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Commentary: 3-D movies fail to add depth

A technology once considered a leading breakthrough in film is rapidly becoming one of the greatest movie clichs of our generation.

The barrage of 3-D movies flooding the motion picture industry has some critics and audience members, myself included, wondering what all the fuss is about. Instead of focusing on improving the movie-going experience, it seems filmmakers have set their sights on gaining extra profits from this extra dimension.

In an April Newsweek article, acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert explained his distaste for the medium.

“For moviegoers in the PG-13 and R ranges, it only rarely provides an experience worth paying a premium for,” he said.

In other words, unless you are taking the kids to see “Toy Story 3-D,” you will probably leave the theater disappointed.

There is, however, a clear exception to the rule. Critics overwhelmingly agree that “Avatar” is a visual masterpiece. But there is a major difference between James Cameron’s tour de force and other 3-D fare. “Avatar” was always intended for 3-D, and Cameron reportedly spent $280 million on perfecting it, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Piggybacking on the $2.7 billion success of “Avatar,” Hollywood is lengthening the shortlist of new 3-D movies. Instead of shooting a movie specifically for 3-D, however, studios are converting movies to 3-D in post-production to justify a $5 to $7.50 up charge in ticket prices.

One of the first movies to break this post-production mold is “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” which opened this weekend at the top of the charts and brought in $28 million in box office sales, according to the Orlando Sentinel. International sales have made “Afterlife,” which was natively shot in 3-D, the most successful movie of the “Resident Evil” franchise despite a dismal review from critics.

“Afterlife” currently shares screen space in theaters with another movie using the clichd technology, “Piranha 3-D.” Unlike “Avatar” or “Afterlife,” “Piranha” was not shot in native 3-D.

“Piranha,” which would have been more aptly named “Female Anatomy in 3-D,” thankfully does not take itself too seriously. By setting the bar low, director Alexandre Aja makes the film surprisingly enjoyable. But do the ends, a new way to experience B movie gore, justify its 3-D means?

This question is central to the overall pricing paradox at the root of the 3-D debate: 3-D movies offer cheap thrills at a premium cost.

There is some gimmicky entertainment value to be found in 3-D movies, but not for $5 more than your normal viewing experience. While movies like “Piranha 3-D” may offer a variety of shock-value cinematic devices by exploring the new dimension, do not expect the next “Casablanca” to come from the 3-D filmmaking camp.

At this time, serious directors should take heed when applying the 3-D technology. Until something as groundbreaking and visually pleasing as “Avatar” is released, 3-D will continue to be reserved for the filmmakers whose highest cinematic aims are mutant fish attacking raunchy spring-breakers or hordes of flesh-eating zombies.