Whenever you say something like this one often gets accused of being something of a luddite, as if an objection to 3D is somehow anti progress, the product of an unwillingness to change. Well maybe in a small part that’s true with me, I do react to being pushed by corporations to accept their latest toys and the situation is like this at the moment. I have an Unlimited card for Cineworld cinemas, in fact I have the posh black card that means no mark up on 3D films, but I still want to see the films in 2D, and I do whenever I can. But this is the thing, 2D screenings of films that have been released with 3D options have plummeted in numbers and not because no one wants to see them. I hear so often that people would rather go to the 2D showing often because it’s not worth seeing in 3D.
Currently at my local cinema with films that have a 3D version the ratio is approximately about three to one in favour of the 3D option. This is not a helpful situation for someone who dislikes 3D films. There has been a trend towards coercing the public into watching 3D versions of the films, I suspect the format hadn’t taken off nearly as much as the studio’s had wanted, and it’s rather disturbing to see that the film makers themselves are being forced into making these films 3D as well. It appears the most enthusiastic 3D supporters are, surprise surprise the studios who get to sell their tickets at a higher premium, though in the interests of honesty there are some big name directors who love 3D (Ridley Scott, James Cameron and Michael Bay). There were rumours as well that the 3D process was liked because it helped make it difficult to pirate the films with a camera in the cinema (wouldn’t a filter on the camera defeat that protection?), I’m not convinced it does though and frankly it seems a piss poor excuse for the whole débâcle. Dredd 3D: No 3D isn’t all about poking stuff in your face… and I’ll shoot anyone who disagrees!
My practical objections to 3D are these. The idea that this is how we see the world in real life and that’s why it is a logical step are confounded some simple observations. We do not see the world in the way a camera presents it whether in 2D or 3D, we get to choose what we see and are not forced to look in a certain direction in the way a film naturally makes us, any claims that having stereoscopic images suddenly makes it convincing seem kind of overstating its effect especially when the majority of 3D films feel like (and actually is practically closer to) those old school parallax effects we got back in the 8 bit computer days, a series of overlaid flat surfaces that vaguely feel 3 dimensional . The art of cinema is about fooling us visually, that’s why studios spend so much money on SFX, why directors work so hard at placing the camera, reality is not an issue when it comes to film and besides the ‘reality’ that 3D offers is so often clunky at best even when all the money in the world is thrown at it, Avatar for instance often looked great and the 3D was lovely (distractingly so on occasions) except in a few scenes of live action where again it all got flat. As a child I always remember one particular scene that felt 3D despite clearly being not, it was the drive into the trench during the final battle in Star Wars, it was dizzying and much more effective than any 3D had ever been in my experience. The 3D process just isn’t necessary for creating depth, that’s something that can be done really well by a good cinematographer.
As a film making tool it offers little to nothing to the film experience when you think about it. Colour, something that people bring up as a comparative advance in film, has demonstrable and clear contributions to make beyond the reality argument. You don’t have to look any further than the current trend in horror of colour shifting the image to begin to see this. Directors de-saturate colour, over-saturate colour and some times favour one colour (usually a primary) in order to affect the feel of the film, suggesting a range of emotions or sensations that the image couldn’t deliver if in black and white. Of course there is the obvious example of Schindlers List where the one and only colour appears in a significant moment or The Sixth Sense where a colour is an important clue in the film. That colour, that use of colour is very important to the film. What does 3D offer of this nature to the film. For me at least at best there is a textural addition as is best demonstrated in Avatar but having stuff fly at the screen or poking out at the audience offers no substance to the film itself other than a cheap thrill at best which will have a very short shelf life in the originality stakes. Clearly the use of 3D has undergone a transformation in how it is professionally regarded, at least by the studios, and its use is often more restrained and less hokey than back in the old days but it is doing the very same things as it was then, poking things at the audience. And it can only be like this, the nature of the technology is such that the illusion is blown by the limitations of the frame. The 3D effect is confined to the boundaries of the screen meaning that whenever the 3D object strays outside that frame either as it projects out towards the audience or retreats into the screen, it breaks the illusion. A text book example of the use of colour as an important part of film making (Schindlers List)
This means that unless the director keeps the action very central on the screen then the illusion can be destroyed very easily and very often. One solution is to surround the audience entirely with the image, at least their peripheral vision, but that’s not what we have, even with IMAX though I haven’t seen a 3D IMAX film yet. So you get stuck with a limited field in which the 3D is effective as an illusion, it’s technical limitations are such that it means that the most depth can be achieved only in the centre of the screen, hence why there ends up being a lot of poking crap at the audiences faces.
