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Why 3D movies are falling flat this summer

'Avatar' may have paved the way for the next round of 3D movies, but few 3D films are finding success. Clumsy glasses, high prices, and soaring expectations are to blame, say industry experts.

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This level of disenchantment with a prominent technology suggests a problem, says marketing specialist Adam Hanft. “We are in a period of technology adoption where people are accustomed to learning about something new,” he says. The discontent over so much of the 3D landscape arises from a cognitive dissonance between the cultural expectation of progressive technology and the experience many are having in the theater.

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“The 3D gear doesn’t seem to be materially advancing while so much of the rest of the consumer technology we experience is evolving rapidly. There’s a new iPhone every few months, it seems like," he says. There is a level of dissatisfaction with the gear that isn’t offset by a significant value added to the moviegoing experience, he adds. Every new, transformative technology in recent history has had an accompanying marketing push to support the technology itself, something 3D lacks. Technicolor, for instance, he says, was sold to audiences as a value in and of itself, and contributed to its acceptance. “3D needs a trade group to sell it,” he says with a laugh.

The dip in enthusiasm for 3D is to be expected, says David Wertheimer, executive director of the Entertainment Technology Center at The University of Southern California. The timeline for the meaningful integration of such a relatively new tool is much longer than most moviegoers' attention spans, he points out.

Avatar produced a big rush of attention and everyone expected 3D to be the next big thing for all time,” says Mr. Wetheimer, but most of this summer’s slate of films were in production long before the James Cameron blockbuster arrived in theaters. He says the technology, which is transforming everything from sports events to rock concerts, videogames, laptops, and mobile phones, is here to stay. “It’s just going to take a little longer than some people might like to perfect it as a tool.”