When the original Avatar came out, people flocked to the theaters for many reasons, but one of the biggest was the technological breakthroughs in CGI and 3D that created an immersive world on screen.

One thing that didn't change after that movie was released was the resurgence of 3D. While some titles came with a 3D choice, none seemed to use the technology as well as James Cameron had, and those films didn't break out as expected.

But as the second Avatar movie finally plans a release date, 3D is coming back with it. This has to make theater owners very happy. Not only is a large-scale title bait to get butts in seats, but the 3D tickets, which cost more, are a giant money-making opportunity. 

Disney’s chief of global film distribution Tony Chambers said in a recent statement, “At a time when people are used to being at home watching content, anything that encourages them to go to theaters has to be a positive for us and the industry in general.”

Theaters are in a battle with streamers. The pandemic crushed ticket sales and broke a lot of the norms we were used to. We're still on the road to recovery, and a movie like this presents a special opportunity for theaters to make money and bring people back. Everything is built around the idea that experiencing it in 3D will be groundbreaking. So is it? 

Jon Landau, Cameron’s producing partner at Lightstorm Entertainment, said in a statement, “We believe 3D creates a more immersive experience in our narrative storytelling. We don’t play 3D as a world coming out of a window. We play it as a window into the world.”

He goes on to describe the reason they filmed in 3D, and why he encourages people to see the movie that way, saying, “We are giving people something that they cannot get anywhere else. We need the exhibition community to be supportive of that and to understand that we are competing with different technologies than are in people’s homes.”

After Avatar, there were certainly imitators. But most of those movies were not shot in 3D. They were post-converted, using mediocre tech to change images. This would distort frames, darken colors, and didn't work out the way filmmakers wanted.

These are all things Cameron does not do with his Avatar movies. 

Imax Entertainment president Megan Colligan said of the 3D craze that died down, “There were a lot of lessons learned. You’re not going to see every movie converted. We are really working with the studios and exhibitors to figure out how to get people used to it again. James Cameron understands the medium—3D creates a richer, deeper experience when it serves the story. Intention is everything.”

3D isn't just betting on Avatar. This year, we're seeing an uptick with Dr. Strange, Lightyear, and even the new Jurassic Park: Dominion all getting the 3D treatment in cinemas. If they do well, the road will be paved for Avatar: The Way of Water to bring 3D back to the mainstream, and to help theaters offer another thing people cannot get at home. 3D TVs are expensive and rare, and many people want those experiences on the biggest screen possible. 

Of course, theaters need 4K projectors capable of showing these kinds of movies. They have to have high brightness and color too. That can be expensive to own and maintain. But the revenue might justify it. And directors need to shoot for 3D, since the glasses naturally dim images. Cameron combated that by shorting 48FPS at times. These are all details in an ongoing war to get people back to the movies

We'll see how it plays out and if our saviors come from Pandora once again.