03 May 2010

On Ebert on 3D

Newsweek | Roger Ebert | Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too)

3-D is a waste of a perfectly good dimension. Hollywood's current crazy stampede toward it is suicidal. It adds nothing essential to the moviegoing experience. For some, it is an annoying distraction. For others, it creates nausea and headaches. It is driven largely to sell expensive projection equipment and add a $5 to $7.50 surcharge on already expensive movie tickets. Its image is noticeably darker than standard 2-D. It is unsuitable for grown-up films of any seriousness. It limits the freedom of directors to make films as they choose. For moviegoers in the PG-13 and R ranges, it only rarely provides an experience worth paying a premium for.
I haven't enjoyed 3D movies much either, but how does it possibly limit the freedom of directors? If you don't want to make a film in 3D then... don't.  If you do make a film in 3D that will impose some technical limitations, but so will every other choice of technology a director makes.
1. It's the waste of a dimension.
When you look at a 2-D movie, it's already in 3-D as far as your mind is concerned. When you see Lawrence of Arabia growing from a speck as he rides toward you across the desert, are you thinking, "Look how slowly he grows against the horizon" or "I wish this were 3D?"  Our minds use the principle of perspective to provide the third dimension. Adding one artificially can make the illusion less convincing.
I agree with him on this one. I talked about this in my Avatar review. The point of 3D is to trick viewers into thinking they're "in" the scene. But the rest of the cinematography works against that: the lens flares and limited depth of field and so on — things that are added to digital movies rather than being imposed by technology of film — work at odds to that. Furthermore there's a cognitive disconnect between the rectilinear space of a theater and the pyramidal projector-to-screen space that 3D effects are confined to. Throw on top of that unacustomed feel of the glasses (even to a life-long spectacle wearer like myself) and you've got a constant message of "you are watching a movie, you are watching a movie, you are watching a move..." Maybe we can be trained out of that and maybe we can't, but I wish I didn't have to live through Hollywood trying.
2. It adds nothing to the experience.
Recall the greatest moviegoing experiences of your lifetime. Did they "need" 3-D? A great film completely engages our imaginations. What would Fargo gain in 3-D? Precious? Casablanca?
That's just silly. It's a seen-and-unseen thing. I have no idea how any previous movie would have been if movie has always been in 3D. Casablanca doesn't "need" three dimensions. But The last Supper doesn't "need" modern paints either. That doesn't mean acrylic paints add nothing to the experience of viewing paintings.
3. It can be a distraction.
Some 3-D consists of only separating the visual planes, so that some objects float above others, but everything is still in 2-D. We notice this. We shouldn't. In 2-D, directors have often used a difference in focus to call attention to the foreground or the background. In 3-D the technology itself seems to suggest that the whole depth of field be in sharp focus. I don't believe this is necessary, and it deprives directors of a tool to guide our focus.
This is mostly the same as #1, as far as I'm concerned. Also, depth of field is the easiest technique to guide viewer's attention on the z-axis, but it's not the only way to create depth cues, as anyone who has studied drafting could tell you.

Okay, I'm tired of this. I thought Ebert was only going to make a couple of points, but there are nine of them and I have better things to do. And as soon as I scanned him calling Avatar "a splendid film" I knew there was no point in paying any more attention to this article. We're fast-forwarding through the rest.
4. It can create nausea and headaches.
This is a problem, but it's also a problem with hand-held camera work generally, and I don't see him bitching about District 9.
5. Have you noticed that 3-D seems a little dim?
That's a good criticism.
6. There's money to be made in selling new digital projectors.
So? There's money to be made selling movie tickets period. Does that mean I should oppose movie production generally? There's money to be made selling cars and computers and bread. I don't see the point, unless it's the standard liberal freak-out that anything which benefits producers must somehow be hurting the rest of us.
7. Theaters slap on a surcharge of $5 to $7.50 for 3-D.
Same as #6. If seeing a film in 3D is not worth more than the ticket surcharge then don't go see it. No different than eschewing a 2D movie that isn't worth the $10.25.  End of story.
8. I cannot imagine a serious drama, such as Up in the Air or The Hurt Locker, in 3-D.
Inability to imagine benefits is only evidence of limited imagination, not limited benefits.penp
Once upon a time people could not imagine a film of any sort being a serious work of art. And before that people could not imagine a serious work of art resulting from a photograph.  The novel used to be a disreputable medium.  People looked down their noses at non-allegorical or historical painting, fiction writing generally, and jazz and rock music.  I wouldn't want to see Up in the Air in 3D, but then again I wouldn't want to see Still Life with Woodpecker on film irrespective of dimensionality.  You can't pluck a work from one medium, claim it wouldn't work in a second medium, and thus condemn the second medium.
9. Whenever Hollywood has felt threatened, it has turned to technology: sound, color, widescreen, cinerama, 3-D, stereophonic sound, and now 3-D again.
A lot of those technologies are great steps forward, and some have been left behind. How is this an argument against 3D? Ebert elaborates that there are better ways to project 2D movies, like MaxiVision48, which is true, so this boils down to "I wish Hollywood would invest more money in technology X and less in technology Y."
I'm not opposed to 3-D as an option. I'm opposed to it as a way of life for Hollywood, where it seems to be skewing major studio output away from the kinds of films we think of as Oscar-worthy.
"Oscar-worthy" is a bullshit category. That isn't worth discussing.

If audiences don't like 3D they won't go see those movies and Hollywood will get the message.  If they do like 3D then the rest of us will have to live with it by seeing 2D movies or finding other entertainments. I don't need everyone else to like the same movie formats I do any more than I need them to like the same sorts of TV shows, or listen to the same sorts of bands, or read the same sorts of books.
I have the sense that younger Hollywood is losing the instinctive feeling for story and quality that generations of executives possessed.
Translation: "Damn kids! Things were better back in my day."

(Via Tim Cavanaugh)

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