Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Two Old Men Discuss 3D

I was on the bus when I overheard a conversation happening directly behind me, which I try to avoid as it distracts from whatever book I am reading, but these two old men were discussing film (which I am studying after all) and how little they liked 3D film.

"The technology isn't new..." one said, "I remember seeing a 3D film when I was young." Which was possible as the first 3D films came out nearly 60 years ago with the Man in The Dark being the first 3D film by a major motion picture and the original House of Wax film being the first 3D film by a major American studio 2 days later, both in 1953. Unlike it's remake in 2005 starring Paris Hilton, it had actually talented actors in it such as Vincent Price. Fun fact: the director, Andre de Toth, only had one working eye and thus was unable to see the 3D aspect of the film.

They were in agreement that 3D wasn't that interesting of a thing. It hadn't even made any advancements in technology, which I initially thought was wrong because we'd changed from red-blue glasses (anaglyph 3D) to ones with polarised lenses but turns out that this is merely my limited experience. I remember things like Spy Kids 3 in Anaglyph 3D and it seemed normal for that technology until recently with things like Coraline and Avatar to have polarised glasses that had completely replaced blue-red. Turns out that polarised lenses were actually far more popular and widespread even in the 50s 3D craze (which suddenly makes me realise just how hipster-ish it is to wear red-blue 3D glasses in the 50s).

Remarkably the old man is up to date with his information about 3D films. I listened on, no longer pretending to read my book but simply looking forward and smiling as I wondered whether or not I should join in on his derision of 3D films. Next he mentioned 3D TVs, which didn't seem popular. "There just aren't that many 3D films" he said. Well the amount increases yearly, thanks to the re-invigorated 3D craze jump started by Polar Express and more recently commonly attributed to James Cameron's 2009 record breaking blockbuster Avatar.

But 3D isn't this quick and easy way to making a billion dollars at the box office despite past examples to the contrary. The 2004 film Polar Express might have had 3D sales outweigh 2D sales by 14 to 1, but this trend has decreased over the years. 2D tickets for Kung-fu Panda 2 were greater than 3D. RealD, a 3D technology company, had an %11 drop of shares in May 2011. But 3D isn't dead or dying, it just isn't the most amazing big thing any more. But it seems to be growing according to this article. Before 2008, US 3D films accounted for %3 of film revenue, then in 2009 it was %16.3 (I might remind you that Avatar was released in 2009) and %31.4 in 2010. So there appears to be some conflicting evidence around the popularity and success of 3D. It is reserved only for big-budget films though, which are pretty much guaranteed box office success. Think about it, more and more action films are in 3D, and why wouldn't they be? Big explosions in 3D would be so much more awesome than a deep period-drama in 3D - though I am glad this means we will probably never see the works of Jane Austen in 3D, for that would be a horrific fate for her works. So 3D can't help but rake in the big bucks while less popular films are left to the conventional grace of 2D. This means we won't be plagued with 3D films wherever you go and there will still be lots of 2D entertainment for those of us who don't care for 3D, or get headaches from the glasses. Don't worry though, if the future of film is that all films are forced onto us as 3D then you can always just buy some of Hank Green's (of vlogbrothers fame) 2D glasses that allow you to see 3D films in 2D!

But I believe that people choose 3D because they're enthusiastic about the film not the 3D. Avatar was a cinematic "event" in a way and seeing it in 3D was just part of enhancing that experience, to pull you further into that world. Other 3D films don't get to market themselves like that.

In my opinion 3D used to be gimmicky, with things reaching out of the screen for a cool use of the 3D, but now it is just a thing used to enhance mise en scene. It serves to add a new level of artistic control to the perceivable depth to a film and varies dramatically throughout a film. So when people watch it, still expecting things to reach out to them like in films like Spy Kids 3, they are disappointed, and inevitably notice the lack of depth during a scene that was specifically not designed to have depth. People become disappointed, thinking that the 3D was terrible. I don't think people really realise the purpose of 3D over the past few years as opposed to 3D films in the days where something would alert to "put your glasses on now" for the specially prepared 3D section ("Whoa! Reaching out of the screen wow!" moments). People just don't care about 3D any more because it has lost its novelty and audiences don't understand the artistic point of it, just as the average audience doesn't appreciate how stylistic the lighting is. Perhaps a lot of directors misusing it and putting it in because of it's current trendiness is adding to this problem. People who deconstruct the elements of films as they watch them will appreciate the subtlety if they look for it, but I doubt lots of people will care for any 3D sequence that doesn't involve action. Go to any movie premier where both 3D and 2D are shown at the same time and you will see which one is most popular by far and I don't think it's just because of the slight price increase for tickets.

As a general rule I have decided upon I won't see any film that was turned 3D in post-production as it just isn't worth it. The process is less effective at getting depth the same way as filming in 3D. I learned this the hard way from watching Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 3D. It was like watching cardboard cut-outs with light-sabers move around the screen... which was what it was like beforehand, but now it costs even more to be disappointed by. So because of this rule I am allowed to get excited about The Hobbit in 3D. It was filmed with special rigs that allowed Peter Jackson to adjust the depth of 3D as he was filming it which means if anyone is going to get the 3D right, it'll be this film... I hope.

Although, as you can tell, I have a somewhat negative view of 3D in general, I will say that I think it really suits stop-motion styled films like Coraline. It looked amazing in 3D and I really think the models that fight for the illusion of depth in sets that are effectively a few feet long can really benefit by the additional help of 3D technology.

"So Matt Newton is spending a lot of time in Miami jail..." said one as the two men had finished agreeing with each other over how little they cared for 3D. And just like that the conversation continued on, with the mention of 3D quickly forgotten as it was some fad they'd seen come and go before and would live to see go again...

Even if it isn't the most interesting of innovations in film technology I definitely believe it is here to stay. And it will churn out some amazing examples that will be heralded for decades to come... but it certainly will have a ton of bad and cheap examples before then.

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