Continuing the 3D debate

Posted by · 7:01 am · August 31st, 2009

AvatarEarlier this month, I wrote a piece detailing my wariness about the current 3D vogue amid the various claims being made that it will alter life (or at least cinema, which for many of us is the same thing) as we know it.

Now, with “Avatar” Day having stoked anticipation for James Cameron’s purportedly “game-changing” film in some quarters — and significantly dampened it in others — the debate about the technology’s value carries on.  I expect the film’s run-up and eventual release will provide plenty more occasion for alternately sceptical and enraptured opinion pieces about the trend.

I’m still in no position to comment about the potential (or otherwise) of “Avatar” — even if I had wanted to attend “Avatar” Day, given that I was in a tent in rural Wales at the time, the opportunity escaped me. I subsequently watched the trailer online, only to be informed (perhaps a little defensively) by others that the images only really popped in 3D.

Leaving aside my automatic mental response that a film has to impress in any format, the argument about imagery was neither here nor there — as my principal concerns with the project still lie very much at the level of story, and the trailer (admittedly only a teaser) did little to either illuminate or assuage them. So I remain guardedly at square one, which is roughly where The Independent’s Tim Walker is too.

Like me, Walker is unpersuaded that 3D can be of more value to the artform than skilled writing and storytelling, and fears that it could become a crutch for films lacking in the latter departments. After attending “Avatar” Day, meanwhile, he’s worried that we could be in for just such a film:

In 3D, at the vast BFI IMAX cinema, the footage certainly looked more spectacular than the flat, two-minute trailer that’s online now. Some of the visuals are breathtaking, and I dare say Avatar is less likely to disappoint fans than The Phantom Menace, for example. That said, the plot looks more Titanic than Terminator. In fact, it looks like Aliens-meets-Born on the Fourth of July-meets-Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.

3D is a revolution that the film industry has wrongly predicted before. I can’t see it improving other genres, like romcoms or ensemble dramas. I can, on the other hand, see it becoming another way for Hollywood to polish turd-like scripts. It won’t stop people staying home to download pirated films; and asking audiences to pay extra for the loan of a pair of plastic glasses isn’t entirely on.

All of which reads very similarly to my own argument, so obviously I found myself nodding along as I read. More surprising to me, however, was this Guardian counter-argument in praise of 3D, in which art critic Jonathan Jones likens the potential impact of the technology to key developments in Renaissance art:

In the 15th century, artists discovered how to paint bodies and landscapes as if they had depth and solidity. Painting triumphed over the flat surface to create the illusion of a real scene glimpsed through the square enclosure of the wooden panel or canvas, as if you were watching a play on a stage.

The effect was just as dazzling, just as unexpected as 3D cinema – and it has lasted a lot longer than the gimmicks of 1950s science fiction … I think we’re right to be excited by three-dimensional technology; the thrill of seeing deep space on screen is not unlike the thrill of peering into one of Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings.

I do see his point, and it’s an interesting one. It does, however, still point up the fact that the technology need only be selectively — and, through history, sporadically — applied. Just as there have existed any number of post-Renaissance art movements which had little use for such verisimilitude, there will always be branches of cinema which don’t stand to gain anything from the expense and complication of 3D.

→ 13 Comments Tags: , , | Filed in: Daily

13 responses so far

  • 1 8-31-2009 at 7:11 am

    Loyal said...

    I was lucky enough to see the footage at Avatar Day twice. It was amazing.

    I suspect there will be many people eating crow come December 18th.

  • 2 8-31-2009 at 7:28 am

    Georgie said...

    I’m pretty anti-3D, just because it’s annoying to have to wear 3D glasses and keep your head completely upright during a movie. Like with Up, I first saw it in 2D and then later in 3D and the 3D did not change the experience for me other than making my neck hurt.

    With Avatar, now that I’ve seen the trailer on the big screen, it’s definitely made for bigger screens. It wasn’t even in 3D but it was still gorgeous compared to the laptop experience.

  • 3 8-31-2009 at 7:54 am

    Cde. said...

    Georgie, the difference between Avatar and Up is that Up was designed as a 2D film, but converted to 3D thanks to a stipulation Disney introduced late in production. Avatar has been evisioned from its pre-production stages as a 3D film, so I’m sure the implementation of the technology will not be comparable.

  • 4 8-31-2009 at 8:04 am

    Georgie said...

    Yeah, I think Avatar will be the first film that I actually want to see in 3D. I think for the most part 3D films are too focused on gimmicks, and I think Avatar won’t be…

    And Disney is making all of its animated films 3D now, correct? With the news that they’ve bought Marvel, I’m feeling very anti-Disney [marketing, etc] right now.

  • 5 8-31-2009 at 8:16 am

    Loyal said...

    Just wait until we see The Incredibles II featuring Marvel characters Georgie…in 3D

  • 6 8-31-2009 at 8:17 am

    Georgie said...

    Poor Pixar. I really wish they had escaped Disney’s clutches…

    Seriously, we DO NOT NEED A CARS SEQUEL. It was the worst thing ever made by Pixar.

  • 7 8-31-2009 at 8:39 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    RealD offers some very lightweight and comfortable glasses and it really depends on what system a theater uses.
    And yeah Avatar is meant to be seen in HD 3d, although I finally saw the trailer in a regular theater today as well and it looked much better than on a regular computer screen.

  • 8 8-31-2009 at 10:06 am

    Steven Kar said...

