A few weeks ago, my friends and I paid for overpriced tickets to a movie I paid for once before. Twenty years after its theatrical release, Jurassic Park was back in theaters in 3D. Our reasons for going were mostly sentimental. The majority of us were film grads who longed for the days of the Spielbergian action-adventure and since Indiana Jones 4 had destroyed a tiny bit of my childhood I was hoping a Velociraptor charging at me in three dimensions would give me that boyish sense of wonder I miss.
A year after Martin Scorsese said he wished Taxi Driver and Raging Bull could have been filmed in 3D, the technology has gone from being an industry game changer to an expensive novelty. Revenues for 3D movies declined by 18% in 2011 despite the release of an additional 19 title in 3D compared to the previous year. 2012's Avengers saw only about half of its domestic box office revenue came from 3D theaters while "accounting for 83 percent of 2009's avatar" according to the Hollywood Reporter. As industry watchers are predicting another decline in 3D movie sales for 2013, why hasn't this innovation revolutionized film-making the way sound and color did in the 1920s and 30s? For Scorsese, 3D allows filmmakers to create visually strong connection with the audience by giving them “color, sound, and depth.”
Imagine the crane shot into the meat truck in Goodfellas. The journey through the hanging carcasses traps you in a depth of field that draws you through the truck to the frozen dead body of Caborne, hanging over us. As always, the biggest barrier to Scorsese's revolution is cost. Independent and low budget films have been instrumental in innovating new ways of using sound and color but the costs and risks of making a 3D movie is only feasible to a big movie studio not a small production company.
Furthermore, I can't imagine audiences flocking to see a low budget drama in 3D. If I'm going to shell out 20 bucks for a movie there better be big explosions, gun play, and fast car chases a la' Bad Boyz II. If I'm going to see a 3D movie, I want spectacle with substance. Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby made a valiant attempt but when the 3D was used during this highly stylized and beautiful movie I find myself asking, what's the point? I fear the new 3D glasses will join their dual colored card board ancestor in obscurity.
After seeing Jurassic Park 3D, my friends and I agreed that the movie would have been worse had the original been filmed with 3D in mind. Relaying on 3D gimmicks won't distract viewers from a bad movie. Shoveling a novelty down our throats at jacked up prices won’t innovate the industry if there's no substance to it. I hope studios and filmmakers keep experimenting with 3D visuals and work to push the envelope in a way that enhances both the story and the picture. Until then, my boyish sense of wonder will have to keep wondering.