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3-D: No longer the way of the future

The release of the Nicolas Cage action film “Drive Angry 3D” last weekend continued an ongoing trend of weak box office results for 3-D films.

On Friday, the film’s writer, Todd Farmer, said on his personal Twitter account, “Come Monday, it’ll either get a little easier to get a job or remain the same.”

“Drive Angry” placed ninth on the weekend box office top 10 with an abysmal $5.1 million, having cost an estimated $50 million to produce, according to boxofficemojo.com.

Farmer also co-wrote the remake of the horror film “My Bloody Valentine” with “Drive Angry 3D” director Patrick Lussier at the helm. “Valentine,” like “Drive Angry,” was also shot and conceived with 3-D in mind, and was released in January 2009 to fan adoration and a respectable box office return.

But that was January 2009, and we had yet to see “Avatar,” “Alice in Wonderland” or even “Tron: Legacy.” 3-D films using the RealD 3D Technology still seemed like a fresh idea.

The critical response to “Drive Angry” was not entirely terrible, which is surprising for Cage, whose trouble with the Internal Revenue Service, according to New York Magazine, has caused him to pick soulless roles simply for the paycheck.

So why wouldn’t audiences show up for an action film that harkened back to the days of Cage blockbusters such as “Con Air” and “The Rock?”

The answer seems to be that audiences aren’t suffering from 3-D fatigue, but that 3-D is nearing the end of its cultural relevance.

Advertisements for “Drive Angry” made no attempt to hide that it was “shot In 3-D,” a blatantly obvious indicator for anyone looking to avoid putting thick plastic glasses on to watch a movie.

It isn’t simply the inconvenience of wearing glasses. Critics and audiences alike have caught on that films with the added 3-D novelty generally exhibit weak storytelling.

Another film that was shot and conceived entirely in 3-D, “Step Up 3-D,” had the lowest box office total of the “Step Up” film series, according to the New York Post, even with the added 3-D cost to tickets.

While the first two films weren’t exactly critical darlings, director John Chu focused more energy on shooting what would look cool in 3-D than focusing on a compelling story, and critics and audiences took notice.

Watching the film on DVD or Blu-ray, there is a sense that it’s missing the spectacle of seeing it in 3-D at the theater, as well as an actual narrative.

In Roger Ebert’s now infamous takedown of the 3-D film-going experience in Newsweek, entitled “Why I Hate 3-D (and You Should Too),” he said, “Having shot ‘Dial M for Murder’ in 3-D, Alfred Hitchcock was so displeased by the result that he released it in 2-D at its New York opening.”

That doesn’t seem the case any longer. Hollywood studios are more prone to force 3-D upon a film if they worry that it’s not going to play well to mass audiences.

Neither “The Green Hornet” nor “Clash of the Titans” were produced with 3-D in mind, but once negative buzz from audience test screenings began to worry studio executives, it was time to seek something that would make them feel safe with their financial investments.

Both films were widely criticized not just for being mediocre films, but also for cheaply tacking on 3-D that was added in post-production. All of the complaints of the normal 3-D experience were intensified, because post-converted 3-D has proved to be a complete eyesore.

It was announced this past week by “Battle: Los Angeles” director Johnathan Liebesman, who is also helming the “Clash” sequel “Wrath of the Titans,” that the sequel would also feature post-converted 3-D. He promises that Warner Brothers has improved its post-conversion process.

While many, including “Avatar” director James Cameron, complain that Hollywood continues to suffer from an ongoing story crisis in films, it’s directors like him who continue to perpetuate the idea that 3-D is going to help bring people to the theaters like it did in the past.

Farmer expressed his sentiment of defeat in another Tweet on Saturday night: “We helped start live-action 3D, and we just might have helped kill it.”

While there are still a lot of films set for release in 3-D in 2011 and on into 2012, one begins to wonder if there will be an audience for the films that are shown exclusively in 3-D.

While “Toy Story 3” was released in both 3-D and 2-D versions, it is films like “Piranha 3-D” and “Drive Angry” that suffered financially, choosing the route of living exclusively in 3-D.

While Cameron’s “Avatar” became the highest-grossing film of all-time, it was also released in a 2-D version. But “Drive Angry” director Patrick Lussier doesn’t exactly carry the prestige and audience recognition as the director of “Titanic” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

What is perhaps a telling sign of audiences’ growing disinterest in 3-D is recent news that Australian documentary filmmaker Philippe Mora had discovered two films produced as entertainment for the Nazi party. Both films were in black and white, but were shot entirely in 3-D.

With titles like “So Real You Can Touch It,” the Internet took hold of the story and ran with it. This led celebrated film sites like Badass Digest to run the Feb. 15 headline, “You Know Who Else Thought 3-D Movies Were Great? Hitler.”