Instead of going 3D, why not go for quality?

By By Tom VanBuren

DreamWorks Animation recently premiered the first trailer for ‘Monsters vs. Aliens,’ an animated… DreamWorks Animation recently premiered the first trailer for ‘Monsters vs. Aliens,’ an animated 3D movie about … well, guess. 3D has been making a slow comeback for years ‘mdash; two years ago, Disney started the trend with its successful digital 3D treatment of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’ Since then, the studio has re-released the movie in theaters each year. ‘ ‘ ‘ Other filmmakers picked up on the trend, leading to 3D releases of movies like ‘Beowulf,’ ‘Superman Returns’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.’ Unlike those movies, which gave the treatment to only a select few IMAX prints, ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’ was created and directed specifically with 3D in mind, allowing for new innovations that take advantage of the effect. ‘ ‘ ‘ The re-emergence of 3D, though, is the product of Hollywood’s great fear of the last decade ‘mdash; people might stop going to the movies. And it isn’t an unfounded worry. With the near perfection of HDTV and Blu-Ray and the ease of programs like Netflix, home theaters can finally rival real theaters. The movie theater, then, has to promise not only a venue, but an experience ‘mdash; something that you won’t get at home, no matter how nice your plasma screen. ‘ ‘ ‘ Midnight screenings are increasingly popular, as are special IMAX releases ‘mdash; ‘Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert’ and ‘The Dark Knight’ both broke records this year for IMAX ticket sales. The theater itself has transformed in the past decade, with movie palaces like AMC Loews offering restaurants, full bars and leather seating. ‘ ‘ ‘ Though these perks are welcome, experimenting with theater-exclusives like 3D treatments isn’t necessarily a good thing. Last year, ‘Beowulf’ in IMAX 3D was a thrilling and memorable theater experience. Watching it on DVD, though, is almost unbearably boring. With some post-production razzle-dazzle, a movie can go from ho-hum to engrossing ‘mdash; the problem is, once the veneer of the special presentation is stripped away, you’re left with the same bland movie you had before. ‘ ‘ ‘ Another example is this year’s ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth,’ a movie that received so-so reviews, though its 3D effects were widely praised. Now with ‘Monsters vs. Aliens,’ this trend could easily go either way ‘mdash; it could legitimize 3D as a cinematic tool or further prove that it’s only a gimmick used to sell tickets to otherwise unremarkable movies. ‘ ‘ ‘ As a trend, 3D isn’t alone ‘mdash; many mediocre movies are sold on the promise of impressive visuals, be it animation, explosions, flashy editing and so on. But 3D is unique in its goal to bring audiences into the theater. The days of visual effects alone attracting audiences are long gone ‘mdash; they look better on an HDTV anyway. No, if studios and theaters want to sell tickets, they try to promise something that you won’t find anywhere else ‘mdash; in this case, a 3D spectacle. If you wait for it on DVD, all you’ll get to see is boring, old-fashioned and two-dimensional. The problem is, even if you see it in the theater, you’ll never be able to recreate that experience. ‘ ‘ ‘ If studios really want to keep audiences coming to the theater, the best solution is the simplest one: Make better movies. That’s surely easier said than done, but if a movie is good enough, the audience simply won’t be willing to wait to see it (or see it twice). ‘The Dark Knight’ made more than $500 million this year, and though it was slightly bolstered by shooting sequences in IMAX format, it only added style to its already-abundant substance. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Instead of costly experiments ‘mdash; the 3D effects for ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’ cost $15 million to produce ‘mdash; studios would be well off to concentrate their efforts on tent pole releases with staying power. And after all, wouldn’t that be better for audiences, too?