Since 3-D films were first introduced in the 1950s, they have functioned more as a novelty than a practical storytelling device. However, more than 50 years (and a lot of advances in technology) later, a new wave of 3-D is bringing forth a new frontier in filmmaking.

Led by veteran directors Robert Zemeckis and James Cameron, the medium is gaining more respect than it ever did in 3-D’s second wave in the early ’80s, when fuzzy knives and blurry sharks came at the audience like slow, predictable punchlines in horror films.

Today, as seen throughout Scrooge’s journey in Zemeckis’ “Disney’s A Christmas Carol,” the 3-D effects can still be intrusive. However, most of the visual tricks add substantial depth to the film’s computer-rendered streets of London.

 

Meanwhile, “Avatar,” Cameron’s epic about humans exploiting foreign resources on another planet, has been rumored to have cost as much as $500 million to make. Though Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairman Jim Gianopulos recently dismissed that figure as “ridiculous” in an interview with Reuters, the film does use unheard-of camera and computer technology that may change the future of filmmaking. Gianopulos said he has no doubt the film will turn a profit, which may mean that 3-D could finally prove to be much more than a gimmick.