3-D cannot make a sucky movie better (“Avatar” notwithstanding)

The first movie I saw in 3-D was “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” I jumped when one of the actors fired a harpoon into the audience. It was the first interesting thing to happen in that film, and also the last.

Brian SantoAnother big wave of 3-D in the ’80s crested with “Jaws 3-D,” memorable for only one thing: Lou Gossett Jr. barking “Get that fish!”

Twenty years later, 3-D is back. The technology is still frequently used only to induce viewers to duck, but the directors of films such as “Coraline” and “Avatar” deliberately refrained from hurling things at your face in favor of exploring how to use that third dimension to draw you into the film.

Hollywood loves 3-D because Hollywood has come to thrive on spectacle, and 3-D can be spectacular (see “Avatar”). TV makers want to sell 3-D TVs to those able and eager to drop $10,000 on a new TV every year. Service providers should be able to profit from pumping 3-D content to those same folks.

Stewart Schley, in his column this month, suggests why 3-D TV won’t be taking off any time soon, however (see “The coolest technology ever”). 

Schley addresses the short term. I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument that 3-D TV is going to be that big of a success in the long run, either.

3-D does enhance “Coraline” and “Up,” but those films are interesting even in 2-D. The problem with 3-D is that it cannot make a sucky movie better (see “Avatar”).

Meanwhile, 3-D isn’t going to add much to character-driven stories like “Sunshine Cleaning” or “(500) Days of Summer.” And there’s little reason to make episodic programs, newscasts and talk shows in 3-D. So for a long time, 3-D content is likely to be limited to film spectacles and sports. And maybe porn, heaven help us.

Then there are the glasses – OK for the occasional movie or football game, but viewers are not going to don goggles for casual viewing. And keep in mind that roughly half of all Americans need corrective eyewear, and wearing 3-D glasses on top of prescription glasses is uncomfortable.

3-D is indisputably the next big thing. I just can’t see it becoming as big as HD. Maybe it doesn’t have to, but still.