I should be excited about 3D. I mean, I like technology. I don’t sit at home hatching robot conspiracies when Apple debuts its latest toy (but I’m not standing in line at 6:00am either). When I was a kid, I consumed mass quantities of Cap’n Crunch, mainly because it is amazing, but also because the Cap’n himself promised me cheap 3D glasses that I could use to watch the newest Crunchberry Beast commercial.
So when 3D experienced its mainstream resurgence in 2003—oh yes, 3D has a long history going back to William Friese Greene’s two-screened, stereoscope debacle in 1894 (you can view the timeline in John Patterson’s 3D film history overview for the Guardian UK)—I was ready. I wanted to like it, I really did. I happily forked over the extra 5-7 extra dollars, expecting a different and better film experience.
I was disappointed.
Over the years, that disappointment has deepened to dislike, and finally, to disgust.
And it’s not just because of the dirty glasses that they parcel out. Every time I perch a pair of IMAX/RealD glasses on my face I imagine a thousand other oily schnozzles—like the face’s version of bowling shoes—resting in that same spot. And ok, so they say they pop them in industrial dishwashers, or have the 10-year-old behind the counter wipe them down with soap and water (this according to The Explainer on Slate.com). I, however, am not satisfied. I swear I saw hard-water stains (at least, I hope that’s what they were) on my glasses during the midnight showing of Avatar in IMAX 3D.
I’m not alone in this—the modern phenomenon of 3D polarizes film-goers and critics alike—from the “Oh God, I hope this is a fad” group to the “Dawn of a new age” proponents. Let me kill the suspense. This ain’t a fad. It’s been in the making for over 100 years and technology is just beginning to catch up with the wild ambition that everyone saw in Cameron’s eyes while he filmed Avatar. At this point we have to ask ourselves, a la Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcom in Jurassic Park, if we’re not so preoccupied with whether or not we can to stop and wonder whether or not we should. And, really, what does 3D have to offer?
I ask this in light of and in comparison to the other larger innovations of modern film— everything from recorded voice, color, and CGI—and I wonder if 3D isn’t like adding an extra eyebrow on a face—unsightly and unnecessary.
3D is dark.
In fact, it’s about 50% darker than 2D films. According to the father of modern 3D, Lenny Lipton (also the writer of “Puff the Magic Dragon” (no, I’m not kidding)), viewers lose half their light due to the simultaneous projection of two pictures, burned out lamps and poor projector choices by your local theater, among other things. His suggestions, outlined in his “Modest Proposal for 3-D Projection” are: smaller screen size, high-gain screens (non-metallic screens that increase brightness), earlier lamp replacement, better film projectors (i.e. costlier projectors), and scope projection (use an anamorphic lens, no cropping). Sounds great Lenny, I’ll just march myself right up to the local theater and demand that the 9 year old manager replace the screens and lamps in his theater, and buy better film projectors. While I’m at it, I’ll ask him to stop showing films by Michael Bay.
3D films give me headaches.
At first, I honestly thought my cranial stress was due to the fact that the movies sucked. Step Up 3D, Clash of the Titans, Avatar—at their conclusion I found myself simultaneously rubbing the bridge of my nose and scratching the top of my head, wondering what just happened and why I paid to watch it go down.
Then I discovered that my eyes were rebelling against 3D (and bad film in general). According to a report done by UC Berkeley, “3D violates the normal rules of perception” Normally, our eyes converge when we look at an object that nearby and diverge when we look at something in the distance, all the while focusing. 3D is asking for more. It says, here, focus on the screen, but converge on this bubble popping over there, or the spear/finger/piranha that just flew out at you. The strain of doing so creates for many a feeling of nausea, fatigue, and…headaches. Walter Murch (legendary film editor) sums it up brilliantly in his letter to friend, Roger Ebert—who posted said letter on his blog, along with an articulate rant on 3D.
3D has no merit.
Alva Noe, in his NPR write-up on the technology argues, “3-D special effects have about as much to do with storytelling as a punch in the stomach has to do with giving you what you want.” This is the over-reaching argument—above and beyond the gripes of cost and the visual acrobatics it asks of us—it all comes down to what it does for the medium. The answer is a resounding NOTHING! I can’t think of one film (if you can—please prove me wrong) where 3D actually added anything substantive to the film that I was watching. Is it integral to the plot? No. Does it immerse me more in the film? No. That’s the job of the story, the cinematography, and the actors. Think of the sunset in Gone With the Wind, or the moment Dorothy steps into OZ, and into color. Color adds to the film. Consider the lines “Here’s looking at you, kid” or “Rosebud”. Now, imagine them as quotations in a silent film. Sound adds to a film. Now show me where shards of glass flying out of the screen, drops of Slurpee winging past my eyes, drifting balloons meandering on the edge of the screen, and comically outstretched hands add to a film. They don’t.
Also, check out the video from British film critic Mark Kermode, on his blog Kermode Uncut.