“Schindler’s List 3-D,” Anyone? The Problem With Hollywood’s 3-D Addiction

About 33% of box-office earnings are now generated from 3-D films, and in 2010 six of the top 10 highest-grossing movies were shot using the technology, with the top two, “Toy Story 3” and “Alice in Wonderland,” banking more than a billion dollars each. That’s where the trouble starts.


Movie industry execs are beaming over 3-D technology, which has helped bring about a box-office boom. Roughly 33% of earnings are now generated from 3-D films, and in 2010, six of the top 10 highest-grossing movies were shot in 3-D, with the top two, Toy Story 3 and Alice in Wonderland, banking more than a billion dollars each.

But it’s not all digitally enhanced sunshine and roses in Tinseltown–or, at least, it shouldn’t be. The industry’s addiction to profits is creating a serious dependence on the third dimension, and it’s manifesting itself in some very odd ways.

At last week’s CES, for instance, we heard about how director Baz Luhrmann might shoot his Leonardo DiCaprio-topped version of The Great Gatsby in 3-D–as if we couldn’t live without Nick Carraway’s West Egg adventures in eye-popping visuals. Michael Mann also chimed in at the showcase with a nod toward the technology, saying he wants to shoot a “pure dialogue drama” in 3-D–cause nothing says “pure dialogue drama” like enhanced imagery. If only Eric Rohmer were still around.

This trend is especially apparent in post-production conversions. The technique, which enables filmmakers to transform movies from 2-D to 3-D after they’ve wrapped production, has been used time and again on a slew of movies in order to increase their bottom lines. This year, we saw conversions from such box-offices flops as Gulliver’s Travels and Andrei Konchalovsky’s The Nutcracker, the latter of which appears to have been a last-ditch effort to prop up the film, which grossed just $234,000 on a reported budget of $90 million. When the studios converted Clash of the Titans to 3-D, even James Cameron said “this was a point at which people had gone too far.”

For graphically intense blockbusters like Cameron’s Avatar and Tron: Legacy, 3-D technology makes sense, but the more cash these films pull in, the more likely we are to see 3-D become ubiquitious, overused and employed whether or not the technique is even relevant for the content. To wit: Even though the film grossed closed to $2 billion the first time around, studios are planning to re-release Titanic in 3-D. We’ll also see 3-D re-releases for all six Star Wars films beginning in 2012, and even a 3-D CGI remake of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Thank heavens–I’ve been waiting more than 40 years to see John, Paul, George and Ringo play Pepperland as psychedelic holograms.

What other films will be made or converted into 3-D once the technology officially becomes the bankable technique? Wouldn’t True Grit and The Social Network have been SO MUCH better if filmed in 3-D? And shouldn’t Michael Moore and Steven Spielberg re-release Fahrenheit 9/11 and Schindler’s List–in 3-D?


Or perhaps there are some films and genres that were never meant for the third-dimension, even if industry fatcats disagree. Mumblecore, for example, will likely remain untouched. 

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.