Anglo Saxon epic Beowulf hits theaters Friday in a haze of speculation. Can cutting-edge motion-capture CGI animation, combined with 3D, turn a 1000-year-old alliterative poem about a monster-slaying warrior into the awesome? The answer is no. Studios rolling out 3D stuff for 2009 like James Cameron's Avatar, and the animated Monsters vs. Aliens are hoping Beowulf will be the test case that proves 3D is back. But it's really just a sad, last-ditch effort to pull people out of 3D video game worlds by using the 3D word, and it won't work.
You can't take a 1950s-era technology like 3D and hope it will compete with World of Warcraft. Sure, 3D really was the awesome when you could see that scary arm reaching out of the screen in Creature from the Black Lagoon in the mid-50s. Today, however, audiences are used to 3D that they can interact with. They're not going to come out to the theaters in droves just for a gimmick they can download for free with SecondLife.
Don't get me wrong — I think audiences will absolutely turn out for Avatar, and maybe even for Beowulf. (I'll be there tonight, with my 3D glasses on over my other glasses.) But that won't be for the 3D — it will be for the stories, and in the case of Avatar because they trust the James "Titanic" Cameron brand. If anything, though, the 3D crap will come across as cheese that's trying too hard and will make people less inclined to love these movies on its own terms.
Yeah, theater-going is dying out. People aren't buying movie tickets because they can stay home and watch Netflix or play Xbox. And the studios think that if they can just make theater-going special again, maybe with 3D, people will return to the old ways and go out to the movies on Friday nights like they used to back when 3D was cool. They won't. It doesn't mean we don't love movies, and it doesn't mean we won't still get excited about going out to see them opening night with a big crowd. It just means we love doing other things too. And all the 3D in the world won't change that.