The 3D “Revolution”, or How Avatar raped my eyes.

This 3D business in film is getting slightly out of hand. There was a time when a 3D film in the cinema was huge, that so many people would go and see it just for the gimmick of 3D.

Fast forward to 2011 however, and more than a few people are getting sick of the trend.

Why do they do it?:
It makes sense for the film industry to make so many 3D films from a financial point of view. This isn’t the first time it’s happened. The first time 3D films emerged was in the 50’s, with a lot of films like The Creature From The Black Lagoon getting the 3D treatment. Considering only a handful of films were made in this era in 3D, it probably remained an appealing gimmick for its short life time. However, seeing as the cost for making these films in 3D were higher than regular 2D films, it’s not surprising that the trend quickly died.

Skip ahead to the 70’s, when VHS tapes suddenly started to have a major effect on the cinema industry. Suddenly, watching a film with some friends was only the cost of a single cinema ticket, and the theatres world-wide suffer immensely because of this. They needed to offer audiences something new, something they couldn’t get at home (aside from sticky floors and dusty popcorn). And so, 3D is once again re-introduced to the masses. It gave the crowds a reason to file back into those dark rooms where movie magic was born.

After the novelty of VHS tapes wore off, sales in cinema got, more or less, back on track. 3D was no longer needed and evolved into, what many believe, what it should have always been and should ever be. It became a sideshow attraction. Less often seen in movie theatres, 3D films were now far more likely to be seen in theme parks or large arcades. The likes of the 3D Terminator 2 film seen in Universal Studios became the norm for this form of viewing. IMAX cinemas showed a few 3D films as well, although this never really took off.

So what happened then? Why is it that, suddenly, every second film released nowadays is a glorified piece of three-dimensional vomit onscreen? As is always the case, it boils down to money.

It was around the mid noughties that this trend kicked off. Which, presumably, was about the time the film industry started to get worried about the amount of films that were being downloaded on the internet. How do we fix it? 3-bloody-D. It’s the only thing now not readily available to download online, but over time, that will surely change. And until it does, Hollywood is going to keep churning out these lamentable eyesores, so be warned, if you don’t like 3D, you’re in for a long haul.

What’s the problem with 3D?:
I’m sure a lot of people have heard this argument before. The likelihood is, you’ve taken part in aforementioned argument, swearing loudly at your sweet old grandmother, yelling that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, just because she said Yogi Bear looks like a good film.

When 3D films were self-aware, when they knew that they were just a gimmick, that was perfectly acceptable. I sat in front of the 3D Terminator 2 film in Univeral Studios and watched as a giant liquid metal spider lunged out at me. After having another Malteaser, I was blatantly aware that this was an enjoyable experience and I’d probably do it again. The fact that it was only half an hour-long may have had something to do with it.

But now, we see so many filmmakers trying to integrate 3D naturally into what could be good films. The final straw for me was Thor. After finding out that we had missed the 2D version, we reluctantly agreed to see it in 3D. For the first twenty minutes of that film, I may as well have read a book entitled “Blurry shapes shout a lot with angry Shakespearean voices!” I could not see a damn thing that was going on! Night scenes in 3D are painfully shapeless, and indistinguishable. I decided right there and then, I would never watch another 3D film if a 2D option presented itself to me.

Let’s take a short breather, and I’ll ask you a question. When was the last time you saw a film in 3D and thought “That film benefited from the extra dimension.”? I can think of two occasions in which this occurred. The first was Monsters Vs Aliens. This is not to say the entire film benefitted hugely from the 3D. It just didn’t affect it too much. And! There was one scene, at the very beginning in which a guy is playing with a ball and paddle, which comes directly at the screen. That was impressive. Painfully obvious and gimmicky, but still impressive. The second occasion was, of course, Avatar.

Whenever the argument regarding 3D arises among friends, I find the primary counter argument is nearly always, always, “But what about Avatar?”. Let’s just get some facts straight. What did Avatar accomplish?:

  • There is no doubt, admittedly, that there was little point in seeing Avatar in 2D. It was very much a 3D film, and it worked 3D into its film better than any before it, and probably after it as well.
  • It also had an impressive finale. The last battle in that film lasts nearly a solid hour and is indeed quite epic.

Those are the positive things it accomplished. However:

  • Does an impressive final act really make up for the first two hours of mulch that is fairly uneventful? Three hours is a long time to be watching any film. With the exception of lines uttered in the trailer ( and only because it showed before just about every film for the year preceding it), I cannot remember a single line in that film
  • It is also the exact same plot of Pocahontas.
  • It propelled Sam Worthington into stardom. Sam Worthington, an actor so woefully bland that, to quote a friend of mine, “he could not accurately portray an Australian actor in his early thirties by the name of Sam Worthington”.
  • It essentially sacrificed plot for impressive visuals, thus furthering the success of the 3D behemoth.

At this point, I am strongly reminded of something an ex said to me. We were in an art museum that specialized in the art of Salvador Dali and other surrealist artists. As we looked at a portrait of a woman who had a desert in her head and melting clocks for eyes, my ex said to me:
“I don’t like these paintings”. I looked at her, quite surprised and asked,
“Why not?”
“They’re so weird, they’re not accurate at all.”
“…Well, I think that’s the point. I mean, I think they’re so surreal in order to make you think.”
To which she replied, with terrifying conviction:
“Paintings should be like films. They shouldn’t make you think, they should just be pretty colours to look at.”

How bad is it really?:
As the picture at the very top of this article encapsulates, it is all too easy to simply assume that all 3D films are terrible, or at least mediocre. If an industry can afford to make its film in 3D, it can safely assume that there will be a large audience, because it has made the notion of 3D synonymous with blockbuster.
Similarly, films that are not in 3D will focus most of its efforts on the quality of the film, the development of characters, the intricate plots.

There are exceptions to both of these rules of course. Marvel Studios have released a considerable amount of 3D films lately, yet they have largely been very successful, both critically and financially. And there have been a considerable amount of films released in 2D that have been woefully bad.

The general scenario, however, is that it is becoming easier to pinpoint more quality films now with the continuation of 3D film production. Christopher Nolan seems adamantly against 3D so that’s good news. Whereas Michael Bay seems to want to make every film he can in 3D, even if that is only another 25 Transformers movies. If this trend continues, the notion of 3D is going to become so synonymous with bad films, it will probably start to seriously affect people’s judgement before they have even heard anything about the film.

The point I am trying to make:

It is clearly no secret that I dislike 3D films at this stage. I don’t feel they add anything to the experience. If anyone can find a film that they think will prove me wrong on this issue, by all means, bring it over, we’ll have Pringles, it’ll be great.

However, the important thing to remember is, bad films have been released since cinema was invented. And they will continue to be released until the industry breaks down and Crab People become our masters. Despite the intimidating posters and peer pressure, we thankfully still have a choice whether to watch these films in 2D or 3D, and there is a good chance that some of them will be great. And an equal chance that many will be awful.

3D should be a gimmick and nothing more. Integrating it into actual films adds nothing to the experience, except slightly sore temples if you have a larger than normal head. Disregard 3D if you want, but be careful. Don’t blame it for everything that is wrong with mainstream cinema.

To conclude, here is a kitten riding a turtle

Published in: on August 23, 2011 at 7:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] The film itself was shot in 2009 but was only released in 2012. This is because the film studio wanted to convert it to 3D. However, the writers and directors objected to this until the idea was scrapped. Which makes them absolute heroes, because as we all know, 3D is the visual equivalent of being punched by Michael Bay. For more of this ranty material on 3D, click here. […]

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