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3D fatigue

February 19, 2011

The Berlin International Film Festival has merrily jumped aboard the 3D bandwagon, with three showcase movies being shown in the competition section. But are audiences suffering from the first symptoms of 3D fatigue?

Cinema-goers in 3D glasses
Which 3D movie will be the next major hit?Image: AP

Barely a year has passed since James Cameron's "Avatar," but now it seems nearly every other Hollywood film is an animated 3D extravaganza, or else it gets hastily converted in post-production to boost the box office. Now the European arthouse wants in on the business, with last week's premiere of "Pina" at the Berlin film festival.

Directed by German cinematic giant Wim Wenders, "Pina" is a documentary about a master of contemporary dance, choreographer Pina Bausch, and her company at the Tanztheater Wuppertal – not the most promising subject for the "popcorn crowd."

So does this new broadening of the range mean 3D has broken free of its tag as a short-term multiplex fad? Is it all hype, or does it represent a new hope for the movie business?

Wait and see

The question was discussed by a panel of industry insiders at this year's European Film Market, the business networking forum that runs parallel to the Berlinale. Erwin Schmidt, producer of "Pina," thinks it's much too early to tell whether 3D would last, but he pointed out that the number of 3D screens in Germany had increased from around 25 just three years ago to over 500 at the end of last year.

EFM at the Berlinale
The European Film Market is where all the deals go downImage: Nadine Wojcik

"We are going to release 'Pina' on 70 screens in 3D. Half of them are either arthouse or single-screen venues," he told the audience of producers, exhibitors and other industry people. "This is a pretty precise sign of non-mainstream venues taking a risk of investing 100,000 bucks in 3D equipment, because they think, and I guess it's more like a hope, that the right content will follow."

So the German 3D market is ripe for the taking, especially for adventurous indie film-makers who want to play with the new toys. But in the US, there have been signs of 3D fatigue, as audiences become cynical of bad movies converted to 3D to squeeze some extra cash out of them.

Managing audience expectations

Christian Gisy, CEO of German cinema chain Cinemaxx, says this fatigue is down to the quality of the movies, not the number of dimensions.

"It's about managing the expectation," he said. "Not every film can be an 'Avatar.' There's kind of a trend right now to discuss whether 3D is going to continue to bring value to the market or not. I think it will. The whole process has been going for one and a half years, and how can you judge after one and a half years what it will do?"

But despite Gisy's optimism, producing a film in 3D does add to the budget - by some estimates as much as 15 percent. Sam Taylor, the producer of the 3D film noir "The Mortician," says independent financiers are at least a little skeptical of the new trend.

"What I've noticed as a producer is that the financiers are beginning to react differently to the idea of it being in 3D," Taylor said. "Whereas originally they'd be like 'oh great,' now they're slightly jaded, and you have to actually say, 'No, there's a reason for this.' I mean literally, the words '3D' and you see a slight weariness over their faces going, 'Okey-dokey, here we go again.'"

EFM industry debate
The high-powered panel agreed that 3D movies were fabImage: Oliver Möst/EFM 2011

Box office boost guaranteed

But of course, financiers can rest easy, thanks to the increased ticket prices that 3D movies command. At Germany's Cinemaxx multiplex cinemas, for instance, the third dimension costs an extra four to five euros for a full-price ticket - a 50 percent premium on the regular price. But if 3D cinema is here to stay, surely the novelty value will wear off and the ticket prices will come down? Not at Cinemaxx, they won't.

"Why should they?" Gisy asked. "I've been beaten up in Germany for quite a long time because I'm a believer that the ticket prices overall are still much too low compared to other entertainment areas. And I don't see any reason why ticket prices should go down. To me it's completely not understandable."

So it seems that cinema's newfound spectacle will continue to come at an added cost to the consumer. Gisy was adamant that that's entirely reasonable, and that the pricing system is sustainable. That's good news for film-makers - both independent and commercial - because 3D promises a lucrative return. That shiny new toy won't be put back in its box for a while yet.

Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Sam Edmonds