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It hasn’t been a great summer for 3-D cinema. For one thing, attendance in 3-D theaters is dropping — possibly because people are unwilling to pay the added surcharge, but more likely because American moviegoers have gotten tired of paying extra money for a darker image. More disturbingly, however, there was no breakout film this summer that absolutely demanded to be seen in 3-D: No panoramic How To Train Your Dragon, no neon-spectacular TRON: Legacy, not even a cheesy thrill-ride like Jackass 3D or Piranha 3D. The one film that actually seemed to justify the 3-D was Transformers: Moon over Memphis, and even that was ultimately undone by Michael Bay’s inability to stage giant-robot-action as anything more than digital robo-sludge.

Despite growing complaints, 3-D isn’t going anywhere. In fact, some of 2012’s biggest films offer intriguing possibilities for the form. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, and the new Spider-Man reboot are all being filmed in 3-D. If nothing else, these films will probably look better than the 3-D conversions that darkened Pirates, Captain America, Thor, and most other films this summer. But first, this fall sees two master filmmakers attempting 3-D for the first time: Martin Scorsese is delivering his children’s film Hugo, while Steven Spielberg is following in the footsteps of his former protege Robert Zemeckis with the motion-capture cartoon The Adventures of Tintin.

Can the two directors salvage 3-D in the wake of the extra dimension’s disappointing 2011? More to the point, can they do something genuinely different with the form? The other upcoming 3-D films have a depressing sameness about them: More animated films (Happy Feet Two, Puss in Boots, Arthur Christmas) and the Clash of the Titans-esque Immortals. In fact, the only other distinctive-looking 3-D film.. .is A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, which (based on the trailer, at least) looks like a movie-length deconstruction of the whole stupidity of the 3-D craze.

I recently saw the original 3-D print of Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, and it’s actually remarkable to see what the great filmmaker did with the format; it’s the rare movie that uses the added dimension for something more than “arrow in your face!”-style thrills. (Same goes for Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, probably the quietest 3-D film ever made.) If Scorsese and Spielberg can wring something new out of the format, we might still be looking at the dawn of an extra-dimensional revolution in cinema. If not, then prepare yourself for a difficult 2012.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

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The Adventures of Tintin
  • Movie
  • 101 minutes