Featured Image from: The Conversion
A long, long time ago called “2009”, the age of 3D cinema was upon us: The Jonas Brothers released a whole concert in 3D, major animation studio Pixar released Up, and James Cameron’s Avatar was expected to change the cinema experience forever by integrating 3D as a cinematographic tool that would enhance a film’s soul.
But 2009 came and went, and the only thing 3D changed was my severe dislike for 3D.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of those movies made a LOT of money: the Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience was 6th highest grossing concert film(despite overwhelmingly negative, but well deserved, critical reviews), and Avatar became the highest-grossing film of all time and was the first film to gross more than $2 billion during its entire run. Avatar’s success secured for it 4 sequels, all of which are to be released throughout the 2020’s.
But despite the technical marvel 3D has brought, it also brought with it a sense of gimmickry that wouldn’t be out of place in a theme park. What started as a fruition of a technology first introduced in the 50’s has now become the living embodiment of Hollywood laziness, a cynical attitude that involves using 3D effects as a way to distract audience from films with zero substance.
Don’t take my word for it, though: ticket sales for 3D movies was down last year by 4% despite more than 40 films being released with that format. It seems that, despite initial interests (thanks to Avatar), people aren’t falling for the same old trick anymore. Couple that with mounting complaints from audiences about headaches and disagreements between studios and cinema houses on who should pay for the glasses, and it seems as if 3D is more trouble than it’s worth.
Before you decry me as some kind of Luddite who’s afraid of technology, let me be clear: I TRIED really hard to be a 3D film fan, I really did. I put in a lot of time and effort (not to mention PAID for the nigh-unreasonable ticket prices) to try and appreciate the 3D movement, but I just couldn’t get on board.
There was a time, however, that I believed in the power of 3D as a tool to complete cinema as an immersive medium: 2011’s Sanctum was a brilliant take on 3D. Where other films used 3D to create images that jumped out of the screen, Sanctum used it to create physical depth, something that few movies to this day have attempted.Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai was also another noteworthy film to utilize 3D as an immersive cinematic tool, using the technology to create texture, giving the entire film a tactile attribute not present in other movies.
But for every Sanctum or Avatar that’s released in 3D, a dozen or so Piranha 3D’s are also released, saturating the market with films that skew 3D from an immersive tool into a kitschy two-penny gimmick. Without the right plot, acting, or even the right use of 3D, and a film unravels into what it truly is: a crappy snooze-fest designed by studios to part fools from their hard-earned cash.
I’m not saying that new technology has no place in film making: in fact, technology can be essential as a story-telling device. But what happens when that technology has no purpose? Take, for example, Baz Luhrmann’s take on The Great Gatsby, which was released with a special RealD 3D format. My question is, why? What about the roaring 20’s did Luhrmann so desperately needed for us to see in 3D that he spent an extra few hundred thousand dollars just to shoot the film in that format? I wonder if F. Scott Fitzgerald would have found the entire process ridiculous, if not unnecessary at best.
It’s not just that it’s wasteful; converting movies into 3D just for the sake of using the technology is also disrespectful. Everyone knows that The Great Gatsby in 3D is a huge rip-off. People aren’t THAT stupid (although with the continued success of Adam Sandler films, this statement is debatable).
The most obvious solution is: create better movies. And, in a way, quality films still lead the pack: character and story driven pieces like The King’s Speech and Bridesmaids did so much better than their 3D counterparts, both critically and commercially. Influential movie directors like Christopher Nolan have also expressed their disinterest in 3D, saying that the whole thing distracts from the cinema experience.
Nolan is famous for his embrace of another new cinema tech: IMAX. IMAX is that larger-than-life format that turns the humble movie into a true cinematic marvel. This, in my opinion, is where movies should be headed: if there’s anything that can fully turn a movie into a fully immersive experience, IMAX is the one. It’s a little more expensive to shoot, but the pay-off is indescribable (have you seen Dark Knight Rises in IMAX? It was mind blowing).
Other filmmakers have tried combining 3D and IMAX, but very few have been able to utilize it properly with the film they’re making. It’s not just about slapping on new tech to an old story, the tech still has to make sense, it still has to add value to the overall piece, otherwise, why bother?
In my opinion, 3D brought with it unfulfilled promises of redefining the cinema experience. Certainly, revolutionary filmmakers have tried, but ultimately, 3D is still in that cinema vaporware limbo that is still more of a curiosity than a real tool for story-telling. But the potential of it is still vast, and there have certainly been examples of movies utilizing 3D properly, just not enough for it to become a mainstay.
There are, of course, new movie-immersion technologies coming out every year, each one trying to satisfy our need for a more interactive and immersive movie going experience, but it still has its short comings: I just saw Aquamanon 4DX, and I was soaked in the first 5 minutes of the movie. Annoying, more than immersive.