3D Films: Fad or Future?

Like it or not, 3D technology is set to be permanently ingrained into our cinema experience. Touted as the next big leap in visual presentation, the 3D industry has quickly expanded from cinema, to both television and gaming consoles, proving that the contentious format is likely to stay.

But before I look at whether 3D is a good or bad thing for cinema, it’s worth going back in time to see the technology’s roots…

1894: The first patent for a primitive stereoscope headset device is submitted by William Friese Greene

1915: Director Edwin S Porter uses red-green 3D technology in a series of test shorts

1920: The Power Of Love is the first commercial movie screened using 3D

1922: A series of shorts and the feature The Man From MARS is screened using dual projectors

1923: Several 3D/stereoscopic shorts are presented to Pathe Films

1936: MGM’s Audioscopics scoops the Oscar for Best Short Subject (Novelty)

1952-1955: A boom in the industry, with House Of Wax and Dial M For Murder using 3D technology. Other new formats like CinemaScope, Technicolour and VistaVision eventually eclipse 3D

3D glasses haven't changed all that much.


1973: 3D is brought back into the limelight with Flesh For Frankenstein

1979-1985: With the improvement of 3D technology, the industry rises again, with a slew of 3D films, predominantly orientated around horror and adventure. The rise is short-lived however: the format is considered a passing fad

2003: Ghosts Of The Abyss is released: a 3D tour of The Titanic wreckage by director James Cameron. It was designed as a test for the 3D technology to be used on Avatar

2004: The first high definition 3D short is released, by Insane Clown Posse

2004-Now: A rising tide of films using the improved ‘RealD’ format are released, culminating with Avatar in 2009

As you can see, 3D technology is nothing new. The format has existed for over a century, though has been repeatedly snubbed by cinema-going audiences. With the advent of RealD, promoters claim that past format issues have been resolved and this is definitely the way forward.

So, what do I make of all this?

I will admit that RealD is certainly an improvement over the antiquated red/green lense system previously employed. Colour can now be seen and the 3D effect is substantially more effective. And ultimately, the efforts to bring a flat 2D image into a more engaging and enveloping medium is both progressive and necessary, if cinema is to continuously evolve. Jump ahead several decades and we may even see a fully fledged virtual reality format, which will partially owe its roots to RealD.

My main issue, however, is the idea that the technology has already been perfected and all visual mediums must immediately switch over. RealD has so many problems that I’m shocked it’s still not considered to be in the prototype stage. The best example of 3D I have seen is probably Avatar and while it removed the distinctly noticeable ‘pop-up book’ layering effect of its predecessors, it has by no means achieved anything near perfection. Side tracking shots become blurred and choppy, depth of field is always limited, colours are washed out and crisp focus is reserved for only the centre of the screen. And if, like me, you wear glasses then you will understand the problems of wearing two pairs for the duration of a film.

Avatar raised the bar with 3D technology.


This premature embrace of imperfect technology can be epitomised with the recent test drive of the 3DS hand held console at the Nintendo World event in January: basically everyone played for ten minutes then felt sick. Nausea, dizziness and headaches are common reactions to RealD in general, which prompts the question: why release such a flawed format? Money, of course. Lot’s and lots of potential money to be made form people after the next supposedly big technological advancement.

And this is where it all becomes a bit worrying. I’m fine with experimenting with visual representation and efforts at progressing existing technology. What I don’t like is a massive cultural shift towards a medium that is flawed from the outset. When I hear of directors like Werner Herzog and Martin Scorcese actively courting RealD, a little part of my sanity does a mental summersault. How can a notable art house director and a stalwart champion of classic cinema sign up to what I can only assume is an over-financed fad?!

Perhaps the answer lies with a greater longevity of 3D that I had previously dismissed. I am starting to believe that in the next decade RealD may well become the dominant medium and 2D cinema showings will simply not exist. Cue a future of nausea, headaches and constantly trying to adjust two pairs of glasses on my face.

Rant over. Tell me what you think people. This issue will be with us for a long time methinks…

Written by @filmfellahenry

Further web reading:




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About filmfellahenry
Film reviewer, script writer and occasional painter. Fan of Lumet, Aronofsky and Kubrick, with a good measure of early John Carpenter thrown in. Particularly like post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror and fantasy film genres.

6 Responses to 3D Films: Fad or Future?

  1. If 3D fully replaces 2D, I’ll stop going to the movies. What a sad day that will be in the history of cinema. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way.

    • Agreed. I’m probably just letting my imagination run away with me regarding the 3D takeover, however I have found it increasingly harder to locate 2D showings for the latest big budget releases.

      Let’s hope it never happens

  2. Conrad says:

    For me 3D only works in films with great spectacle, “Avatar” being the obvious example. I don’t see the benefit of it being used in films that have little to no vfx, particularly character driven pieces. I just cant imagine a film like “Taxi Driver” being 3D. How would that benefit the experience? If anything it would be somewhat distracting. Another interesting issue to think about is some people cant see 3D. I actually know someone who cant and he sat through a 3D viewing of “Avatar” without wearing the glasses. For this reason 2D & 3D should co-exist together so people have a choice.

    • Totally. There should always be a choice. Personally, I think RealD works best with animation or CGI heavy films; like you said, a 3D Taxi Driver would just be absurd. In fact, the idea reminds me of when they hand coloured Night Of The Living Dead: interesting idea, but ludicrous to watch.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Good blog Henry. I feel informed.

    I also hate the fact that it’s becoming more and more difficult to go see a movie in 2D. With the exception of Avatar, I don’t think any of the numerous movies that have been released in 3D have used the (flawed) technology, well, usefully. It’s just a blatant cash in. You know, on a weekend, you can pay around £11 to see a 3D movie. You pay for the movie, a bit extra for it being in 3D and yet more for the use of some shitty black glasses that sit about 2 foot off your face. Most of these movies weren’t even shot with with 3D in mind. They have been altered in post production, to increase revenue. If they continue to charge this type of money for 2 hours out of the house, then this will be the demise of cinema. Imagine how much it’s gonna cost to take your family to see a 3D movie. You’re looking at about fifty quid, before popcorn, and that’s a joke! Don’t get me started on the price of popcorn and the 800% mark up, oh and the silly bastards who still buy it! Anyway, 3D done well, I like. 3D for the lining of some execs pockets, I don’t like.

    • That’s the problem isn’t it? A quick cash in that provides a sub standard product which if judged correctly, has no real longevity. cinemas claim that the increased mark up is simply to cover the costs of installing the new screens, but that’s just bullshit. It’s like them installing a new toilet and charging patrons to use it.

      All I can hope for is that the industry progresses this technology into something watchable and fast. no RealD for me until then.

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