I just saw Avatar’s re-release in theaters — and it reminds me why I hate 3D

Avatar promo image with Jake and neytiri learning to shoot arrows
(Image credit: Disney)

There’s no arguing with the fact that Avatar was the movie that finally sent 3D mainstream. Before Avatar, 3D movies were rare. It did exist outside tourist attractions and the occasional gimmicky release (Spy Kids 3D anyone?), but it wasn’t that common in regular movies.

Avatar changed all that when it generated $2.7 billion (opens in new tab) at the global box office. Suddenly there was a flood of 3D movies, whether hastily converted in post production or filmed in 3D from the get-go. 2D movies suddenly became the minority, and 3D only just started to die off in the past few years. 

I bring this up because Avatar has just been sent back to theaters, complete with remastered visuals and audio. And if my local area is any indication, the movie is primarily being screened in 3D. Seeing it in IMAX, with all the perks that offers, 3D is your only option 

Or at least it was my only option, as I didn’t want to travel the 30 plus miles it would require to see Avatar in IMAX. Instead I went to a Saturday night screening at my local multiplex, and boy do I wish I’d skipped 3D and tried a little harder to go to a 2D showing.

Avatar's 3D pricing is too expensive

I’ve never been fond of 3D movies, for a variety of reasons. One of the main ones was the increased cost of actually going to see a movie. It didn’t take theaters long to realize that they could get away with charging more for 3D screenings. On top of that U.K. cinemas started charging customers for 3D glasses, even in screenings that didn’t permit you to keep them at the end of the night.

Both those practices are still in force, as it turns out, but to varying degrees. My tickets were more expensive, but only by £0.50 ($0.54), which isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be. 3D used to cost a few pounds extra per ticket, more so at peak times - which 7.20 p.m. on a Saturday night would have classed as.

Movie theatre

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Then again, the only theater showing the movie in 2D was significantly cheaper. About half the price once you take the cost of parking into consideration, and you don’t have to spend £1.50 ($1.54) per person on 3D glasses. At least back in the day you could have brought a spare pair from home, but that wasn’t an option. The last 3D movie I saw was, if I remember correctly, Star Trek Into Darkness - which was released nine and a half years ago. 

That's £2/$2.08 extra. Not a whole lot, but enough so that I debated whether I should go and see Avatar in 2D, but the theater with 2D showings was part of a shopping complex in the center of town. Plus all the 2D screenings were in the middle of the afternoon, which is just about the worst possible time to drive into town on a Saturday.

The 3D effects did absolutely nothing for me 

For those who roll their eyes at the notion of an extra £2/$2 being a bridge-too-far, lets get down to the real problem at hand. I still wish I’d gone to see Avatar in 2D, because, frankly, the 3D effects had absolutely no benefit for me (or my girlfriend). If anything it just proved to be an annoying, albeit minor, distraction.

Credit it where it’s due, this is actually an achievement for me. I’m one of those people that has a tendency to get headaches with 3D movies, and the worse the 3D the worse the headache. It’s another big reason why I’ve shied away from the format for so long. Avatar had no such problems, barring a single instance where I felt a little sting between my eyes.

At no point did the format actually enhance my viewing experience. All while I had to wear a pair of 3D glasses, and keep my head up straight.

So whenever you see James Cameron railing (opens in new tab) against bad 3D movies, he’s got a movie to back up his argument. Even if he is worried that Avatar’s 3D will look “cringe-worthy (opens in new tab)” compared to Avatar: The Way of Water and its sequels.

I did notice the 3D was there at points throughout Avatar’s re-release, most notably when there was stuff falling towards the screen. Ash, flames, leaves, you name it. At those points I found the 3D incredibly irritating, and it’s at those points where I really wish I was watching a 2D version of the film. 

The rest of the time I either didn’t notice the 3D, or I saw some extra depth that I frankly didn’t care much about. At no point did the format actually enhance my viewing experience. All while I had to wear a pair of 3D glasses, and keep my head up straight. 

Tilt slightly, or pop those glasses off, and the whole effect turns into a blurry mess. It would have been pretty cool to be able to sit however the heck I like, and not have to wear cheap and chunk plastic frames for the duration of the 161 minute movie.

Avatar on the big screen is fantastic - but skip the 3D please

Avatar was a bonafide phenomenon back when it was released, and that’s how it managed to generate $2.7 billion at the box office. It took another 11 years for another movie to surpass that record, and even that barely counts. Not only did Avengers: Endgame have 20 movies leading up to it, it only “beat” Avatar if you deliberately forget to take inflation into account.

Of course Avatar dropped away from the cultural zeitgeist almost as fast as it arrived, and watching the re-release over the weekend made me realize why. Avatar is not a particularly original movie. Not only is the plot shockingly similar to Pocahontas and Dances With Wolves, it’s packed with cliches and cheesy moments that are pretty tired and played out. But it still looks absolutely fantastic, in a way that's lost on a smaller screen.

Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) in Avatar

(Image credit: Twentieth Century Studios/Avatar.com)

Believe me, I’m the absolute last person I’d have thought would admit this. I’ve already spoken at length about how I generally dislike watching movies in a theater environment. But when a movie’s visuals and design are the primary thing people like about it, watching it on a TV isn’t the same. 

Now I know why I soured on Avatar after watching it on Blu-ray, and I’m probably not the only one. Watching it on a 32-inch HD TV wasn’t the same as seeing that image on an enormous movie theater screen.

And you know what? It’s making me a little bit more excited for Avatar’s upcoming slew of sequels. I frankly couldn’t care less about it before, especially given how dull the first Avatar 2 trailer is. But seeing the re-release on a big-screen, with modernized visuals to boot, is making me want to buy a ticket. 

That was clearly Disney’s plan the whole time, and presumably why Avatar was pulled from Disney Plus last month. After all, there’s no better way to market the sequel than remind everyone why the original was such a roaring success in the first place.

I will, however, endeavor to see Avatar: The Way of Water, in 2D. Assuming I can.

Tom Pritchard
Automotive Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.