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3-D: Where do you stand on it now?

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3d-moviesImage Credit: Photodisc/Getty ImagesWhen the history of the current 3-D boom is written, the last couple of weeks may well go down as having marked the early rumblings of a tectonic shift — the moment when the movie industry’s underlying doubts and anxieties about 3-D began to crystallize, for the first time, in a very public way. On Tuesday, a front-page story in The New York TImes put the spotlight on several noteworthy Hollywood filmmakers who have now gone on record to voice their lack of enthusiasm for the 3-D trend. In particular, the story quoted a line that J.J. Abrams dropped at Comic-Con. He said, “When you put the glasses on, everything gets dim.” That’s a very pithy line, a casual condemnation that carries more resonance the more that you think about it. If it were just an off-the-cuff, drive-by remark by a celebrity director that some rude blogger had insisted on posting, that might be one thing, but Abrams, who after last summer’s Star Trek is as potent — and commercially powerful — a purveyor of blockbuster fantasy as anyone now working in Hollywood, knew that his remark was inherently political. He knew that he was speaking as a de facto representative of those in the industry who are 3-D skeptics. When you put the glasses on, everything gets dim. That line has meaning because more than a few people — in the film industry, and in the audience, too — may now feel that way as well.

Let’s be clear about one thing: 3-D is here to stay, in one form or another, for a very long time. Sixty new 3-D films are currently in production; theaters, slowly but surely, are going digital to accommodate them; and audiences, thus far, have proved their willingness to pony up for the inflated ticket prices. But is that last fact a true measure of their 3-D passion? I think it’s fair to say that anecdotally, you now hear a lot of grumbling about 3-D. (In our era of economic distress, the carping is more and more centered upon people’s fears that they’re being gouged.) And some of the “enthusiasm” that’s recorded by the raw numbers may, in fact, by harder to measure than a lot of observers are saying. When Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland made a zillion dollars right on the heels of Avatar, the movie’s mega-success was treated as a definitive confirmation of the new 3-D mania. But isn’t it possible that Alice in Wonderland was a huge hit simply because…it was a huge hit? That it would have been more or less that big in two dimensions? In a funny way, you could argue that Alice was the anti-Avatar, a 3-D smash that didn’t, in the truest sense, depend on 3-D for its floridly surreal visual oomph. The 3-D was, in fact, added afterward — and to my mind, it added nothing. It was a textbook case of putting on the glasses and watching everything get dim.

Personally, my own week-to-week reaction to 3-D has been that I simply notice it less and less. After I finished writing my review of Toy Story 3, I realized that I’d written the entire thing without once mentioning the word “3-D.” I hadn’t even bothered to say that the 3-D didn’t add much; at that point, that was almost a given. Right now, the dirty secret of 3-D may well be that Avatar, the movie that more or less single-handedly put 3-D on the map in the 21st century — and that did so by giving three-dimensional imagery a lush, tactile, druggy-cool splendor — may well have raised the bar so high that almost every other 3-D movie is destined to pale by comparison. Avatar may have made 3-D hot and doomed it at the same time. Every so often, of course, you see a movie that makes canny use of the technique, like How to Train Your Dragon, with its dizzy-exhilarating, surround-your-eyeballs flight sequences, or even a piece of teen dance pulp like Step Up 3D, in which the break-dance moves don’t just pop — they vibrate. But having said that, I now, at last, have to raise the specter of the F-word: Are occasional movies like these two enough to make 3-D more than a fad?

The ultimate question submerged in all of this, of course, hinges on you, the audience. Simply put: Are you happy now when you go to a 3-D movie? Or do you increasingly find those glasses an encumbrance you could happily live without? Do you like the technique, in theory at least, but feel that the movies themselves, by and large, haven’t measured up to the technique’s dazzling potential? Do you feel that you’ve been hustled — that the current 3-D wave is more hype than anything else? Or do you believe, as many in Hollywood do, that we are still on the cusp of a revolutionary new way of watching movies, one that will only grow with time?

In short, where do you stand on 3-D right now?