Next there is the fact that as a general rule we do not appreciate the 3 dimensional aspects of our vision in day to day life anyway other than when we physically interact with the world around us, grabbing a door handle, picking up an object etc. We simply do not notice until it is taken away from us or something extraordinary happens that we have this depth perception and our depth perception is very limited anyway. So why would it be important that a film recreates something that, while useful when we physically manipulate our environment it doesn’t figure much in our general experience of the world around us and certainly doesn’t figure in how we engage with an image on a screen with which we don’t interact with physically anyway? Have you noticed when you watch a 3D film that have that ambient 3D, that 3D that is there all the time and is meant to add texture to the image that the effect kind of slopes off quickly…. If you are like me then it takes about ten to fifteen minutes of watching the film before the illusion seems to slip away into the realms of not feeling any different to watching a 2D film until something happens to remind you that you are watching a 3D film, usually something again poking through the screen at you. In this regard it could be argued that 3D only works properly when it’s distracting you, that’s not something that sounds appealing to me as someone who wants a film to draw him in. The industries delusion of how 3D looks……. This is of course impossible!
In 3D the object cannot stray outside the virtual frame that is formed by the viewers position and the edges of the screen. While depth behind the screen can occur more freely (subject to some limitations) forward projection is severely limited.
Then there’s the retro-fitting of old films with 3D. Apparently Titanic wasn’t good enough in 2D, apparently it would benefit from having a post production 3D makeover despite the fact that it was designed and filmed as a 2D product, apparently it’s not to do with being money grabbing revisionist piss takers who want to bugger about with perfectly good films that they haven’t been able to remake in an inferior fashion and in the case of Star Wars ep1, well you simply cannot polish that turd. Maybe they are responding to complaints of the lack of depth of the majority of films by misunderstanding what we mean by depth. Retro fitted films simply look terrible for the most part, they’re as convincing as a pop up book but then I feel very much the same about movies actually made in 3D too. It’s particularly the rereleasing of films that were originally 2D in 3D format that bothers me though. Star Wars episode 1 was bad enough but the thought of yet another revision of the original films bothers me for a number of reasons and would surely make them officially the most buggered about with films series in history. Thankfully this seems to have been shelved for the time being at least.
Then there’s idea that all this makes the experience more immersive which seems ridiculous to me. Being connected to the story emotionally is what draws you in, not the SFX, not the CGI and certainly not the 3D treatment. 3D for me has had at best a temporary effect on me, like I say usually about 10 to 15 mins of the ‘Immersive’ style of 3D and I don’t really notice it any more until it reminds me that it’s in 3D which is usually the point you go “Oh that was nice/crappy 3D”. If you are thinking about it then the 3D is intrusive and distracting….NOT IMMERSIVE. Like jump scares in Paranormal Activity it becomes something that removes you from the story, that makes you aware that you are watching a movie and like jump scares it’s a cheap trick to try and make the audience react, except it’s not cheap, it’s really bloody expensive and we the audience have to pay for it. This insistence about how it creates an immersive world seems distinctly at odds with the fact that we already had immersive worlds created in film. Take Ridley Scott’s Promethius, this is what co-writer Damon Lindelof had to say about the choice of making the film in 3D…
No Mr Lucas… It wasn’t a lack of a third dimension that made this movie unpopular.
Promethius: Too many floaty things on the screen at once!
