Tim Burton Nixes Dark Shadows 3D -- Another Nail in the Format's Coffin?

Tim Burton Nixes Dark Shadows 3D -- Another Nail in the Format's Coffin?

May 31, 2011

It’s been a busy week for director Tim Burton. The filmmaker just started shooting on his long-in-development updating of Dark Shadows – a feature film based on a cult, horror-themed, soap opera that ran from the 1960s to the early 1970s – and he’s also the featured artist at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where a great deal of his artwork is on display for the masses to check out.

Burton’s artwork has always been cool, but naturally we’re slightly more interested in getting an update on the progress of Dark Shadows – a film that finds the director re-uniting with frequent collaborator Johnny Depp. The filmmaker didn’t drop any bombshells about the first days of shooting, other than to say that he felt it was a challenge to be doing the art exhibit while trying to get the film off the ground, something exacerbated by the fact that he’d “slammed right into it” rather than easing into the shooting schedule.

One thing Burton did elaborate on was that he has no plans to shoot Dark Shadows in 3D. The filmmaker has experience with the format – his updating of Alice in Wonderland utilized the technology – but he tells website The Wrap that he’s keeping it traditional this time out. Part of the reason? Burton senses that audiences may not be as excited about 3D as they once were.

“There’s people like, ‘Everything’s gonna be in 3D,’ or ‘I hate 3D!’ I think people should have a choice. I don’t think it should be forced on anybody. At the same time, it’s great, some of it. It’s like ‘Yes or no!? 3D! Yes or no?!’ It’s like, well, you know, come on, whatever, some yes, some no.”

With the $400 million dollar Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides only doing 47% of its opening gross from 3D ticket sales (down from the more traditional 60% an event picture tends to do in 3D), Hollywood is starting to fret that the 3D gravy train might be about to derail.

While Pirates underperforming in 3D is hardly the death knell for the viability of 3D cinema as a whole, the rumblings of discontent have been around since the format came back into vogue a few years ago. The chief complaint is that 3D films allow studios to charge more per ticket by utilizing the old “the technology costs more” argument. That’s true – but Hollywood found a convenient way around that: shooting in 2D and doing post-conversion work on films. This saves studios money when compared to shooting in actual 3D, and as an added bonus, it tends to look awful. Audiences have caught on to the whole post-conversion trick and seem unlikely to continue to pay premium prices for subpar visuals.

Greed will certainly be the driving factor if this latest 3D binge crashes and burns – Hollywood overestimated the audience’s interest in paying extra at the box office for the privilege of wearing a pair of slimy glasses that were likely planted on the face of some pimply-faced teenager the show previous. In their rush to cash in, the film industry diluted the “wow factor” of 3D technology. Instead of doing the smart thing and only using it when a film would benefit from the added dimension – in something like Avatar, for example – studios instead decided to release everything they could in three dimensions. The magic is gone and consumers aren’t interested in paying to see every movie pop off the screen.

Of course, the cost is just the tip of the iceberg. Noted critic Roger Ebert has railed against 3D on different grounds, complaining that the 3D process ruins viewing traditional 2D movies because theaters with digital projectors aren’t readjusting them when showing a standard film.

Projectors running 3D films use polarizers to make the effect work. The upside to polarizers is that they make colors look vibrant and allow for using your standard, non-electronic, glasses for viewing the 3D effect. The bad news is that they also require a great deal of light. When showing a standard 2D film, the polarizers should be removed – but since that costs money (projectionists have to be trained and have time to do it), it doesn’t happen in a lot of theaters. The result is a 2D movie that’s roughly 50% darker than it’s supposed to be. So, not only are audiences paying more for substandard, post-conversion 3D, we’re also paying a regular price for 2D movies that don’t look as good as they did on the screen five years ago…

This loss of light has a huge impact on the viewing experience, and it’s why so many people now say “movies look better on Blu-ray screened on my 50-inch LCD TV than they do on the big screen.” This sets Ebert off.

“The film should have a brightness, a crispness and sparkle that makes an impact. It should look like a movie!—not a mediocre big-screen television … A movie should leap out and zap you, not recede into itself and get lost in dimness.”

We couldn’t agree more. Are you guys as tired of the 3D experience as we are? Are we reliving 1983’s 3D boom and bust all over again? Have you noticed that 2D films now look dark and hard to see or are you one of the lucky folks with a good digital theater in your neighborhood? Weigh in on the issue in the comment section below.

[Hat tip to Thompson on Hollywood]

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