aVatar 2 is going to be the most dangerous movie of the year for all of the reasons. There is the question of whether the audience really wants a 12-year sequel to a film that has not retained any cultural flair at all. There is the fact that if he fails, James Cameron will still have to release three more avatars after this one. But most of all, Avatar 2 will have to convince us all to wear dumb 3D glasses again.
A decade ago, 3D technology was supposed to be the future of cinema. Thanks to the first Avatar, which used technology to drop us in gorgeous landscapes that are immersive for the senses, every big-budget movie has passionately associated itself with this new way of filmmaking. Peter Jackson made 3D movies. Ridley Scott made a 3D movie. Martin Scorsese made a 3D movie. Ang Lee made a 3D movie and won an Oscar for screaming out loud.
Sure, we’re told, 3D may have started as a gimmick in the 1950s, but this time it would have been different. “3D is here to stay,” arguably a very bold piece of Techcrunch from 2010 was announced. Ten years from now, we’ll be looking back at a library of not dozens, but hundreds of 3D movies, some (we might hope) It will live up to the quality set by the classics of the past. “
The more you take an interest in the eagle, notice that things haven’t quite shaken up the way Techcrunch thought they would. In fact, the new 3D revolution has turned into another gimmick. The glasses were narrow, uncomfortable and ecologically suspect. They hurt your eyes. They made the viewing experience even darker. Moreover, the simple act of showing a movie in 3D meant that cinemas were given the freedom to raise the price of tickets far beyond all measure. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, the films themselves were often vastly superior to 2D, having been pushed through lazy 3D rendering after production as part of the film studio’s bad money making. No wonder he is dead.
This does not mean that people have completely stopped making 3D movies. They are still being released. This year Doctor Strange got a 3D release, and so did Dune, Encanto, Godzilla vs Kong, and the latest Star Wars movie. But the implication is that these are just marginal spin-offs, in 2017 they only accounted for 17% of theatrical revenue. They exist if people want a slightly different experience, but they are by no means the definitive version of the movie.
In fact, 3D seems to have become just another way to make extra money. For example, my local multiplexer reopened after a renovation, and now offers a mind-boggling array of viewing formats. You can watch 2D and 3D movies, but also Imax, 4DX (where your seat flips you in time with the action) and a very dumb stunt called ScreenX where, at various intervals through the movie, the hall walls will glow with additional 270-degree wrapped footage. All of this is clearly designed to combat the rise of everyday versions of the house — yes, you can watch The Matrix 4 on your sofa, but will it shoot you in the room whenever there’s a car chase? – but they all feel like they’re desperately floundering to an industry in trouble.
And all this will make it especially difficult for Avatar. It’s been over a decade since she last had to educate audiences about 3D cinema, but now she finds herself in exactly the same situation for the sequel. A recent article in The Hollywood Reporter quoted Imax Entertainment’s president, Megan Colligan, as saying that “3D warm-ups should be done carefully and carefully,” adding that “there are a lot of lessons learned” during the recent 3D boom. The producers of Avatar 2, and the movie industry in general, seem particularly keen to prevent 3D from becoming a gimmick again. We won’t know how successful they are for another 10 years. But if history has taught us anything, we probably shouldn’t get too excited.