Questions are being raised about cinemagoers’ willingness to absorb a glut of 3D titles. 
30 May 2011 - 11:03 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 5:33 AM

While 3D may be a cornerstone of the future of cinema, the extra dimension isn't being embraced universally.

The 3D brand has been tarnished this year by the flops Mars Needs Moms, Sanctum and Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil and an underwhelming result for Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, while the Nicolas Cage vehicle Drive Angry crashed in the US and will go straight to DVD in Australia.

Australian exhibitors say some cinemagoers are balking at paying premium prices for 3D films and are opting to see the 2D versions. That trend is particularly noticeable among children, many of whom dislike wearing 3D glasses.

“I think a small portion of the youth market expect the special effects of 3D and are a little disappointed as studios are beginning to utilise 3D more for depth of image than effects,” says David Seargeant, managing director of Amalgamated Holdings Ltd, which owns Event Cinemas, Greater Union and Birch Carroll & Coyle.

“Also the younger a film skews the parents are more reluctant to spend the extra on the children,” says Seargeant. But after investing millions of dollars to upgrade his cinemas, the executive still has faith in the format, observing, “Overall though, the market for 3D remains very strong as I am sure we will see with Transformers 3.”

Sasha Close, assistant programming manager at Adelaide-based Wallis Cinemas, reports, “Our experience with 3D vs 2D is that some people prefer the 35mm experience and it is about offering options. What we have noted with kids product and 3D is that it is more about experience than ticket prices. That is, children don't wish to wear the glasses; having two children of my own I attest to this.”

Like it or not, the 3D bandwagon is growing, fuelled not just by the Hollywood studios but also by independent producers. This year 27 3D films are scheduled for release in Australia, up from 23 in 2010, just 11 in 2009 and seven in 2008. Of the country's 1,990 screens, 533 have 3D projection.

Last week Richard Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG Research, released a report which argued US consumers increasingly are rejecting 3D movies. Greenfield cited a range of negative factors including the premium pricing and his view that 3D is far more tiring on the eyes than 2D, which means that even frequent moviegoers aren't interested in watching a 3D title every weekend.

To back up his theory, Greenfield analysed the opening weekend of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (pictured) and found that just 38 per cent of its $US90.1 million tally was generated by 3D screens, although 46 per cent of the screens were 3D. (In Oz, around 72 per cent of that film's grosses came from 3D cinemas.)

He compared that with Thor, whose 3D revenues for accounted for 50 per cent of its opening haul, slightly higher than its 48 per cent 3D market infiltration.

Mike Baard, managing director of Universal Pictures Australasia, disputes Greenfield's thesis, declaring, “There is more than likely a relationship between the amount of screens capable of playing 3D films, the volume of 3D films being released in the marketplace and the time of year those films are released.

“Like so many statistics, if you choose to isolate one segment of the information, you will skew the outcome. The early 3D releases gained from a low screen count (hence high return per screen), less competition, a novelty factor and the scale of a certain film. Many complexes have more than one 3D screen, but a film like Pirates might be playing on 5 or 6 screens, not all are 3D capable, hence the 2D numbers will look more robust.

“Add in a premium which not every consumer wants to pay and the fact that younger kids battle with 3D, and you have a lower 3D admission rate on Pirates.”

Even so, it's hard to take issue with Greenfield's advice to filmmakers: “Focus on making consumer-desirable films rather than worrying about the technology. 3D cannot fix a bad film and a 2D film can generate substantially more box office than a 3D film. It is all about the content, not the technology.”