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The Next Dimension

Can Avatar transform 3-D from novelty to necessity? Hollywood hopes so.

Author Adam K. Raymond Photography Courtesy of Mark Fellman

ACTION! James Cameron sees the future, and it’s in 3-D.

AT MIDNIGHT ON December 18, the opening credits of James Cameron’s sci-fiepic Avatar will flicker onto movie screens, and cinema as we know it will change forever. At least that’s the idea.

The fervent anticipation of Avatar (tickets went on sale fourth months ago) has less to do with the plot— humans battling blue aliens—than the presentation: motion-capture animation mixed with live action displayed in a revolutionary type of 3-D that’s been called the biggest innovation in filmmaking since sound and color.

This isn’t Vincent Price’s 3-D, mind you. Known as RealD, the digital stereoscopic projection technology used for Avatar has been around only since 2005, when Chicken Little introduced it to six-year-olds. Since then, RealD has mainly been used for animation (Up, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) and movies that might not be especially appealing without the added novelty (The Final Destination, G-Force). That’s why Michael V. Lewis, CEO of RealD, is so excited to have the director behind the most successful movie ever (it was about a boat) utilizing the technology.

“James Cameron has spent the last decade learning how to effectively tell stories in 3-D,” Lewis says. “Avatar could be the Citizen Kane of 3-D films.” It may sound as if he’s looking through 3-D colored glasses, but Lewis is not alone. DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg thinks “Avatar will be to 3-D what The Wizard of Oz was to color.” And Sony Pictures Entertainment cochair Amy Pascal believes “it could change the world.” Meanwhile Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg and Zack Snyder have 3-D films in development.

If all goes as planned, Avatar will open the door for 3-D romcoms, 3-D musicals and 3-D documentaries, and Hollywood will reap the rewards. Ticket prices for 3-D movies can be as much as twice those of their 2-D counterparts, and moviegoers appear willing to pay.

Of course, not everyone is convinced. Roger Ebert has called 3-D “a marketing gimmick,” and other detractors point to a lack of screens around the country capable of showing 3-D movies. Shooting in 3-D also adds an estimated $15 million in production costs, an impossible luxury for many small films. Perhaps most important, no one knows how the 3-D experience will translate to the living room. But they better figure it out soon. Sony and Panasonic are releasing 3-D flat screens next year.

Associate editor ADAM K. RAYMOND wears his 3-D glasses at night.


What else to watch on the go in December

Robin Williams: Weapons of Self-Destruction

Thirty years after first appearing on HBO, furry funnyman Robin Williams returns with his full repertoire of goofy voices and bizarre antics for his first stand-up special in seven years. Na-Nu Na-Nu.

On HBO December 6

Herb & Dorothy

This charming documentary tells how a working-class couple amassed one of the world’s top modern art collections by snatching up works by unknowns such as Chuck Close and Sol LeWitt.

On DVD December 15

AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa directed 31 films in his masterful career. Criterion celebrates his 100th birthday with this collection of the 25 best, from Sanshiro Sugata, his first, to Madadayo, his last.

On DVD December 8; www.criterion.com

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