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3D’s got pop, but where’s the punch?

Format's lessons still taking root throughout biz

Clearly 3D has established its solid niche in the movie landscape, but we’re still learning lessons about its impact — lessons we should have intuited to begin with.

  • Audiences may pay a premium to see good 3D but are rebelling against mediocre iterations.
  • When given a choice to see a movie in 3D or 2D, a significant sector of filmgoers will go for 2D.
  • While animation and superhero films exploit 3D most vividly, the jackasses who made “Jackass” showed us that it can work for comedy, too.

This is an intriguing moment in the annals of 3D. Some self-anointed 3D gurus were making dire predictions about the future of the format last week. But Paramount is making 3D a big selling point for its next “Transformers,” and Disney is pouring big promotion bucks into the new Star Tours event at its theme parks — it’s not only 3D but downright “intergalactic 3D.”

But the signals are mixed. Universal is releasing “Cowboys & Aliens” in 2D — it’s a cross-genre tentpole that would seem perfect grist for 3D. And J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg apparently concluded that 3D would be confusing for their movie, titled “Super 8.”

Several factors are at play here: premium ticket prices for 3D, the skittishness of some filmmakers and, finally, the issue of quality.

Jeffrey Katzenberg rightly takes pride in the quality of his 3D output but acknowledges that the industry has made “missteps that have devalued the experience.” That’s a polite way of saying that faux 3D has hurt the marketplace. On “Kung Fu Panda 2” (which is a hit) slightly less than half the audience opted to see it in 3D.

Obviously 3D needs its champions. James Cameron has been active in mentoring filmmakers on 3D but also, with “Avatar,” set the optimal standard artistically for the format. Paradoxically, Cameron also was a co-producer on a 3D film titled “Sanctum,” which demonstrated how great 3D photography could be undermined by pedestrian writing and directing.

As though in response, Cameron now puts great stress on 3D as “a tool for building emotion and character” in movies. In a joint presentation with “Transformers” helmer Michael Bay on the Paramount lot, he argued that 3D, used skillfully, could “take the audience to a whole different place” visually and emotionally.

For his part, Bay expressed gratitude to Cameron for tutoring him on his “new toy” and talked grandly about his new talent for “sculpting with space.”

Rob Moore, for one, feels that “Bay did his homework and delivered the goods artistically.” As Paramount’s vice chairman, spearheading marketing and distribution for Bay’s sequel, Moore affirms that “the whole 3D adventure comes down to the old issue of quality. Audiences will pay to see movies that use 3D well.”

Paramount is betting big that Michael Bay will be sculpting money as well as space. Peter Bart

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