3D or not 3D

It was billed as the greatest technological advancement to cinema since sound (completely overlooking the colour revolution) and is the way that all films will be presented in future.  Glossing over the fact that the 3D revolution has had a couple of aborted coups in the 70's and 80's there's room to actually look at the 3D revolution and ponder exactly what's it all about and whether it's anything more than a gimmick.

James Cameron's Avatar was the front runner of this new wave, a 3D experience that would completely change how you watched film.  How you felt about 3D and would probably make the real world one thousand times more mundane after viewing.  I haven't always been a fan of Cameron's work, I find his work one tone and overly simplistic (Aliens) at best and at worst just appalling (Titanic) so it was with much debate that I put my money where my mouth typically resided and paid to see Avatar in 3D.  Not only was I absolutely blown away by how completely underwhelmed I was by the Eco-Smurfs meet The Matrix but this new way of viewing films left me genuinely confused.  Was it just me?  Everyone's raving about 3D, it's the best thing since Sunday trading if most people were to be believed so why was I so completely and uttered allergic to it?

My issue with 3D, and it's one that you might think is nonsense but it's mine, is that were all the directors, actors, producers etc are blabbering on about how it'll place you in the thick of the action I find that it does the opposite to me.  Masters of film making like Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg know how to stitch an audience into a film.  It's a long standing and well practised device in the editing process.  If you look at the shower scene in Psycho or the first dinosaur assault in Jurassic Park you will notice that both films have something distinctly in common...you can't help but be sucked into them.  The reason for which is the editing, the number of individual shots that are quickly pieced together and in doing so places the audience inside the film.  Alternatively the long shot, like that of Orson Welles in Citizen Kane or The Magnificent Ambersons does the opposite.  Turning the attention now to a 3D film like Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and the editing process is sedated.  Rather than having the events stitch you into the film the inclusion of 3D makes you constantly aware that you are watching a film as objects and individuals "appear to come straight at you" (they don't really but that's apparently how the perfect 3D should work) and in doing so only draw your attention away from the narrative and the delicate process of stitching the audience into the film and replacing that relationship between audience and the film with a "oooh look at all the things coming towards your face" "you could almost look behind Alice".  I'm assuming most people live in the real world so why does 3D on screen carry such appeal?  Are they lacking in depth of field at home?

So why are so many films being made in 3D?  The answer is simple to be honest.  When it comes to Hollywood it's always been a case of keeping up with the Joneses.  One Studio can't appear to be behind another, even if the technological advancement is to the detriment of the art form.  Cameron makes the "movie he was born to make" with Avatar in 3D so other studios jump on board the bandwagon.  Next step the cinema's technological upgrades need to occur in order to screen in 3D and (like the Studios)  no cinema wants to be left behind so they all kit out their projection booths with 3D projectors and the need is created.  I've spot to the technicians who travel from multiplex to multiplex installing the equipment and they'll be the first to acknowledge how absurd the whole thing is.  We all know it's a load of bollocks but everyone's getting paid for it.

It appears now that the 3D revolution has spread outside the shores of the United States as Korean monster mash Sector 7 due for release in a matter of months will hit our cinema screens in...3D.  Likewise local film maker George Clarke has been tinkering with past production The Knackery to present an unnecessary 3D version of the film and of course George [Never Miss a Chance to Flog a Dead Horse] Lucas is busy 3D-ing all six Star Wars films in preparation for the grand rerererelease that will net him another $1 Billion and leave cinema goers wondering how they ended up in their local cinema having paid over the odds to see a film they hated in 2D some ten years earlier...as if some tinted glasses could make Jar Jar Binks better. 

There is some hope out there that the whole world hasn't gone 3-fuckin-D crazy.  The final installment of the Harry Potter franchise has snubbed the notion of 3D in favour for the much more palatable IMAX, likewise destroyer of IMAX cameras Christopher Nolan won't be offering up any Bat Signals in 3D as The Dark Knight Rises will not be available for audiences in stupid glasses.  

3D is not the revolution that the industry would like you to believe.  Would Citizen Kane be a better film if the snow globe broke and spilled out into the audience?  No, it wouldn't.  A great film is a great film regardless of the number of dimensions but a bad film needs as many gimmicks as possible to sell it, think Drive Angry 3D and you will see what I mean.  I'm sure a lot of people enjoy 3D and that's great for them, well done, but 3D is not the way forward for an art form too often hampered by people simply wanting to make a quick buck from it.  It's no more a revolution that the idea of smellavision ala Polyester.  


Lazarus Lupin said...

The process of 3d has become cheap enough and quick enough to gloss over even a film not shot in 3d, that it has become something of a faux spectacle. It's like those old TV shows that would loudly proclaim "IN COLOR!"

Lazarus Lupin
art and review

Alfred Welles said...

While I largely agree with your analysis, I think 3D can sometimes work with films. I remember seeing a documentary about the International Space Station in 3D at the Imax and it really gave a sense of the marvellous structure that the space station is.

Anyway, 3D in cinema is often just a gimmick, as you say, and certainly not a necessity for film.

Knifed in Venice said...

I completely agree, I remember watching the same documentary and one of the visitor centres in Rome have an excellent history of Rome in 3D which is hugely enjoyable but for narrative cinema I find it all a bit cheap, commercial and soleless. Am amazed it's not just be, I've been told I'm a bit of a filmic spoil sport so good to see there's others. Perhaps we could form a group for the protection of the 2d visual arts

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