‘Mars Needs Moms’: does flop mean 3D is history?

No one at Walt Disney is sure why this $175m movie has dropped them in the doo-doo

BY Ben Riley-Smith LAST UPDATED AT 16:51 ON Mon 21 Mar 2011

Spring has barely arrived and yet already the film industry is reeling from what promises to be one of the biggest flops of 2011. Mars Needs Moms, the latest children’s animation from Walt Disney, cost the studio $175 million to make and market. Earlier this month, its US opening weekend grossed less than $7 million.
The figures alone are alarming enough, with Mars looking set to join The Alamo and Eddie Murphy’s infamous The Adventures of Pluto Nash on the list of Hollywood’s biggest financial failures. But one fact in particular has sent ripples through the movie business: Mars Needs Moms was released in 3D.   
Since James Cameron’s Avatar stormed the box office on its release in December 2009, 3D has been Hollywood’s goose that lays the golden egg.

2010 became, as one Empire writer subsequently put it, “The year that 3D took over”. Dozens of films were released or redacted to incorporate a third dimension, and it’s easy to understand why; one recent industry estimate said that 3D was adding an average of 20 per cent to a film’s box office takings.

So what, the experts are asking, does the failure of Marstell us about the 3D fad?
For the New York Times, the failure symbolises a wider rejection of 3D technology as a whole. "In the movie business, sometimes a flop is just a flop" wrote Brook Barnes. "Then there are misses so disastrous that they send signals to broad swaths of Hollywood. Mars Needs Moms is shaping up as the second type.”

Barnes suggests that after a whirlwind love affair, audiences are giving 3D the cold shoulder.

Others are less apocalyptic in their criticism, saying it is 3D’s premium price rather than the medium itself which consumers are rejecting. Often 3D cinema tickets are 30 to 40 per cent more expensive than regular films. “People are getting fed up with having the surcharge and not getting the goods," 3D film director Ben Stassen told the Independent. The target audience for Mars Needs Moms – children and families – may have been particularly price-sensitive.
Alternatively, some people are legitimately asking why the failure of Mars is being taken to reflect 3D at all? Could the poor box-office not just be a result of the glut of children’s computer-animations flooding the market right now? With Gnomeo & Juliet and Rango still showing in cinemas, and the much anticipated Kung Fu Panda 2 just round the corner, was the timing just plain wrong? Or maybe, as many critics have said, the story just simply isn’t very good and word-of-mouth has damaged its chances?
Walt Disney, it seems, are just as confused as the rest of us. Chuck Viane, the studio’s president of distribution, described the audience’s rejection of Mars as "scary" but was unable to pinpoint the cause. "Was it the idea? The execution? The timing? There are a lot of excuses being floated."
Whatever the reason, we’re unlikely to see Hollywood’s 3D fad disappearing any time soon. A host of titles are already lined up for 2011, not least Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the Belgian cartoon classic Tintin. And, as commentators have noted, 2010’s two highest grossing films – Toy Story 3 and Alice in Wonderland – were both released in 3D.

If the Mars Needs Moms flop has had an impact, it is this: no longer will Hollywood presume success can be guaranteed by wrapping second-rate scripts in three dimensions. · 

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