Tuesday, May 18, 2010

3D - a passing fad or here to stay?

Is the Hollywood obsession with 3D a temporary fad or the way to go now? Meanwhile, Bollywood too is seriously flirting with the idea. Sandhya Iyer explores the various dimensions to this trend that’s catching on fast and furious

All those who thought the Avatar wave was a short-lived affair and Hollywood’s infatuation with 3D would flicker out sooner than later, have been left flummoxed. Already, we’ve seen three major 3D films releasing this year and turning money-spinners — How To Train Your Dragon, Clash Of the Titans and Alice In Wonderland. Out of these, the last two were shot in 2D and later converted to 3D to cash in on the Avatar wave. The films came in for harsh criticism, both for their content and slipshod employment of 3D. However, Hollywood productions aren’t willing to let go of the 3D formula — the proverbial golden goose — one which they believe is the much-needed ‘premium’ to get audience into theaters. After all, why would a viewer go to the cinemas if there is no novelty and larger-than-life experience, they argue?

The 3D boom

Hollywood Studios has already announced about 20 releases in 3D for 2010. James Cameron has stated that he will be converting his last mega blockbuster, Titanic into 3D. Even a serious filmmaker like Martin Scorsese has bitten the bullet. The maker of legendary films like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull has announced that his new film, The Invention of Hugo Cabret will be in 3D. When asked about it, the filmmaker described the 3D experience as “natural that we would go that way”. The 3D craze is obviously conducive to Disney, who has announced that it would now be focussing entirely on animation and super hero flicks. So are 3D films going to be a way of life for Hollywood from here on? Is it healthy in the larger interest of good cinema or is it just a temporary marketing gimmick to charge viewers a premium on tickets?

The argument against 3D

Skeptics believe the ‘stampede’ for 3D movies might not augur well for robust filmmaking and good old story-telling. Eminent Hollywood film reviewer, Roger Ebert is one of the staunchest critics of 3D and believes the third dimension adds nothing new to one’s movie-watching experience and is often nothing but a distraction.
“Some 3D consists of only separating the visual planes, so that some objects float above others, but everything is still in 2D. We shouldn’t notice this. But we do,” he writes in his latest Newsweek cover story, titled, ‘Why I hate 3D — and so should you!’ Ebert makes several points on why he dislikes 3D. He says the technology is bad for the eyes, is often dull, and an unnecessary addition to the ‘self-sufficient’ 2D and so on. Ebert makes it clear he is not against 3D as an option. He praises Cameron’s Avatar, but also warns that a mad rush for 3D and fake conversions could impact the industry in a negative way. He rues that even filmmakers who made films for ‘grown-ups’ are now making a beeline for the kiddie 3D market. He concludes by saying that audiences must be given a reason to come to the cinemas but that reason need not be 3D!

Bollywood falls for 3D, too

Even as Hollywood carries on its affair with 3D, Bollywood is starting to flirt with the idea too. In quick time, Ram Gopal Varma has announced that he wants to make a horror film in 3D. The director has been a huge fan of Cameron’s Avatar and can’t wait to extend the technology to his favourite genre. Meanwhile, Boney Kapoor has serious plans of making Mr India in 3D. One can understand the above two choices. But even Pooja Bhatt has stated that she wants to make a sequel to her Bipasha Basu-John Abraham starrer Jism in 3D! Perhaps to show a bikini clad Bipasha walking towards the audience?
Kunal Deshmukh of Jannat and Tum Mile fame believes Bollywood is still light years away from making a genuine 3D film. “We’re just talking about it now. The whole process will be expensive for us. Maybe 2D to 3D conversions are feasible, but to shoot an entire film in 3D is out of question. We don’t work with those kind of budgets,” he says. Not many theatres are 3D enabled in India yet. “Till that figure goes up to 500 at least, making a 3D film doesn’t make sense. Take for example a film like Kites. The film can never have the kind of wide release it is seeing today if it were to be in 3D,” he adds. Besides, he doesn’t think 2D can ever be wiped out, “3D is doing well in Hollywood, but then so is Iron Man 2 — which was in 2D.”
On the other hand, Vroom director, Savin Tuscano, is very confident about 3D in India. “If I were to make a sequel to Vroom, I would love to make it in 3D. I see the cameras getting much cheaper in the next two years and many people here would be interested,” he says.

3D feasible in India?

Sunil Khaturia, vice-president of Scrabble Entertainment, the company that’s currently converting multiplex screens in India to digital equipment (3D enabled screens) says, “India has the biggest 3D potential in the world for the obvious reasons that people worship their superstars and make them their idols here. To see your idol with 3D effects is something! As of now, we have around 80 screens that are 3D enabled. The technology to produce 3D content is being outsourced as of now due to the economic limitations of every production house. This will change very soon after our production guys get trained under the companies who have mastered the art of live shooting in 3D. Again with good quality product, there is no reason why a big budget 3D film should not be commercially viable in India.”

Screening 3D... and soon 4D?

The multiplexes in the country are quite excited about 3D and believe that in the next two years we could see a fair number of Bollywood films releasing in 3D. “It obviously enhances the experience and given the right content, it can work very well in India,” says Neerav Panchamia, vice-president (operations) at E-Square. But there are a few hindrances, of course. “The set-up for 3D is expensive — it costs about 35-45 lakhs. So only multiplexes where Hollywod films are watched or have an audience favouring 3D can invest in it. I can tell you the returns come to us very slowly, but it is a USP for any multiplex,” he says.
Will 3D be a way of life then? “It may not suit every film, but it could be very effective for certain subjects,” he adds. “And now, there is 4D coming in also, where your seat moves and you get a sense of being ‘inside’ a film. We will have more of these things in the future,” he says.

Will 3D tick in the long-term?

Be it Hollywood or Bollywood, people at both ends believe that if 3D is used judiciously, it can sustain interest. “It was great to see a film like Avatar, but I thought Final Destination in 3D was horrendous. Why would one want to see six people dying on your face? There has to be some meaning to using 3D,” says Tuscano. Sunil Khaturia also agrees that only time will determine the future of 3D films, “These are still times of testing the waters and nobody knows what’s going to work or not in 3D as there is no success formula to anything,” he says.

3D beyond movies
The IPL matches that were shown in 3D drew a dismal response, so multiplexes and others realise that the 3D card may not work at all times. Yet, once the set-up is in place, one can expect to see live music shows and major sports event covered in 3D. Whether the audience interest in it sustains and whether they are willing to pay a premium for it, is anyone’s guess.
Meanwhile, television companies are also cashing in on the craze and coming up with sets where a few programmes can be watched in 3D. But everyone seems to agree that content is what will drive the business from here on. Even those who are thick into 3D and gung ho about its future like Khaturia are wise enough to realise this. “Like in any form of entertainment, content is the king. Technology cannot take over from that fact. If you sell good content, there is no reason why 3D is not sustainable,” he says.