Is Christopher Nolan making The Dark Knight Rises in 2D a turning point?

News Simon Brew 1 Nov 2010 - 07:47
Batman

As Warner Bros gives Christopher Nolan the greenlight to make Batman 3 in 2D, having already announced it was abandoning 3D on the next Harry Potter film, has the 3D argument at last begun to turn?

If you're anything like me, then you might just be finding it slightly harder to hunt down a screening of a movie you want to see that's in good old-fashioned 2D. Such is the prevalence of multiplexes converting their projection systems to 3D, with the decision buoyed on by the sheer scale of Avatar, that inevitably the number of 2D screenings of certain big films has taken a hit as a result.

I don't think we're near the point yet where you walk into a cinema and 3D is the only choice you have, mind. And I wonder, in the aftermath of Christopher Nolan's fight to make The Dark Knight Rises in 2D, whether we might have hit the turning point in the argument.

Gravy Train

It's fair to say that, with few exceptions, the last twelve months has not been good for Hollywood's latest gravy train. Avatar, of course, put 3D to the top of many movie executives' wishlist for their projects, and many animated films have made a good stab at deploying 3D technology, too. Just look at A Christmas Carol, How To Train Your Dragon and the end credits of Despicable Me for examples of that.

But most of us are oh-so-familiar with the rest of the story. Clash Of The Titans and The Last Airbender are being held up as the poster children of sloppy 3D (and the television commercial in the UK for The Last Airbender, which had images shooting out of the screen and flying above the audience's head, is surely one of the grossest mis-sells of the year), but surely just as concerned are the many instances where the 3D hasn't been terrible, but conversely simply hasn't mattered one jot. I love Toy Story 3, for example, but I'd firmly put it in this category.

I don't want to go over the usual pro- and anti-3D arguments here, because many of us have done so many times over the course of the year. But I do wonder whether the tide is turning. For it's only a few weeks since Warner Bros abandoned plans to add a post-production 3D fix to Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part I. Presumably stung by the size of the criticism it attracted for its fairly terrible Clash Of The Titans 3D bolt-on, Warner Bros decided not to risk such a backlash again. And now - and this is something I'm coming to shortly - it's agreed that 2D is the way forward for the next Batman film too.

Granted, in the case of the latter, that decision is likely to have been swayed by the importance of director Christopher Nolan to Warner Bros right now. However, the bigger issue that Hollywood faces right now is that 3D revenue as a proportion of a movie's box office take, is falling. Over half of Avatar tickets sold were to 3D screenings. Yet, as more and more films have been and gone, it seems that more and more moviegoers are opting for 2D instead. By choice.

Golden Goose

For multiplex owners that have invested millions upon millions of dollars in converting their screens, that has to be a worry. For the many, many films in production that are being produced in 3D, that also has to be a concern. For the problem here is that Hollywood appears to have half-killed the golden goose before it's had a chance to lay too many eggs.

In short, 3D has been rumbled. The audience has grown savvy to the idea that most 3D conversions offer little to no spectacle at all. It comes to something, after all, when the poster for next year's Drive Angry makes the distinction that the film has been shot in 3D. Is the mass market audience really that savvy to the retrofit 3D conversion already, not even a year after Avatar ignited the 3D touchpaper??

The Nolan Factor

Perhaps the hammer blow in the argument, however, has been landed by the one director with the real power to make the case. Earlier this year, Inception crept to over $800m of business at the worldwide box office, with not a frame of the film projected in 3D. There's still talk of a retrofit for a future television screening of the film, and Nolan has talked of tinkering with 3D. But the sheer spectacle of Inception worked without having to put a pair of special glasses on to enjoy it.

It had been widely rumoured too that he was set to be forced to make his third and final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, in 3D. But last week, it emerged that Nolan had prevailed in his desire not to. Instead, as he explained to the Los Angeles Times last week, he wants his next film to continue with "that look and feel" employed in The Dark Knight, which includes the glorious IMAX photography he utilised in key sequences (which arguably offered more spectacle than any 3D effect could have mustered).

Furthermore, Nolan added that "There's an intimacy at times [with spatial illusion of the 3D effect] and we didn't want to lose scale... our ambitions for the third movie is to complete a story that has begun. This is not starting over ... not rebooting... We're looking to do something technologically that's never been done before... Our ambitions are to make a great movie."

That last sentence. Right there.

As respected a blockbuster filmmaker on the planet right now looked at the toolkit of available options and decided that 3D was not right for his project. It would not help make a great movie.

That's, surely, exactly how it should be. That's the change that needed to happen. That 3D be treated as something needing to be considered with regards its benefit to the project itself, rather than a way of adding 10-20% to the ticket price. That somewhere along the line, there has to be a creative decision involved, and not a commercial one. Warner Bros, with both The Dark Knight Rises and Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part I, appears to be the first major studio to be properly wrapping its head around that. And I dearly hope the others follow suit.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

For 3D is not a choice that fits all projects, and it's refreshing that the message does seem to be getting through. That's not to say I'm utterly anti-3D. It's rarely my personal preference, but I'm intrigued to see what Disney has pulled out of the hat for Tron: Legacy. If any film this year is set to make a real stab of selling 3D, surely it's that one. But let's see 3D attached to the films where it stands a sporting chance of making a difference, rather than slapped onto the majority of films with a budget north of $80m. That way, ironically, it might retain it as some kind of novelty, something a little special.

Because, Hollywood. Right now, 3D feels tired already. And that really is your own fault...

Los Angeles Times

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