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Pirates of the Caribbean Audiences Buck 3D

In a recent blog post, Roger Ebert asks if people “notice, really notice, what a movie looks like” in the theaters. A big screen film is supposed to be big, bright, and sharp. And although...
Pirates of the Caribbean Audiences Buck 3D
Written by Josh Wolford
  • In a recent blog post, Roger Ebert asks if people “notice, really notice, what a movie looks like” in the theaters. A big screen film is supposed to be big, bright, and sharp. And although many people are still paying to see films in 3D at their local theaters, the backlash is growing towards 3D technology based on a combination of higher price points and lower film quality.

    Full Disclosure: I am a film enthusiast, and will say that proudly even though I’m fully aware that the statement may label me pretentious, even highfalutin in some people’s eyes. The 3D debate strikes me as undeniably important to the question of how we value film, as a society, and where we see it going in the next five, fifty, even a hundred years. And in my opinion, it would be disastrous if 3D became the norm moving forward.

    The arguments against 3D film technology are numerous and continuing to grow. The charge is being led, most notably, by long time Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert. To boil the main qualms with 3D film down as much as possible, most opponents cite the fact that the quality is inferior. Most importantly, the picture is dim and lacks crispness.

    Oh yeah, and the ticket prices are at least 25% higher than regular 2D films.

    Do a majority of Americans agree that 3D films are a bad deal? It’s tough to rest a big question like that on the shoulders of one movie. I mean, Avatar 3D and countless other 3D movies haven’t done so bad. But the number crunching of the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, On Stranger Tides, shows film-goers choosing boring old 2D over 3D. Ebert linked to these figures this morning:

    “Pirates 4” audiences decisively choose 2D over 3D, 70% – 30%. 9 hours ago via SocialOomph · powered by @socialditto

    Movie City News reports that 59% of ticket sales for Pirates 4 were for 2D, which obviously means the 3D version garnered 41% of the sales. From the MCN blog:

    According to Len Klady’s Sunday reporting, 66% of Pirates 4 screens were 3D screens and Disney told him that just 48% of the box office gross came from those screens.

    Let’s consider what those numbers mean…

    Figuring a very rough average ticket of $9 for non-3D and $12 for a 3D ticket, they sold 3.6 million 3D tickets and 5.2 million non-3D tickets. This flips how the distribution was set up regarding 3D… 59% of sales were non-3D and just 41% were 3D.

    Not only is this a clear rejection of 3D on a major movie, but given how distribution is currently designed, it makes you wonder whether Disney cost themselves a lot of gross by putting their film on too high a percentage of 3D screens.

    What exactly caused this shift? Was it the quality issue? Or was it that many people simply aren’t willing to pay a few dollars extra for a 3D showing? Is it possible that the 3D is specifically poor in the new Pirates movie and that news spread around, prompting viewers to choose the 2D?

    Whatever the reason, people on Twitter are talking about it. Of course there are plenty of tweets rolling in that praise the new Pirates 3D, but there are also a pretty large contingent of tweeters not thrilled with the quality.

    Well pirates of the Caribbean 4 was boring and pointless watching in 3d. #waste 1 hour ago via Twitter for iPhone · powered by @socialditto

    So, Pirates of the Caribbean 4 was great last night, but I don’t think I’ll be bothering with 3D again. It’s a pointless money-spinner IMHO. 2 hours ago via TweetDeck · powered by @socialditto

    I just saw a very blurry ‘Pirates’ today at the IMAX. 3D doesn’t work for me. Am I the only one? 2 hours ago via Echofon · powered by @socialditto

    I thought Joker stabbing me in the gut and blowing up a hospital would be the low point of the weekend. Then I saw Pirates of the Caribbean. 1 day ago via Batcomputer · powered by @socialditto

    Ty Burr of the Boston Globe wrote an interesting piece about the way 3D projectors in many theaters are dampening the quality of 2D films. Theaters are running normal films through the 3D lenses, and it is having a detrimental effect on the brightness.

    Ty Burr’s experience around the Boston area:

    These are the auditoriums using new digital projectors that are transforming the movie exhibition business, machines that entirely do away with celluloid. The “film’’ comes in the form of a software file, and the projector pumps it onto the screen at high intensity.

    Why, then, do so many of the movies look so terrible? This particular night “Limitless,’’ “Win Win,’’ and “Source Code’’ all seemed strikingly dim and drained of colors. “Jane Eyre,’’ a film shot using candles and other available light, appeared to be playing in a crypt. A visit to the Regal Fenway two weeks later turned up similar issues: “Water for Elephants’’ and “Madea’s Big Happy Family’’ were playing in brightly lit 35mm prints and, across the hall, in drastically darker digital versions.

    The problem is with the 3D lens, and its polarization.

    For 3-D showings a special lens is installed in front of a Sony digital projector that rapidly alternates the two polarized images needed for the 3-D effect to work.

    When you’re running a 2-D film, that polarization device has to be taken out of the image path. If they’re not doing that, it’s crazy, because you’ve got a big polarizer that absorbs 50 percent of the light.

    So why would theaters fail to remove the 3D lenses? Money. Time and Money.

    What about 3D on its own, though? No matter that the 3D technology may be harming 2D quality, what about 3D films themselves?

    Famous film editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now) talks about the problems with 3D in a letter to Roger Ebert. He says that besides the problems of 3D films being dark and small, they ask us to do things with our eyes and brains that we aren’t really wired for, evolutionarily.

    The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the “convergence/focus” issue. A couple of the other issues — darkness and “smallness” — are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen — say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

    But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focused and converged at the same point.

    And that explains the headaches and disorientation that many people report during 3D films. By watching a 3D films, you may be overheating your brain, so to speak.

    But before you tell me how much of a spoilsport I am, let me clarify. I don’t believe the 3D film technology is the bane of our existence. I liked Avatar 3D, although it was a little dark. Toy Story 3D was just fine and dandy.

    But do we need to make everything in 3D? Is that really the desired style for every film we see? And can be please stop showing normal films through 3D lenses please?

    To me, the problem theaters have now is quite ironic. If people continue to choose 2D over 3D like with the latest Pirates film, and 2D quality is lacking in many theaters because of 3D projectors, will people still come?

    From Roger Ebert’s post, “The dying of the light”

    The movie industry feels under threat these days from DVDs, cable movies on demand, a dozen streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Fandor and Mubi, and competition from video games. Decades ago, it felt a similar danger from radio (it introduced talkies) and television (it introduced wide-screen). The irony today is that it hopes to rescue itself with 3D, which is not an improvement but a step back in quality.

    And what about file sharing? If the theaters aren’t going to provide viewers with anything to draw them out of their homes, why not just download the film? I’ve got a big screen HD TV and 59 cent popcorn. The film looks great to me at home.

    What do you think of 3D? Is it the way of the future? Or is it hurting the film industry at its core? Let us know in the comments.

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