The Mysterious Island and the revival of 3D

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – the (loose) sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth – is hitting theaters on February 10.

Early reviews are decent for what the film is: a fun family diversion with The Rock, and a droll, witty Michael Caine, not to mention liberal uses of 3D for the sheer sake of it.

It is definitely quite a trip to look back on the movie that cemented the 3D revival, Avatar, right before the verdict came in on one of the biggest gambles in Hollywood history. As you may recall, the first Journey was the first big scale 3D flick that helped break the ice for the still rapidly evolving technology.


Indeed, it was the first big modern 3D movie out of the gate, and there was a good retrospective piece on all this in the now defunct magazine Portfolio. 

The article begins with an unhappy Jeffrey Katzenberg, who launched the whole 3D revival. He was hoping 5,000 theaters would be 3D ready ASAP, but by the time the animated DreamWorks film Monsters Vs. Aliens came out in 2009, there were “maybe” 1,500 movie-houses ready. As Maney wrote, Katzenberg realized “if 3D doesn’t hit big, he’s going to look like the guy with 10,000 unsold Segways in a warehouse.”

When Journey to the Center of the Earth opened on July 11, 2008, approximately 1,000 theaters were able to play it in 3D. Cary Granant, co-CEO of Walden Media and an investor in the film, was hoping for 1,700. 

Then Mike Thomson, an executive for Malco Theaters, told Portfolio, “We need to give people something they can’t get at home.” Hitting the nail on the head even harder, he said, “3D is a piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the magic bullet.”

The primary goal of Hollywood has always been getting “asses in the seats,” probably now more than ever. As this article points out, the secondary markets have saved a lot of movies, but now it’s become the primary market for movies.

Having seen Journey before its release, writer Maney called the 3D “compelling and easy to watch.” He saw it wearing big glasses, which Journey star Brendan Fraser called “a little Buddy Holly,” not the floppy cardboard ones of yesteryear.

Back in the early days of 3D, it was a feasible Hollywood gimmick because the glasses were cheap to manufacture. Dolby makes the aforementioned Buddy Holly style specs, which cost about $40, and they have to be returned at the end of the movie, and good luck getting them all back from everyone who sees a movie at a huge multiplex.

At this time, there was a big game of chicken with the studios and the theaters. As Maney wrote, “Theaters don’t want to invest until Hollywood does, and Hollywood doesn’t want to invent until theaters do. Once both invest, the industry hopes to create a positive-reinforcement cycle.”

Obviously, the first 3D movies that came along with Journey weren’t much to crow about, like Monsters Vs. Aliens, remakes of the horror films My Bloody Valentine and Piranha, and Robert Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol and Beowulf. 

But Avatar indeed knocked it out of the park, and with Hugo leading the Academy Award nominations and showing even greater possibilities of what you can do with the format, like it or not, 3D may indeed be sticking around for a while.