3D movies are doomed to gimmickhood

My latest Guardian column, "Why economics condemns 3D to be no more than a blockbuster gimmick," discusses the difficulty of making truly 3D movies (that is, movies that lose something crucial in 2D) in a world where movies need to find a home on 2D small-screens in order to recoup.

Movies, after all, rely on the aftermarket of satellite, broadcast and cable licenses, of home DVD releases and releases to airline entertainment systems and hotel room video-on-demand services – none of which are in 3D. If the movie couldn't be properly enjoyed in boring old 2D, the economics of filmmaking would collapse. So no filmmaker can afford to make a big-budget movie that is intended as a 3D-only experience, except as a vanity project.

What's more, no filmmaker can afford to make a small-budget 3D movie, either, because the cinema-owners who've shelled out big money to retrofit their auditoriums for 3D projection don't want to tie up their small supply of 3D screens with art-house movies. They especially don't want to do this when there's plenty of competition from giant-budget 3D movies that add in the 3D as an optional adjunct, a marketing gimmick that can be used to draw in a few more punters during the cinematic exhibition window.

I have no doubt that there are brilliant 3D movies lurking in potentia out there in the breasts of filmmakers, yearning to burst free. But I strongly doubt that any of them will burst free. The economics just don't support it: a truly 3D movie would be one where the 3D was so integral to the storytelling and the visuals and the experience that seeing it in 2D would be like seeing a giant-robots-throwing-buildings-at-each-other blockbuster as a flipbook while a hyperactive eight-year-old supplied the sound effects by shouting "BANG!" and "CRASH!" in your ear.

Why economics condemns 3D to be no more than a blockbuster gimmick