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3-D screens stall despite success of 'Cars 2'

"Cars 2" always had the pole position at the box-office last weekend. But it remains the Pixar franchise that pundits love to underestimate, so its socko ticket sales must have been especially gratifying to its director, Pixar chief John Lasseter.

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Its take would have been even higher had 3-D screens been performing the way they did a year ago. But they accounted for only 40% of the gross, on a par with a string of recent 3-D disappointments, including "Kung Fu Panda 2" and "Green Lantern."

Right after my piece on "3-D fatigue" appeared in Sunday's A&E section (click here), I started to receive emails like these:

"3-D movies certainly aren't worth the money.  We've taken our granddaughter to two of them, and I thought perhaps it was just because of my age, but even our 38 year old daughter felt it was a waste of money.  Give me the flat screen version any day."

And

"The current '3D' movies are just novel for the first few minutes, then it's just ....nothing to get excited about. There's no anticipation of something coming at you ...right off the screen."

Pixar's use of 3-D is artful and subtle compared to its competitors'. As "Cars 2" character supervisor Bob Moyer explained to me (for my interview with Moyer, click here), this studio actually minimizes the 3-D in big chase scenes where it would be too confusing or abrasive and maximizes it in scenes where the process allows the audiences "to move their eyes around a little more and explore the space." Moyer loved the 3-D in "Cars 2" in "the nice big establishing shots for Tokyo And London, where you can really feel how big the cities are."

But audiences are voting that his kind of genuine aesthetic enhancement and the mediocre gimmickry of most sci-fi or fantasy films aren't worth the bump in price for 3-D admissions. Most moviegoers I've interviewed say that when they see a 3-D film, they want the blatant comin'-at-you kicks of old 3-D movies like "House of Wax" -- and at today's rates, even those cheap thrills might prove to be too expensive.

The summer's big test for 3-D comes Wednesday: "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," by Michael Bay, a director who knows what he's doing -- and knows that what he's doing isn't subtle. Will he satisfy fans of old and new 3-D and expand the following for the format? Stay tuned.

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