Like it or loathe it, the new year in movies will be dominated by one thing: 3-D.
The runaway success of James Cameron’s sci-fi opus “Avatar” — featuring the least bothersome 3-D I’ve ever experienced — just about guarantees that studios are going to look long and hard at every upcoming project to gauge whether it will benefit from the new technology.
There’s no fighting it. Given a choice between 3-D and flat versions of the same movies, audiences are overwhelming in their support of 3-D — even though theaters typically charge $2 or $3 more for it.
The 2010 lineup is thick with 3-D titles (dates are subject to change): Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (March 5), “How to Train Your Dragon” (March 26), “Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3-D” (April), “Shrek Forever After ” (May 21), “Toy Story 3” (June 18), “Despicable Me” (July 9), “Step Up 3-D” (Aug. 6), “Megamind” (Nov. 5), “Tron Legacy” (Dec. 17).
The makers of the “Jackass” series have announced that their next collection of painful stunts is being shot with the same 3-D camera developed by Cameron for “Avatar.” It’s due out Oct. 15.
Classic movies will get a 3-D makeover. In 2011 Disney will re-release “Beauty and the Beast” in 3-D, and the original “Night of the Living Dead” already has undergone the transformation. George Lucas reportedly is reissuing the entire “Star Wars” saga in 3-D.
And don’t get too attached to those lightweight polarizing glasses required for 3-D viewing. The industry is furiously at work creating 3-D projection requiring no glasses (although who knows if it will pan out).
All this is good news for movie exhibitors who have poured millions into digital projection in an attempt to win back audiences siphoned off by hi-def TV and video games.
It’s not such good news for the movies themselves.
Given a choice between making three conventional films or just one big-budget 3-D effort, I’m guessing studios will opt for the latter. And it goes without saying that the 3-D films will be pure popcorn, aimed at an audience inclined to respond more to visual stimulation than to meaty content.
Nor is it good news for that small minority of viewers who find even the best 3-D nausea inducing. When every auditorium in a multiplex can show 3-D, the day is fast approaching when certain films just won’t be available in flat 2-D. It’s 3-D or nothing.
Until “Avatar,” most of us regarded 3-D as a pleasurable gimmick. Expect the gimmick to become standard operating procedure.
What else has caught my attention for the new year? Check out these titles:
“Crazy Heart”: Jeff Bridges is being viewed as an Oscar contender for his turn as an alcoholic country music has-been. (It opened in some cities this month and arrives in others Jan. 22).
“Shutter Island”: In this creepfest from Martin Scorsese, a Boston detective (Leonardo DiCaprio) investigates a crime at an isolated facility for the criminally insane (Feb. 19).
“Alice in Wonderland”: Lewis Carroll’s fantasy has defeated every filmmaker who’s taken it on. Now Tim Burton is planning a sequel of sorts, with teenage Alice going back down the rabbit hole. Can Burton and an all-star, motion-captured cast (Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall) succeed where even Walt Disney failed? (March 5).
“Green Zone”: Director Paul Greengrass excels at re-creations of real events (“United 93,” “Bloody Sunday”); he also made the last two Bourne thrillers. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with this story of a rogue Army officer (Matt Damon) on the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East (March 12).
“Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps”: Two decades after his Oscar-grabbing “Wall Street,” Oliver Stone returns to the saga of Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas), the Attila the Hun of investors. It’ll be fun to see what the never-reticent Stone has to say about our recent financial shenanigans (April 23).
“Iron Man 2”: Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as a selfish inventor and millionaire who becomes a superhero in a flying metal suit, with Don Cheadle as his friend Col. Rhodes and villains played by Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell. The first film was terrific; let’s hope they don’t mess up this sequel (May 7).
“Toy Story 3”: Don’t we all have a soft spot for Buzz, Woody and the other residents of the toy chest? Pixar hasn’t messed up yet (June 18).
“Knight & Day”: Fugitive couple Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz race around the globe in this action/comedy from James Mangold. The trailer is intriguing, at least (July 2).
“Salt”: A veteran CIA agent (Angelina Jolie) goes on the run when a defector accuses her of being a double agent. This stuff usually leaves me cold, but I’m intrigued that Phillip Noyce (“Rabbit Proof Fence”) is behind the camera (July 23).
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I”: The final HP book is arriving as two films . It’s the beginning of the end for a great movie series (Nov. 19).