“I feel any movie that’s going to be in 3D has to answer the question, ‘Can you justify this being in 3D? Why should it be in 3D?’ I think the answer to that question for Prometheus is it creates a very immersive environment. The idea that you’re in sometimes very confined spaces, sometimes very wide open spaces. But the only way to trick your brain into feeling you’re in the movie, going through these experiences with these characters, is that the 3D helps bring you into that immersive environment”
Well excuse me, weren’t the scenes in the original Alien perfectly described by the word ‘claustrophobic ‘, and without the aid of 3D? There are numerous examples of films that very successfully place the audiences in very tight or very open spaces without the need for 3D, in fact in open spaces particularly 3D becomes artificial in feel because we just don’t appreciate the stereoscopic component of 3D after a couple of hundred metres at best, that’s when we rely on other tricks our brains process like parallax and of course our experience of how big things are which help us judge distance. That’s part of the reason why if you walk across a flat desert plain it becomes very difficult to judge distance so I’m not buying the wide open spaces argument and the close tight spaces wasn’t a problem to begin with.
This is the problem as far as I can see it. Most of the arguments for 3D seem to either be trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist or that can be solved by existing techniques. Again the main thing it brings to the table is to poke things at the audience (with varying degrees of subtlety… or indeed lack of) and to give a more striking texture to the picture, other than that it’s simply rattling keys in the audiences face and distracting them from more important issues like a good story and good cinematography.
It’s forcing the hand of directors as to how shots are taken, things have to pop out more often, the sets have to be designed to make things appear in the foreground to highlight the depth and when it comes to the more mundane shots i.e. close ups of conversations for instance the whole technique is generally redundant.
This scene is immersive and involving without 3D. Would 3D make it better? Honestly?
And these are just a few of the practical problems and I haven’t even gotten into the issues some patrons suffer while watching these things, headaches, nausea, problems perceiving the 3D, discomfort with the glasses and not least in my experience issues with the projection (messed up placing of filters, no filters at all, ghosting, the brightness issue). Other than this there is the fact that studios are now forcing directors to make 3D films whether they want to or not. It’s a deal breaker in the opening stages of making the deals, not ‘is the director right for the project?’….it’s ‘will you do it in 3D?’ if not then you can move right along unless you’re Christopher Nolan. Does this sound like a healthy way to make films? It certainly doesn’t to me. They just don’t care if 3D is right or wrong, it’s just that they’ve spent so much money pushing it they have to make it succeed at any cost. Look at the words that studios use when explaining why they go with 3D and the phrase ‘Economic reasons’ will make a frequent appearance.
Apparently ‘at any costs’ applies to us the patrons too and ‘The customer is always right’ is not a phrase the studios accept. In the face of opposition to the enforced normalisation of 3D their response has been to turn the screws on anyone who doesn’t like it by making big films essentially unavailable in most places in anything other than the 3D format and more normally by reducing the screenings of 2D versions to such a degree as to coerce people into the 3D showings thereby massaging their viewing numbers to such a degree that they can fraudulently justify the continuation of the format. Yes I said it, fraudulent. This astonishingly aggressive push for 3D is at our expense to justify the studios decision to go with what was always no more than a fun gimmick and make it mainstream and they need the figures to show us how 3D has been growing more popular when in fact it’s that it’s more often the only choice other than to not go see the film. I’ve now moved towards not going to see these films at the cinema, they lose my ticket money. While I have no illusions that I by myself will be able to change their minds I also refuse to be part of the studios game. If that means I miss the blockbuster films on release then so be it. It would be crass of me to demand others do the same but if you don’t like this 3D format being forced on us then vote with your your ticket money and eventually they will have little choice but to start listening when their precious big budget summer blockbusters start losing money. Sadly that’s probably a pipe dream.
Just to clear up some potential criticism, I’m not ‘anti advances’ in cinema technology. I think IMAX is a great format, though insanely expensive and maybe the studio’s should be looking that way instead of this expensive gimmick that advances near to nothing in terms of film making. I also have nothing against digital in either projection or recording, so my concerns are not technology based, it based in what seems to be the foisting of a frivolous addition to film making that seems motivated by less by good intentions to make films better than it is to not admit the format is to all intents and purpose a waste of time, effort and money for the most part. It’s time to write this 3D fad off as a mainstream idea and start concentrating on making new and original films of quality. But then again even that seems a pipe dream these days.