I took my nephews & niece to see Monster vs Aliens yesterday & when I was checking the screening schedule I also had to decide whether we should see the 3D version or the ‘normal’ one. We ended up seeing the normal one & I enjoyed it as much as the kids did (& great sound FX work! Check the interview at Film Sound Daily) and check out the trailer:
But it got me to thinking about what the actual benefits are for seeing films in 3D, especially when you think about how much effort some directors are putting into developing the format. Take James Cameron for example, in this news item/sales pitch he states: “Stereo production is the next big thing,” he said. “We are born seeing in three dimensions. Most animals have two eyes and not one. There is a reason I think.”
Not to be pedantic but no we aren’t born seeing in three dimensions actually, we are born seeing in black & white & in two dimensions. But what interests me is this ‘next big thing’ phenomena – is it really the next big thing or is it the emperors new clothes, recycled at higher rez?
Slate Magazine dismisses 3D movies as having a fundamental flaw: “Here’s one theory for why 3-D movies have failed to catch on in the past. It’s not because the glasses were “cheesy” or because the projection systems were crude. It’s not because the movies were poorly made. (Some truly amazing stereo films have been produced, like Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder.) No, the bubbles always pop because 3-D movies hurt our eyes. We may not notice the discomfort at first, when the gimmicks are still fresh and distracting. But eventually, inevitably, perhaps unconsciously, they creep off the screen and into our minds. It’s happened before and it will happen again: At some point soon, 3-D cinema will regain its well-earned status as a sublime and ridiculous headache.”
Now that is a very good reason to maybe not dismiss the format but at least put it in a category where it belongs: 3D movies are like a theme park ride. You might happily go on one every six months or every five years or whatever but they are not about to replace ‘normal’ film making as the primary means of enjoying cinema.
But I have a different issue with 3D films – the 3D films I have seen are un-cinematic. Let me backtrack a bit because I am also going to diss HDR photos for the same reason. In my humble opinion, the raison de’atre of cinema is to engage with the story, as a human being. When it succeeds I believe cinema is the ultimate artform, because it involves the combined work of every artform in existence & it engages all of our senses, but for it to truly succeed the audience MUST be able to forget all of that & simply engage with the story. There is a technical term for this phenomena: Suspension of Disbelief
It seems to me 3D films are about something other than this – they are about the spectacle of it all. But my primary issue with 3D is about one of the departments that makes film work: cinematography. I have been lucky enough to work on a number of NZ films where the DOP (director of photgraphy) role was filled by either of the two NZ masters of cineamtography: Allan Bollinger and Leon Narby. Their presence is felt in every frame of every shot; the composition, lighting, camera movement, focus.
Now its this last technique, focus, that drives me crazy in 3D films. See a cinematographer uses focus as a story telling device. How they control depth of field & when they ‘pull focus’ sometimes conveys as much emotional information as the entire soundtrack & yet most people are totally oblivious to it. The problem as I see it, is that 3D films are attempting to trick your eyes into focusing two discrete offset images into a single three dimensional image. When this is a static image your eye can wander around and enjoy the infocus elements, but when the image is moving the out of focus elements hurt. Your eye tries to pull them into focus & of course cannot. Now the only way to diminish that effect is to have most of the shot in focus, thereby destroying one of the most beautiful aspects of cinematography: the use of shallow depth of field.
Its a similar analogy to my bugbear with HDR photography – if you don’t know the technique it involves shooting 3 versions of every photo, each at a different exposure & then combining them so everything is equally exposed, heres an example:
To my eyes, it is like candyfloss to my tastebuds – it feels unphotographic because again it is ignoring one of the fundamental techniques of photography: exposure. Everything is overlit, overexposed & it looks like bad VFX – fake!
Now I totally appreciate that any technique in the wrong hands can be unpleasant & I also appreciate taste comes into it – some people like candyfloss. But its odd when something is touted as the new big thing and yet you can’t find an example of where it actually works better than the old new thing. Maybe its still an ape in its evolution to becoming a rugby player & many many generations later to becoming a man?
I am totally prepared to reserve judgement but I will be very very interested to see James Camerons 3D film Avatar and see if he can actually deliver a cinematic 3D film that is as pleasurable & engaging as a ‘traditional’ 2D film.
The revolution will not be televised… and it probably wont be in 3D either…