When Hollywood sees a moneymaking opportunity, the studios are quick to churn out movies and TV programs in order to get their share. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily; the target audience is provided with a great deal of affordable entertainment, and a lot of industry personnel are put to work. However, as is often the case, trends are taken too far – too many movies shot entirely in front of blue screens or “torture porn” horror movies, for example – before studios decide to move on to the next big thing.
As is often the case, it is behind-the-scenes technology that makes many of these trends possible. For example, in the mid-1980s, many movie fans were upset by the fact that the Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) had purchased the broadcast rights to more than 100 Hollywood classics with the intention of colorizing these old films. Just because it is technologically possible, people said, doesn’t mean it should be done. In my opinion, the same can be said today about adding 3D visual effects to old movies.
As I write this, studios are scheduling to re-release “The Lion King” (Sept. 2011) and “Top Gun” (sometime in 2012) in 3D, and many other 3D re-releases certainly will follow. Granted, the technology behind these endeavors certainly is fascinating – as was the colorization process in the 1980s – but is it really necessary? These movies have stood the test of time on their own. Some may even refer to them as classics, or “new classics,” though I’m not arguing they are on par with “The Wizard of Oz” or “Casablanca,” which were colorized by TBS. Back then, the outcry was over messing with Hollywood history and potentially destroying a director’s original intent. (Who’s to say what color clothes the actors wore, or what colors were used in set design, purists asked.)
Today’s issue, however, seems to be solely about money. But will audiences really pay to see these movies in theaters again – movies many people already own on DVD – just because of a few added VFX? Based upon the popularity of recent movies filmed with new 3D cameras, such as “Avatar” (which made more than $2 billion worldwide) and “Alice in Wonderland” (which grossed more than $1 billion worldwide), the studios seem to think so. But re-purposing a movie as 3D is not the same as a movie shot in 3D. Perhaps the studios believe the younger demographic, which fills most theater seats these days, doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the difference. There’s no doubt the new 3D technologies are bringing people to their local movie houses, but I believe that pushing out old films with added 3D effects diminishes the updated technology’s contemporary appeal.
I very well may be proven wrong upon the re-release of “Top Gun” and movies like it, but until then, all I can think about when picturing old 3D movies is “Jaws 3-D.” And that’s an unpleasant memory in more ways than one.
Update: "The Lion King" in 3D is doing well at the box office. It debuted with an estimated $29.3 million, well above industry estimates.