    I saw the trailer to Avatar last night before Final Destination 4 and it was impressive on the big screen. It was in 2D and it still looked good.

    Final Destination was crap, and the 3D effect didn’t work successfully in my opinion. I believe 3D works better on animated movies and movies with a lot of CGI like Avatar because the filmmakers have more control over the 3D effect. With live action, it’s hit and miss throughout the movie.

    They also showed the trailer to A Christmas Carol in 3D and again, I was much impressed.

    I think they should release a new trailer for Avatar in 3D.

  • 9 8-31-2009 at 10:26 am

    red_wine said...

    I know I’m going to Avatar purely for the visuals, writing was never 1 of Cameron’s strengths. The dialogue sounds appalling.

    But Guy I completely agree with you that a movie should holdup anywhere. I saw the Avatar footage twice in Imax 3D and normal 3D. While it truly looks blow-your-socks-off awesome in Imax 3D, it doesn’t hold up well in any other medium, even normal 3D. That is extremely restrictive to your film. In case of Avatar, I will call 3D a gimmick because it is absolutely integral for appreciation of the movie. But I don’t mind that, its not gonna be a great film but a big gargantuan spectacle and on that count it gets full marks.

    Compare that with something like Up, which everybody claims looses none of its spectacle in 2D. Infact many critics, including Ebert openly said that just chuck away the 3D and enjoy the beautiful images in 2D. On my computer screen, Avatar trailer looks poor while Up trailer still looks breath-taking.

    But 3D for better or worse is here to say. The die is cast. There’s an absolute profusion of big note-worthy 3D movies coming soon. Spielberg, Jackson, Burton, Cameron, Zemeckis all have up-coming movies in 3D. The vast amount of theaters in America and and round the world have already converted to 3D. Pixar has announced that all their subsequent films are gonna be 3D. Dreamworks(obviously) too.

  • 10 8-31-2009 at 11:09 am

    aaron said...

    “I suspect there will be many people eating crow come December 18th.”

    probably not as many who will be eating crow when the thing is released on dvd and looks like rubbish because, “oh, you need to see it on the big screen in 3D” and, “oh, lookit that, now i’ve rented it and it looks kinda lame, just like the teaser did!” hmm, funny that.

    i’ve said it before and i’ll repeat it here: if the *only* thing your movie has going for it (because no one is champing at the bit for avatar’s plot or characters) is that it looks good rendered in 3D on an IMAX screen, you have problems. people have mentioned up, but another example is the tron: legacy teaser. sorry, but i was way more impressed w/ that than i was w/ the avatar teaser. the tron teaser looks good in any capacity and it looks like a different world. these things can’t be said about avatar. almost everyone agrees that the avatar teaser left a lot to be desired, the na’vi look absurd, and pandora looks like a rain forest, etc. years of development and millions of dollars for *that*? i’m sure avatar will be a success at the box office (maybe? where’s the marketing for this thing, anyway?), but will it be anything more than a novelty?

    the dinosaurs like spielberg and zemeckis and burton will eat 3D up, but let’s be honest, none of those guys have ever been strong in the character and story departments. they need to rely on visual gimmicks like 3D. i just hope this “revolution” won’t make it even harder for smaller films to get made.

  • 11 8-31-2009 at 3:27 pm

    Zach said...

    I find the “it should wow in any format” argument to be quite a bit of bullpucky. It’s like painting the Sistine Chapel and then having everyone view in on a 4×6 postcard. The way 3D can enhance the depth of field makes something like Avatar look truly amazing, but maybe because out of all the 3D films out there, this seems to be the only one to truly use the idea to its advantage of enhancing the visual planes on screen instead of having some things pop out at you.

  • 12 8-31-2009 at 3:31 pm

    Finwë said...

    It’s interesting how Up is the go-to comparison film when it was designed as a 2D film and converted to 3D, whereas Coraline was designed in 3D from the get-go. Henry Selick used it as a storytelling device to enhance the viewer’s perception of what was going on in Coraline’s world. Only once, really, did anything “pop out”. It was more a tool used to better develop the already very good story. I can’t imagine watching it in any other format. I expect Avatar to be much the same.

    I also find it interesting that the same people who are bashing Avatar’s teaser for showing no story (which it actually does), are praising Inception for doing the exact same thing. Why is that?

    One more thing. People (namely aaron above) are now starting to bash the “dinosaur” film makers like Spielberg, Jackson, Cameron, Burton, etc. just because of their infatuation with a new way of film making that is specifically designed to get people out of their homes and into the theaters (none of those men believe movies are meant to be watched on computers, so that’s why they say “see it in the theater”). Anyway, their storytelling is now getting sh*t on because of this. When in previous years, none of these people could do any wrongs and the internet and everywhere else worshipped the ground they walked on. Speilberg has never been able to properly end a movie – ever – and yet now, just because he’s embracing a new technology, people are noticing his storytelling shortcomings? I’m confused.

  • 13 8-31-2009 at 3:36 pm

    Zach said...

    It must also be noted with these “dinosaur filmmakers” that they’re just about the only ones in Hollywood who have carte blanche on their projects. If they weren’t pushing new technology, then the industry would probably have no force trying to innovate it and bring films into the future. I’m not much of a fan of Spielberg and co., find their films themselves overrated more often than not, but they’re definitely admirable in the way that they are bettering the way films are made for every filmmaker now and in the future.