09/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Great 3D "Debate" Shouldn't Be a Debate at All

So, almost every week over the last two years, there has been an article in some publication, somewhere that asks whether 3D is the "silver bullet" that will save the movie business particularly since big screen TV's and HD have drastically improved the in-home entertainment experience. To be fair, IMAX, with our long history in 3D, has been a part of many of these articles.

In fact, tomorrow, Fox will be hosting special sneak previews of James Cameron's Avatar in 3D at a number of theatres across the country, which promises to generate even more interest from consumers and the news media in the 3D entertainment phenomenon.

With so much attention, it literally begs the question -- what's all the fuss about? I believe there's been far too much focus on an all-or-nothing approach to 3D, so let me help clarify:

  • Yes: 3D movies are enjoying an incredible resurgence, driven in some part by studios and exhibitors looking for new ways to keep moviegoers in theatres.

  • No: 3D in and of itself is not going to "save" the movie industry.
  • Yes: visionary filmmakers are telling incredible stories in 3D.
  • No: not every film makes sense in 3D.
  • So rather than ask whether 3D is the solution, we should be asking what will keep 3D from fading away when movies shown this way are no longer a novelty?

    History shows that 3D has had many ups and downs. The early days of 3D began on a positive note but the initial success at the box office led some studios to believe that adding the 3D treatment to any movie would help boost its performance. The "B movies" made in 3D over-saturated the marketplace and ultimately overloaded moviegoers' appetite for the medium. Too much 3D with too many undeserving films also left most visionary filmmakers of that era out of the medium, while those who did create a potential blockbuster 3D film, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, were far too late to save 3D and ultimately never released their films in a wide 3D release.

    IMAX has been working in 3D -- both in shooting and producing original content and with converting Hollywood titles into IMAX 3D -- for more than two decades. One thing we have learned for certain (and occasionally learned the hard way via box office results) is that not every movie works in 3D. The point that people seem to keep missing is that the 3D element must help tell the story. A director must ask how using this medium helps grab the audience... Because simply adding a third dimension to a boring tale will never work.

    The reason I'm optimistic about 3D this time around is that the greatest storytellers of our time are the ones embracing the 3D format. Visionaries like Tim Burton, Jim Cameron, Peter Jackson, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Henry Selick, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis all have 3D projects underway.

    I believe Hollywood is always at its best when it evolves and innovates, so a debate of "will it" or "won't it" succeed is overly simplistic. 3D works when our greatest artists are telling their greatest stories using a unique vision for 3D. The current stable of creative geniuses using the tools that have been developed like motion capture, CGI and 2D to 3D conversion of live action will help make 3D movies a lasting innovation.

    Even more new production tools have already been developed for the creation of 3D content, as the world is going to experience when they get the first look at Jim Cameron's groundbreaking Avatar tomorrow. I consider myself lucky to have seen some of the footage but it is hard to describe in words the cinematic brilliance Cameron has accomplished. Maybe giving audiences a sneak peek is a great way to introduce the result of the new 3D production, and I hope you're one of the lucky ones to be a part of that opportunity

    While IMAX is proud to be involved with many of the world's visionary 3D filmmakers and believe the 3D experience in IMAX theatres is unrivaled, the real staying power for 3D films will depend on the artists telling a compelling story and taking consumers to new places to experience new things they cannot get in 2D.

    These filmmakers with their storytelling ability, their leadership and the new technology at their fingertips will reset the benchmark for 3D film experiences and that is only for the better.
    This time I think 3D will be a success for all of the right reasons that have sustained Hollywood since its beginning -- great technology, great artists, great artistry and great stories. Rather than debate it, I believe we should embrace it... while remembering that there is no guaranteed formula for success and that is part of the magical nature of the movie business!