Jun 7, 2010

Self Destructing Fads

I finally realized what this whole revival of 3D movies reminds me of: Pogs.

Stay with me here.

I knew I'd seen this scenario before, I just couldn't place when or where...

Hollywood studios are currently rushing to get the majority of their movies either filmed in 3D or converted in post to a kind of half-assed pseudo-3D. They are led by the belief that audiences not only want this, but that viewers will pay up to $5 more per ticket for the luxury of wearing those fancy plastic glasses and enjoying a dimmed, but extra dimensional, picture show.

It doesn't matter if the 3D effect will actually make the film be more enjoyable. It doesn't even matter if the 3D fits with the style and content of the movie. The only thing that matters is that they can advertise each new release as "showing in 3D" and not be the last kid on the block who hasn't gotten with the program. It's a blind stampede to capitalize on a new fad, one that has so far shown itself to be incredibly lucrative for them.

At first this reminded me of when Toy Story first came out. It was a phenomenally popular movie and it instantly legitimized computer animation as a serious film making technique. It also put the final nail in the coffin for traditionally animated "family" films, which had been steadily losing audiences for years. The problem was that the studios couldn't understand what made the movie so popular. It never seemed to occur to them that it was because it had a great plot that was well written, skillfully directed and performed by a talented cast of voice actors.

All they could see was that Toy Story looked drastically different from all of those other animated films that had been losing money. They noticed the least important factor of the movie, the fact that it had been animated with computers. So, of course, over the next couple of years we were treated with a plethora of shitty computer animated garbage, disguised as "family entertainment." They pumped out an endless stream of dull, unimaginative movies and sequels, all computer animated and trying to copy the "Pixar look" as closely as possible.

It's painfully obvious that the exact same thing is happening right now with 3D in films. Avatar was a huge success, and instead of looking at the content of the movie to discover what made it so popluar, the studios have all decided that it must have been entirely due to the 3D effects.

Much like the CG films that attempted to imitate Pixar animation never approached the same level of quality, the 3D films being released now are often hastily put together and the effects just don't compare to the visuals in Avatar. While this might not matter to the general moviegoing public, it's managed to ruin quite a few movies that would have been perfectly fine without the added tinkering.

Here's the thing that really drives me insane though. Movie theaters around the country are tearing out their old screens and setting up expensive new equipment designed to show 3D films. Manufacturers of high definition televisions have stopped working on advancing the quality of the picture, and have begun to focus on producing HDTV's that are designed to show 3D content. Even game consoles are busy working on methods to display games in 3D, despite the fact that this can only be done by drastically reducing the quality of the graphics. There's even a damn newspaper that thought it would be oh-so-clever to have an issue that came with 3D glasses.

Listen. Everyone needs to calm down and think about this for five minutes. I know it seems like 3D is the next huge thing, and everybody is talking about it...but just stop for a second and ask yourself, "Will an average person put on 3D glasses every time they sit down to watch TV at dinner? Is it a good idea for children to be wearing 3D glasses for 5 hours at a time when they play games? Will a bunch of guys drinking beer and watching a football game actually wear 3D glasses the whole time, and not feel like idiots?"

This is what brings me to pogs. I was only 13 when these things came onto the market, but even then I remember being skeptical. There was nothing cool or interesting about them...they were little cardboard discs that had pictures printed on them. They weren't collectible or fun, but we were constantly assured that they were in fact SUPER fun and so totally collectible. Actually, the first time I remember hearing about them was on the news, there was a feature on this crazy new collectible game that all the kids were into. I was curious about this, considering that I was a kid that would be in the target market for these things and I'd never even seen them before.

Soon enough, a few kids brought them to school and then of course everybody else had to get some, just because. Aunts and Uncles would give pogs as gifts for birthday presents, because the employees at the toy store informed them that these were the hot new item that every boy and girl wants. Every possible cartoon character was immortalized in Pog form, you could get pogs in cereal boxes featuring the sugary mascots, there were pogs with video game characters, athletes, and just generic designs and colors. They were fucking everywhere.

Here's the thing though...kids were never really that into these things. Pogs were never actually "popular", they were just plentiful. It was widely believed that these were the next big thing, so every company and studio absolutely needed to get their licensed characters and property converted into Pog form. All this did was oversaturate the market with a flood of colorful cardboard discs. The huge production numbers just killed any perceived rarity, and there was no quality control since they were manufactured by so many different companies. No one cared if the pogs were actually a good product, it was enough that they were pogs.

I've noticed extremely similar trends with the current 3D fad. No one releasing a 3D film seems to care what it actually looks like, as long as it's in 3D. That's enough, and they think that audiences won't notice or care. TV manufaturs and theater owners seem convinced that we all want 3D content, just like our Aunts and Unlces were confident that we would love a set of Simpsons pogs as a gift. No one is demanding 3D content, it's just being provided. If you release films with special features like that, of course audiences will go check it out. People aren't picking 3D movies over traditional films, you only need to look at the opening weekend performance of the latest Shrek 3D embarrassment (roughly $71 million) and compare the numbers to Iron Man 2, which was mercifully left in 2D (about $128 million). How can that beeeee? I thought all blockbusters need to be in 3D to compete?

If the studios had kept their cool and released one or two big budget 3D blockbusters a year, they could have built up massive anticipation and excitement. They might have shattered records with each new release, and it would have been a truly "special" experience to see a 3D film that was filmed using actual, proper 3D equipment. It could have been marketed as a "rare, major event." Instead, they got greedy and flooded the market with lackluster films that have been converted to pseudo 3D in post. The films studios are so busy pumping out what they think the audience wants that they've managed to make their product common and dull. Like pogs.

(All pog photos lifted without permission from various eBay auctions. Yes, people are still trying to sell these things on eBay.)

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