Hello 80s, Goodbye 3D

Editor’s Note: This article was part of our April Fools 2010 project, in which our site was transported back to April 1, 1980. To see all of the retro articles written for this event, please visit our April Fools 2010 Homepage.

As we move into this new, promising decade, I feel I need to take a moment to bid adieu to a trend. So many fads come and go these days and while this particular craze had a healthy run, I am ready to declare it legally dead. The deceased trend was once called 3D and its demise is met with nothing but relief.

As a scientific advancement of filmmaking, the concept of 3D is as old as the movies themselves. It began as legitimate experimentation and inadvertently produced the technology that made stereoscopes a household distraction in the early part of the 20th century. The early attempts involved two images on two screens that audiences would then reconcile through the use of an instrument; this proved too cumbersome for theatrical enjoyment. The red/blue anaglyph 3D technology that we know today was created in the early 1920s.

But the true golden age of 3D had to be the 1950s. During that time, 3D became a marketing tool to net a larger share of the thriving movie theater business. The fare that typified this era were low-budget horror and sci-fi. Already, you should get a sense of just how much this groundbreaking technology became trivialized. Suddenly teenagers were flocking to movie houses to be scared out of their wits when a giant bug or doofus in a costume came shambling off the screen and into their faces. Vincent Price became the unofficial king of this era as he starred in a multitude of schlock including House of Wax and The Mad Magician. But the allure of 3D, and the subsequent box office grosses it elicited, were too much for even an auteur like Alfred Hitchcock to ignore; releasing Dial M for Murder three-dimensionally.

When the crazed cooled by the end of the 50s, many people thought it would eventually find resurgence and perhaps even be improved upon. Well, it totally found resurgence…in the exploitation industry. What we got over the last decade were a series of shysters who decided that if sex sold tickets, it stood to reason that 3D sex would sell infinitely more tickets. Therefore, the 42nd Street crowds were subjected to multidimensional atrocities like Stewardesses and Andy Warhol’s bastardization of the Universal Monsters called Flesh for Frankenstein. So instead of reviving 3D, this resurgence amounted to an ugly, awkward flailing before it ultimately, unceremoniously expired.

Good riddance! I’m sorry to the children of the 50s who frittered away their hard-earned allowances to watch The Creature from the Black Lagoon slime his way into their laps. But the fact of the matter is that 3D is nothing more than a cheap gimmick designed to divorce chumps from their cash. It is fodder for directors who, like William Castle, became more carnival barkers than actual artists to pad out meager scripts and shoddy productions with fantastical devices that made a mockery of film as an art form. I imagine the pioneers of 3D being transported to a grind house theater to watch The Stewardesses and experiencing what Oppenheimer felt when he watched the atom bomb tests.

The fact is that 3D, in the extreme unlikelihood that it should ever stagger back to life, will never be legitimized. It is as important to film as multiple cup holders in the seats or free toys distributed as you exit the theater. I admire the scientific experimentation and the thirst for advancement inherent in those who forged the technology, but the corruption of the innovation has left it permanently stained. 3D will always be a lowly, gaudy window dressing that adds absolutely nothing to film. I can’t imagine a situation where 3D would actually enhance the viewing experience because we’ve reached the limits of its scope and the fruit it bore was indeed sour. There is no way a studio would be able to improve upon 3D without spending upwards of $50 million and I just don’t see any of them shelling out that kind of green for such a meaningless gimmick.

So I implore you, the good theater-goers of America, to just let 3D rest in peace. I shudder to think of the consequences of its resurrection. Being that the go-to genre for this gambit is horror, we would be in a fairly precarious position as fans. When I think of my favorite horror films of the 70s, I can’t abide the idea of Halloween, Jaws, or The Amityville Horror in 3D. Luckily that is a baseless concern as Amityville‘s story precludes any type of sequel, and the well of sequels has already run dry for the other two. So I for one will happily chuck my red and blue glasses into the garbage and look forward to someday, in the distant future, reading dissertations from young film students regaling the pop culture footnote that was 3D.


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