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Published on October 20th, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant

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To 3D? Or not to 3D?

While Gravity was one of the better films to have utilized 3D in the last few years, its use still didn’t really justify its inclusion to me.  In the wake of Gravity and the announcement of the likelihood of sequels to Avatar shooting in fall of 2014, I wanted to write another rant about the overall uselessness of 3D.  However, rather than dust off that old chestnut again, I thought I’d team up with Aren Bergstrom from 3 Brothers Film (another great movie site where Aren reviews movies with his erudite brothers Anders and Anton).  You see, Aren and I happen to disagree on the validity of 3D films.  So we thought it would be fun to do a round table discussion about it, each presenting our ideas as to why it is or isn’t necessary to the future of film.

CRAIG:  I’ll kick things off — if 3D was just a gimmick, I’d be fine with that.  I’m not a fussy old movie critic that just wants things to stay the same.  In fact, I’d love to see IMAX theatres replace all traditional theatres if we’re looking for a more immersive experience that needs to be able to go toe-to-toe with home theatre.  And I’d happily pay a higher ticket price.  But to me, it’s not a gimmick — 3D is much more nefarious — it’s a stone-cold scam.  We’ll get into the specifics of both arguments as we go, but here’s my basic premise.  3D movies are fed to us by studio marketing (at a higher cost per ticket) as something that enhances movies, but it actually makes them worse.  Moviegoers throwing down their hard-earned money should be treated to the best experience possible, and instead they’re being charged more cheddar to have a lesser visual experience.

AREN: Studio marketing is dishonest when it comes to 3D. However, 3D does not automatically make films worse. That is a matter of taste, and the knee-jerk reaction against all things 3D reminds me of reading about old movie critics in the 40s saying Technicolor was a scam. Yes, a poorly calibrated screen makes things darker. But what is 3D doing to the movies themselves? If the film was shot in 3D, like Avatar or Life of Pi or Prometheus or parts of Gravity, the 3D adds depth. Watching a movie is usually like looking at a picture on a wall. It has roundness, but it’s still flat. The best 3D makes a movie look like peering through a window. It gives everything depth and perspective. Think of how the 3D in Prometheus makes the tunnels of the pyramid complex look like they recede into oblivion. These films are just not the same without 3D.

CRAIG:  In literally a handful of movies out of the hundreds released, sure, it has enhanced things.  But 3D doesn’t add visual depth in most films, especially in the cheap process used after the movie is shot in 2D and converted.  It looks like floating layers, like the 3D viewfinder toy I had in the 70s, because rotoscoping doesn’t actually add depth.  They do it because a $300,000 to $500,000 conversion will net them up to 50% more in box office, not because it enhances films.  I’m not against the idea of 3D being the future of cinema, but right now the technology isn’t at the point that we can roll it out en masse and charge an arm and a leg for it.

AREN: 3D shouldn’t be judged by the lowest common denominator of its products. While there are definitely cases like Clash of the Titans, where the 3D is a cheap pop up book, there are also cases like Hugo where a master decides to use it to achieve something new. Dismissing 3D because of how bad artists use it would be like dismissing black and white because people use it in their crappy Instagram photos. 3D is just another tool that a good director can utilize to enhance the film experience. Studios may not use it correctly and selectively, but neither do they use CGI correctly and selectively. That doesn’t mean I want CGI eliminated from film. I just want good directors to use it well.

CRAIG:  I agree in theory, but unfortunately, almost all the product is inferior as are the delivery devices.  I’m not against 3D as a concept; if Cameron and Scorsese pioneer better ways to see it, I’m in.  Improperly calibrated projectors may not be an inherent problem with ‘3D,’ but unfortunately, that’s the current reality we’re stuck with.  There’s also a 30% colour loss, walleye effects, and ghosting, and putting on a pair of cheap, dark glasses makes it worse.  Sometimes it feels like watching through burlap.  Until they figure out how to really do it properly, not even the masters can get around the delivery devices (and they’ve all spoken out against 3D’s ubiquitous bastardization).  We, the filmgoers, are stuck paying for an inferior movie experience.

AREN:  All inferior? Maybe I’m an anomaly but I usually prefer the 3D to the non-3D versions of films I see. The worst side effect of 3D I’ve ever experienced has been darkness as a result of a poorly calibrated screen, and that’s only happened a couple times among the dozens of 3D films I’ve seen. Colour loss and ghosting are not guarantees when seeing a 3D movie, or I would have noticed by now. I agree with you that the delivery method needs to be improved, but as I’ve witnessed at various film research centres, such as SIRT in Toronto (affiliated with Sheridan College, where I went to film school), the technology is getting better. Rapidly. But even if the technology needs improvement, I still think that with a good director and a good movie, the 3D version is superior. Avatar is meant to be seen in 3D, and is better in it.

CRAIGAlmost all.  I’d say colour loss is a guarantee — you’re putting on sunglasses to watch it.  But either way, if you’re glass full, then I’m glass empty — while a handful of movies like Hugo, Gravity, or Prometheus have some cool 3D visuals, I’ve only ever seen the full benefit in something like Avatar, where taking out the 3D changed the movie entirely (which is another debate we won’t get into today, but if you take away the 3D and the movie sucks, then you don’t have much of a movie).  We’re going to wrap this up now, but I think we got some great points out there.  While we still disagree on the level of the experience itself to some degree, I think we reached some common ground too.  As I said, I don’t dislike 3D as a concept, and sometimes it is easy to generalize, when what I really mean is, 3D isn’t yet at the level of delivery quality that warrants it being in multiplexes.  It’s usually a scammy money grab at this point.  But in a few years, who knows?  Heck, in a few years, we may be inside the movie, jacking right into our cerebral cortex like in Strange Days.  Any last thoughts or insights for you, Aren?

AREN: The idea of experiencing a movie like in Strange Days scares me. People have sick minds I’d like to stay out of. But yes, I think we found some common ground amidst the disagreement. I concede that the delivery system needs to improve — it would certainly be nice if there were no added darkness to 3D screens — and that charging more for 3D is nothing more than studio chicanery. I just think that 3D is good enough to warrant being in multiplexes, and that there are more than a couple directors who have utilized it well. Am I excited to see the next Marvel film in post-converted 3D? Not really. But when The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens in 3D at Christmas (in 48fps, worthy of a whole other conversation altogether), I will be in line. I would never sacrifice 3D in movies like Life of Pi, The Great Gatsby, or Coraline even if it meant having no cheap post-conversions in the multiplex. 3D brings some extra magic to the theatrical experience in an age when it’s lost some of its lustre. At least when going to see a 3D movie in theatres, you’re going to see something you cannot experience at home (3D Blu-rays are a far cry from the theatrical experience). In my mind, 3D is helping keep movie theatres alive, and that’s always a good thing.

 

Aren Bergstrom is an independent writer, director, and film critic hailing from Saskatoon, SK. He holds an English degree from the University of Saskatchewan and a certificate in Advanced Television and Film from Sheridan College. When he’s not watching movies or fancying himself a great director like Hayao Miyazaki, he’s writing stories, screenplays, novels — he’ll probably get around to comic books at some point soon, too. The small part of his life that isn’t consumed by stories (movies in particular) is filled with martial arts, religion, and alcohol. He writes about movies along with his two brothers at Three Brothers Film (3brothersfilm.com), a popular film site.

Tweets from @ArenBergstrom

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About the Author

is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.



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