack of standardization. etc.) the other point is that a book released in the old format (i.e. printed on paper) is much harder to pirate than anything electronic. Yes, you can do it with a scanner and OCR, but that takes a lot more work than ripping a CD.

  9. cecil says:

    Check out http://www.webscription.net. It’s Baen’s site and has been providing drm content for years. Books are around $4-$6 for single titles and there are also some bundles available. It’s all SF/fantasy, but apprently it’s a money maker. Sorry this is off-topic, But the more people that know about this the better ;) . They also have a free library at http://www.baen.com. That’s there loss leaders. Get a free book or two from an author and it stimulates you to buy more by the authors that you like. All I can say is that I love experiencing not being treated like a criminal. As a matter of fact, even furthur off topic that’s why I have reduced my shopping at walmart is the search as you leave.

  10. Miral says:

    I don’t see how that could possibly be a valid argument — if someone wants to pirate the 3D version, what’s to stop them? Pirates don’t seem to have any trouble getting their hands on regular editions before proper release, so why would the 3D version be any different?

    (And yes, I know, home setups won’t have the proper polarising displays. But it shouldn’t be too hard to convert to red/blue 3D — admittedly with a quality drop, but they’d have to do that anyway for the DVD release.)

  11. Mike says:

    Mitch, you ascribe the motives of the theatre / studio cabal to be that of building a better mousetrap in the hopes that they will come… rather than make immoral/illegal (take your pick) copies. While I suspect this is a not insignificant benefit of the 3D trend, my occasionally cynical nature makes me think that the larger driving force is actually a lack of creativity and sheer laziness. Seeing that recent cinematic offerings were dominated by sequels (actually part 3’s for the most part…), and that the inspiration for many upcoming films is basically dredging up prehistoric pop-culture content (are they really making a film out of Speed Racer??), I think the reason for 3D is more basic: they are running out of original material and looking for a gimmick. I believe you may be giving them too much credit. The fact that 3D technology also supports drm objectives, from a sideways approach, may be more serendipity than anything else.

    But I can still hope that you are correct, and that the harsh realities of the digital marketplace are finally giving rise to new creative initiatives.

  12. Randall Gibson says:

    The reason it’s tough to pirate a 3D movie is that most piracy is still from some guy with a camcorder in the back row. This doesn’t work with a 3D movie. The other reason is that it is pretty tough to distribute 3D content via torrent or standard fileshare, or by DVD, and even if that were not the case you’d need special glasses (not the movie ones) to see the 3D at home.
    By the way, I disagree that 3D is booming because there are more IMAX 3D theaters now- seems to me there are still just a hundred or so, and there isn’t one anywhere near me- but there are tons of digital 3D cinemas opening up.

  13. Aaron Swartz says:

    My friends in the industry say the same thing: there’s a lot of pressure to do things in 3D because they think this is one way that they can stay piracy-proof.

  14. Andy says:

    i guess none of you have any products from http://www.edimensional.com?

    This equipment is becoming a boom in the UK as 1000′s of people are buying the E D 3d wireless glasses and equipment, to do the exact same thing as the imax cinemas in amazing 3d but in there own home. and its only £50 for the full set up. i’m sure if they started doing all the movies in 3D, millions of people would buy this equipment to keep up to date. another alternative is the vutix headwear which is a virtual 3d screen, the equivelent of a 62″ tv at 9 feet.
    u just plug in ya dvd player, computer, ipod ect and watch movies in full 3d high def.

    also about piracy, there are already 100′s of imax 3d movies available on torrent sites now, so it isn’t to stop piracy.

    anybody else tryed the ED 3d Glasses ?? if not i would defos recommend it.

  15. 3d Fan says:

    I like 3d Movies. 3D televisions is the next step in delivering high-quality, easy-to-use 3D home entertainment.

    Best Regards
    Carsten
    http://www.3dmovie.com