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Double Vision

Despite “Avatar,” most of the new 3-D movies will reach out to audiences with the past.

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As financially and artistically successful as James Cameron's “Avatar” has been, and despite the buzz that it could take this year's Best Picture statue at the Academy Awards, you're not likely to see a three-dimensional Daniel Day-Lewis drama any time soon — though doubtless the Weinstein Co. missed an opportunity with “Nine.” Forget Zoe Saldana. Imagine Fergie in 3-D, although it would be hard to beat the promotional copy to Howard Hughes' 3-D musical from 1954, “The French Line,” starring Jane Russell: “It'll knock both your eyes out!”

The resurgence of 3-D has been building steam only slowly during the past decade, and “Avatar” is still in theaters. It's too early to predict the long-term consequences of 3-D's newfound success, but in the short term it's clear that the technology will mostly knock eyeballs out with recognizable material, even while ostensibly offering the latest in action, sci-fi, fantasy and animation entertainments.

 

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“Curiouser and curiouser.” Improved 3-D is supposed to take cinema to new and exciting places. So why are we contemplating the release of something like “Alice in Wonderland,” (above) and “Tron Legacy,” (below). Photos courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

The only guarantee about the upcoming crop of live-action 3-D movies is that you'll recognize a lot of the content and might even have seen some of it before, including, possibly, “Titanic” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” — not remade but reissued someday soon in 3-D. And even that's nothing new. Seeing the irony requires no special glasses. While the blue-and-red era of the 1950s was thought to signal a future that quickly faded into posterity, the new technology — more sophisticated and integrated into the broader advent of digital filmmaking — mostly promises to aid the current, largely profitable practice of raiding the past.

The 2010 release schedule is rife with retreads and remakes, 3-D applied here and there as if by coin toss, an enhancement that might seem arbitrary to outsiders while Hollywood sorts out the financial benefits and applies its usual wait-and-follow approach. And whereas “Avatar” was conceived with 3-D in mind, most upcoming 3-D movies, like the next two “Harry Potters,” are unlikely to have their content altered by the process. That goes double for the movies, like the March “Clash of the Titans” remake that apparently got sent back after filming for the 3-D treatment.

If 3-D is here to stay in some standard or other, and for some reason or other, the 3-D reissue is on the verge of exploding. Disney, set to release “Alice in Wonderland” and “Tron Legacy” in live-action 3-D this year, rereleased Pixar's “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” to theaters in 3-D back in October, as it did with Tim Burton's “A Nightmare Before Christmas” several years ago. George Lucas reportedly has been pondering 3-D Lukes and Leias in 3-D reissues of the original “Star Wars” movies for years, and now Lucas isn't the only one. Those “Avatar” billions no doubt have knocked many a producer's eyes out, including its maker's. If Steven Spielberg really is working on a 3-D that requires no glasses, how long before digital Reese's Pieces are intermingling with the ones in your hand?

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Although it's easy to predict that hubris and greed eventually will produce a 3-D disaster, the potential to turn any movie into something 3-D-esque — regardless of need and even after it's been made — makes you wonder if 3-D will survive its own success or go the way of other big-screen innovations. Some already grumble that the enhanced ticket prices demanded by 3-D releases are, as one Web commenter put it, “a cheap cash grab.” It's no wonder audiences would be suspicious because even the stately “Avatar” was released in too many different 3-D formats of varying quality for most people to know which one they were getting.

Most of the critical judgment applied to the 3-D in 3-D movies has centered on its propriety, whether it, say, enriches a scene or, tastelessly in some opinions, sends the scene flying at them. But that could change. Iron Man, inexplicably, is (so far) scheduled to reappear this year solely in 2-D, but even Carrie Bradshaw could be 3-D in 2011. Three-dimensional fatigue is only one concern for the reboot- and sequel-fatigued moviegoer. Waggle things over our heads if you want, as long as some of them are new.

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