Like it or loathe it, the new year in movies will be dominated by one thing: 3-D.
The runaway success of James Cameron's sci-fi opus "Avatar" - featuring the least bothersome 3-D I've ever experienced - just about guarantees that studios are going to look long and hard at every upcoming project to gauge whether it will benefit from the new technology.
There's no fighting it. Given a choice between 3-D and flat versions of the same movies, audiences are overwhelming in their support of 3-D - even though theaters typically charge $2 or $3 more for it.
The 2010 lineup is thick with 3-D titles (dates are subject to change): Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" (March 5), "How to Train Your Dragon" (March 26), "Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3-D" (April), "Shrek Forever After" (May 21), "Toy Story 3" (June 18), "Despicable Me" (July 9), "Step Up 3-D" (Aug. 6), "Megamind" (Nov. 5), "Tron Legacy" (Dec. 17).
The makers of the "Jackass" series have announced that their next collection of painful stunts is being shot with the same 3-D camera developed by Cameron for "Avatar." It's due out Oct. 15.
Classic movies will get a 3-D makeover. In 2011 Disney will re-release "Beauty and the Beast" in 3-D, and the original "Night of the Living Dead" already has undergone the transformation. George Lucas reportedly is reissuing the entire "Star Wars" saga in 3-D.
And don't get too attached to those lightweight polarizing glasses required for 3-D viewing. The industry is furiously at work creating 3-D projection requiring no glasses (although who knows if it will pan out).
All this is good news for movie exhibitors who have poured millions into digital projection in an attempt to win back audiences siphoned off by hi-def TV and video games.
It's not such good news for the movies themselves.
Given a choice between making three conventional films or just one big-budget 3-D effort, I'm guessing studios will opt for the latter. And it goes without saying that the 3-D films will be pure popcorn, aimed at an audience inclined to respond more to visual stimulation than to meaty content.
Nor is it good news for that small minority of viewers who find even the best 3-D nausea-inducing. When every auditorium in a multiplex can show 3-D, the day is fast approaching when certain films just won't be available in flat 2-D. It's 3-D or nothing.
Until "Avatar," most of us regarded 3-D as a pleasurable gimmick. Expect the gimmick to become standard operating procedure.