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co- authored by Reba Harrison

I recently conducted an informal survey on the experience of 3D cinema. Due in part to the digital revolution in Hollywood just prior to 2005, 3D films have now become a staple of local Cineplex Cinemas. During the time leading up to writing this article, at the Peterborough Galaxy Cinemas, there were about three 3D films to choose from in a given week.

77 individuals participated in the short survey. 21 of these were surveyed at Galaxy Cinemas. To get more informative results, a larger sample is sorely needed. In further quantitative research, I would consider sets of questions about film genres and the 3D experience – several respondents noted that 3D is best employed in specific genres.

In the below summary, bolded phrases indicate the question on the survey. Thank you to all the respondents.

First of all, I wanted to know why individuals were going to see movies in 3D. Did they value the experience of 3D itself, regardless of movie (22% response)? Was it the movie itself that appealed to them, without reference to the dimensional presentation (34% response)? Or was it merely the scheduling that forces audiences into a particular screening (32% response)? Surveyed respondents could select more than one answer to this initial question, so we see that the appeal of a certain film and the scheduled time likely results in more 3D attendance. Several respondents made such a comment – they don’t actively seek out a 3D movie unless it is the only option available.

What does the 3D cinema experience offer? I suggested a few possible answers since it is sometimes difficult to describe your sensations or aesthetic judgments, and more than one answer was possible: 3D offers a heightened bodily experience (15%), better depth of field (24%), and has its own unique aesthetic and styles (36%). 16% also said 3D adds nothing to their film experience.

Most found the experience of 3D generally enjoyable, or that it varies (64%), while a smaller number found it rarely enjoyable or deplorable (25%). Very few believed the extra three dollars are worth the added benefits of 3D (10%) and in fact, many participants strongly believed it is not worth the extra cost (40%). Others thought it occasionally worth the cost or worth the cost on Tuesdays during cheap movie night (49%).

I thought to do this study inside Galaxy Cinemas with audiences of one title screened in both 2D and 3D. Without reason, Cineplex turned down my request to conduct research. The very small sample I collected in front of the theatre generated similar results, but perhaps a larger theatre sample might prove more positive attitudes towards 3D cinema: 33% of the theatre-goers said 3D was worth the extra cost while out of the general sample, 10% agreed that it was worth it.

One significant finding of the survey was movie attendance. Only three participants never go to the movies in a given year. Remarkably, almost half see six or more movies a year, with nearly a third going more than 10 times a year.

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I pulled these six+ movie attendees from the data. Most were going to see more 2D screenings than 3D. The simple answer is that there are more 2D screenings (20%), but a few individuals wanted to see more 3D (9%). A majority of participants actively viewed 2D screenings because they felt that 2D is superior and/or 2D is cheaper (58%).

Cineplex offers a reduced number of 2D screenings (or sometimes none at all) for their 3D films, and will usually schedule the 2D screenings in the afternoon. If a large percentage of the audience is going to the theatre to see a particular film, regardless of 3D or 2D presentation, the extra profit made from the 3D tickets certainly adds up over a number of screenings.

The data from the general group and the active cinema-goers unsurprisingly indicated that spectators want a more even split between 2D screenings and 3D screenings (38% and 46%). Further, in the general group and active cinema-goers group, a third even preferred more 2D screenings than 3D screenings. Lesser numbers believed that 3D films should be solely seen in 3D (24% and 17%).

Going to the cinema costs money – both spectators and corporation know this. The data suggests that customers are not satisfied with their experience of 3D for the price paid. Only 10% of the surveyed respondents were consistently pleased with 3D films.

In the comments section of the survey, there was some appreciation of 3D films with the caveat that superb, innovative 3D films are rare.

Several complained about the added cost and a few felt that 3D is a useless gimmick that distracts from the movie/story/acting.

Finally, the most frequent comment: people with prescription glasses have a hard time getting the 3D glasses to fit properly.

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I’m a recent graduate of the Cultural Studies PhD program. My research includes contemporary film, film theory, and the history of moving-image pornography. In addition to writing for Arthur, this semester I’m teaching in the Cultural Studies department (Intro to Integrated Arts) and Continuing Education (Writing Short Film Scripts). I also work at the Trend (come say hi!), among other small jobs as they come up.