Cameron’s 3D space war epic, Avatar, is currently scheduled for a Memorial Day 2009 release. The distance between now and then isn’t only important for Cameron to actually make the damn thing, but for enough theaters to be equipped with the kind of 3D display technology needed to actually show it. There are about 700 screens able to show 3D films now, and it’s expected that by the time Avatar hits, there will be 5,000 available.

Or will there be? Dreamworks has also set their major 3D entry, Monsters vs. Aliens, to come out that same weekend, and animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg says that he wants EVERY 3D screen… and then some. He’s actually looking for 6,000 screens on Memorial Day 2009.

It sounds like there’s a helluva game of chicken being played here. Part of what’s on the line is the bragging rights to the title of ‘First 3D blockbuster,’ and both Katzenberg and Cameron have been pretty bullish on the new technology. Katz has announced that all Dreamworks cartoons will be in 3D from now on, and Cameron has been pioneering 3D systems in his underwater documentaries. And while these two vehicles are heading for the cliff, the theaters are standing with their backs to the precipice. Either movie could be a huge winner for 2009 – hell, both movies will surely be major moneymakers. So how do you choose which one to show?

The truth is that it’ll probably never come down to that. If I was a betting man, I would bet that Cameron doesn’t make his date while Katzenberg’s animation sweatshop manages to put out Monsters vs. Aliens in a pretty timely manner. And if I was still betting after that, I would bet that 3D is just as much a fad now as it was in the 50s and again in the 80s.