A quick note on 3D

Whilst I may be straying somewhat off topic here, I thought since the new Underworld film has been released in (not-so) glorious 3D, I should probably briefly say something about the (arguable) travesty of the form.

A long time ago, in the age where cinema tickets were cheap enough to go more than once a week, and films weren’t illegally available, or watched online, the possibility of 3D seemed like a tantalising technological advancement. Cinema was (and still is) about the experience of watching a film, and if 3D could enhance this experience by pushing more of our sensory buttons, then logically, our experience would be improved. In theory, it sounds like a good idea. 

In real life, the opposite seems to be true. I have yet to meet someone who is genuinely excited by the prospect of viewing a film in 3D (although most will concede that Avatar was more impressive in the format, but that is usually the limit). 

Perhaps it is because of these:
Uncomfortable and distracting....

That’s one theory, anyway. The glasses are a prominent physical reminder that you’re sat in a darkened room staring at a screen. It is somewhat alienating, and leaves viewers focusing on the effects they have paid extra for.

The figures speak for themselves:

And down we go...

There is, in colourful graph form, a display of the tailing off of 3D viewing figures. Cinema going has been decreasing overall, with multiplexes fighting illegal downloading, and the easy availability of films through other formats. But films still have an impact. What I’m saying is that 3D films don’t make much of a difference. People know and love 2D films – the picture is mammoth, the sound all-consuming. Why does another variable need to be thrown in to the formula? As for why audiences are turning away, well, I’ve already mentioned one theory. The other is the obvious one of cost. In this economic climate, people are not as inclined to go to the cinema as they previously were, and when they do go, spending £10 on a ticket seems fairly redundant considering they can get the DVD for less than that only a few months later. Few films actually attract the need to see the film now and some of those films are ones that have made more of an impact on culture. Some of them are sequels which rely on the previous success of related films, and are a ‘safe’ bet for cinema-goers, who know what to expect. But in any case, given the choice, most viewers pick 3D. This also could be down to our inexperience with the form in much the same way as talking films. When it was first released, the format was more popular because it was an interesting gimmick. Now the novelty has faded it seems borderline useless; merely an add-on for the noise-offensive of blockbuster cinema, 3D can be seen as an assault on the senses rather than any kind of enhancement. Which is my opinion as to why it hasn’t proved as popular anyhow. Any other thoughts are most welcome.

What is worrying though, and perhaps it shouldn’t be entirely unexpected, is the fact that two of the most recent vampire outputs, Fright Night and Underworld 4 have been moulded into the format. What does this say about the popularity of monster films? That they have reached a peak, and are worthy of the visual atrocity that is 3D? Well, both these films adhere to the categories I mentioned before. They both rely on the previous successes of other related films (one being a remake, and the other a sequel), so their success is somewhat guaranteed, regardless of format. For me though, I’d like to keep my monsters in 2D.

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5 thoughts on “A quick note on 3D

  1. Yeah, I’m not a fan of 3D either. There’s only been a couple of films where it was a kind of cool experience, but those were only in IMAX.

    I agree that it’s definitely been used as a tool to attract people in to cinemas and away from other formats as it’s a feature that’s only available in cinemas themselves.

    Cinema needs a long-term goal though. With 3D-TV out and possibly increasing (even though they do nothing for me) it may not be long until 3D films are no longer a cinema exclusive.

    There’s an interesting 3-minute response by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson on the future of 3D: http://cdn.screenrant.com/wp-content/uploads/spielberg-jackson-3D.mov

    All of that being said, I am still looking forward to seeing Jaws 19 at the Holomax in 2015.

  2. I had heard that one of the major reasons studios like 3D features is that they are that much more difficult to pirate: the difference in price at point of sale is not from a perceived premium but that it costs more to produce.

    However, the issue I have had with 3D is that I find there are 3D-moments scripted in – such as in Pirates: On Stranger Tides, all of the thrust swords to camera. Aside from the unfocusing at the tip, I found the notion of the third direction to bring me out of the film.

    With monster films, I fear that so much more would be lost to regularly dragged out of the story in this way.

    Then again, the same could be said of over-loud popcorn!

  3. I watched Fright Night on bootleg DVD in Bolivia (no copyright laws, no intellectual property laws) and I had absolutely no idea it was a 3D film. I can’t speak as to the Underworld series, but FN didn’t, as I recall, have any of the traditional ‘something pointing out of the screen at the audience’ moments, which are usually the indicators of a 3D movie made by someone who doesn’t care about the movie they’re making or the format it’s in. That said, it was actually filmed on 3D cameras, rather than post-prod-converted, so that might be why it looked more ‘natural’.

    The last three films I saw in 3D were Tintin, Harry Potter 8 and Alice in Wonderland – all films i’ve also seen in 2D. Of the three, the only one that looked and felt better in 3D was Tintin – a motion-capture digital movie. The chase scene in Baghar, for example, was clearly designed to make the best of the format (the echoes of Spielberg’s other adventure movies were pretty clear there).

    Harry Potter had only one (inconsequential) moment where the 3D was effectively used, and when I saw it in 2D it was brighter, clearer and that one moment passed by without anything to draw attention to it. Alice in Wonderland is a mixture of live action and motion capture animation (the distance we’ve come since ‘Zippedy-doo-dah’…) and again, it’s the motion capture bits (the Cheshire Cat, for example) that worked, and the rest just looked dim, low-resolution and on occasions there was even motion blur when the human actors moved. But a common feature of all three was the perspective problem – only a central oval of the screen is actually in focus properly, an inherent feature of PPC 3D.

    From everything I’ve read and seen, the only films which really benefit from the format are animations (Pixar are very good at making it work) and motion-capture event movies (Smurfs 3D etc), nearly all aimed at children. In fact, the link between making or converting a film in 3D and the desired ‘event’ status of the movie is pretty much the key here. As with most major shifts in studio slate trends since the middle of the last century (which, oddly enough, is when 3D started appearing), everything comes secondary to the potential profit of the project.

    A prediction: If demand for and supply of pirated 3D films ever takes off, the format will die a quiet death and everyone will forget about it.

    That seems unlikely, given that sales of the much-hyped 3D tvs started at rock bottom and haven’t moved since (who wants to recreate the ‘sitting in a big boxy room full of other people wearing heavy clunky glasses’ experience at home?), so for once the film-going public has the power: They can choose between the formats, and that graph tells the story. I’m not a total anti-3D advocate – as I said, the 3D version of Tintin looked a lot better than the 2D – but it really only works on certain films, and should always be an artistic decision (as it was with TIntin) rather than, as it usually is, a corporate one.

  4. Some things: Sorry that was such a long comment, and repeats so many of the points in the comments above. They weren’t there when I started. Also it’s been a while since I wrote a film essay, can you tell? Also, the font in the comments makes it look like we’re talking about 8D. Which I would happily watch, if only to find out what the rest of the dimensions were.

  5. I agree that Avatar was actually better in 3D, although still looked fantastic without. I think you’re right in identifying the glasses as a problem with the format, and even in Avatar there were moments when the 3D didn’t look entirely convincing. 3D is, and always has been, a bit of a cinematic fad and it is interesting that you are associating it here with the decline of a particular genre, perhaps a sign that these films are searching for another way to make a quick buck (pound!). I do think, however, that the increasing availability of high def films, home entertainment systems, TV screens the size of walls, puts a strain on the cinema industry. 3D is an attempt to offer people more than they can view at home. How long it can feasibly last probably depends on when the next big development will be. It also requires directors to use it in a more intelligent way than most are presently. As Avatar proves, it can be used to enhance the film if it is done well and not in a gimmicky way.

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