Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Incredible Third Dimension

Pundits, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, would have us believe that the new 3-D is a technological breakthrough that will change the face of motion picture history and narrative story-telling as important, as game-shifting, as the coming of sound and color.

Perhaps. But it smacks so very much of gimmick. You know, like the last two times 3-D came around, in 1952 and in 1982. It's about right on schedule, if a couple years late.

Blame it on the theatres, who don't want to install those $100,000 digital projectors.

Those 2 times Hollywood was in desperation panic mode, first when television caused people to stay home (attendance never recovered from the mid- '40s levels), then when VHS and cable did the same in the '80s. Now of course it's the Internet, and the desperation is acute. While at least the studios figured out how to sell their product to those young upstarts (making more billions producing t.v. and selling rights to ancillary markets), now it's different. When content is routinely ripped and streamed online they find themselves holding a bag filled with hype and the sound of crickets Tivoing through the commercials.

If some new and technologically-dependent system forces people to go to theatres again, maybe Hollywood will survive this downturn. So everything under the sun is being produced in 3-D versions now, including a new version of A Christmas Carol (with Jim Carrey, whom I always thought was 3-dimensional enough), a remake of Piranha, and new "second eye view" re-renderings/re-issues of every Pixar movie.

But whether or not films can adopt a spacial dimension to their narrative strategies has yet to be proven to have traction. The flat and indexical surface of a photographic image works as an artistic abstraction that creates meaning from counterpoint, sequencing, and measured use of composition.

Distracting the plane of focus off the screen's cognated surface reduces your viewing experience from a narrated one to a vertiginous demonstration of technological disorientation.

All it does is make you tirelessly adjust your focus. If this really does "change" the way films are made and told from now on, I'll stay home and watch my flat screen. And of course the proof of the new storytelling mode will be how it translates to all the other devices and places people watch films, at home, on their computers, on a hand-held device.

None of which will have the immersive 3-D technology, which why it's being pushed - it can't be duplicated elsewhere and you have to go to the movies again. Out in the real 3-D world.

If the content doesn't work anywhere else but in giant digital thunderdomes, the long tail of revenue has been prematurely flattened.

I wouldn't buy any version of "The Polar Express." 3-D seems more at home at Disneyworld.


Baron said...

I couldnt agree more, 3d as a movie medium seems to me to be nothing but gimmick. A way to charge even more for a movie ticket without actually providing anything worth looking at.

3d movies have a horrid habit of constantly poking at the viewer to highlight this supposed new technology. It annoying and actually deminishes the movie, unless of course the movie is a smouldering pile in teh first place.

3d isnt going to draw me to the theatres. If anything it will keep me away

Roger L. said...

Good points, and interestingly the most recent - UP - doesn't overdo the 3-D at all. It is a process that will fade in effectiveness, and may be too expensive to implement casually, both in production and in exhibition.

And the reason to see UP is the content, not the 3-D-edness of it.

Thanks for reading!

Baron said...

I actually saw 'Up' the other day, but not in the vaunted 3d but on a regular screen. I thought the movie was terrific and dont see how 3d would have added much to the movie.

Grego said...

We were (and are still) running UP in 3-D, at the theater where I work in Oakland. The director, Pete Docter, urged people prior to the release of his own film to see it in 2-D as HE felt the film didn't need it.

I must add that Docter did see UP at our theater and was very impressed by the presentation, despite his feelings about the 3-D.

Roger L. said...

Thanks for the comment, Grego. 3-D doesn't make films better, only different.