It's now been just over a week since audiences across the globe were treated to the first trailer of 'Avatar: The Way of Water'.
Here in Ireland, audiences attending the premiere of 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness' were granted a rare exclusive as they were the first audience in the world to see the trailer in IMAX 3D.
It was a curious sensation putting the 3D glasses on after so long. They came in the exact same wrappers as before, they sat uncomfortably over prescription glasses, and they were tossed in the bin outside as soon as the show was over. Yet, when they were on, the screen sparked to life with vivid colour and exquisite detail. The oceans were as blue as the sky, and the alien creatures shimmered with all of the CGI splendour we could expect. The glasses came off, and the movie everyone came to see quickly started.
In the post-pandemic world of cinemas, nobody's really sure what constitutes a box office hit anymore. Sure, you've had the likes of 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' and the upcoming 'Top Gun: Maverick' is sure to make a killing, but beyond that, it's not entirely clear what's making out with audiences. Social media is an unreliable barometer of sentiment, reviews such as the ones we dole out can be ignored out of hand, and streaming stalks cinema at every turn. The kind of big-budget, all-3D extravaganza that 'Avatar: The Way of Water' is promising feels exactly like the kind of thing that's destined to fail.
Yet, 'Avatar' still holds a firm grip on the total lifetime box office records. In ten years since its release, 'Avengers: Endgame' was the only one to come close but still missing it by a margin of close to $55 million. If nothing else, 'Avatar: The Way of Water' has James Cameron fired up and prepared to do his best and to silence those who say 'Avatar' made no cultural impact in the decade or so since its release. What's more, all of the original cast have returned and fresh talent has been added to the roster in the form of Kate Winslet, Michelle Yeoh, Jemaine Clement, and Edie Falco.
It's no secret that 3D has died a quiet death in the intervening years since 'Avatar'. In 2021, only 19 movies were released in Irish cinemas that could have potentially been show in 3D. None of them were filmed in 3D natively. Legend3D, which provided 3D conversion work for studios like Disney and Paramount and worked on 'Avengers: Endgame' and most recently 'Eternals', filed for bankruptcy in the final days of 2021. Beyond Disney and 'Avatar: The Way of Water', none of the other studios are planning to output a native 3D movie any time soon. 'Avatar: The Way of Water' stands alone in the field.
The old maxim was that if you couldn't make it good, you could make it 3D. Studios reaped short-term rewards from 3D as cinemas were encouraged to schedule 3D showings over 2D in order to boost box office figures. Despite these proactive measures, however, audiences actively sought out 2D screenings and fewer and fewer movies came to cinemas with 3D as an option. By 2015, 3D had all but disappeared from most cinemas. Now, seven years on, 'Avatar: The Way of Water' wants to encourage audiences back to the forgotten format. The only question that really matters is whether or not audiences are prepared to embrace 3D once again.
On that note...