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3D is not for me

By Sean Fabery

Section: Arts

April 16, 2010

GRAPHIC BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

The last three years have undoubtedly witnessed a boom in the number of 3D films arriving at cinemas across the country. Hollywood studios have continually restated their commitment to the technology, asserting that it is the way of the future—3D televisions will apparently be released within the next year—but all I see is a gimmick.

I’ll admit that there have been numerous films that have successfully utilized the technology. Director James Cameron’s “Avatar” is just one recent example. That particular film managed to meld its state-of-the-art special effects with 3D to fully immerse its audience in the world of the film, giving viewers the sense that they were directly witnessing the action onscreen.

Director Henry Selick’s “Coraline” also serves as another example of a film that has made good use of 3D. In this case, it was used to further unsettle the audience, bringing viewers closer to the film’s strange mirror world than they probably wanted to be.

My final concession is that the technology employed has certainly advanced from the kind used in the past. Remember those old red-and-green 3D glasses? Those never completely succeeded in making images jump off the screen, and they also had the consequence of giving the images on the screen a bit of an unfortunate tint. That hasn’t been the case with modern 3D glasses which only darken the image slightly.

Yet the majority of 3D films released have not effectively taken advantage of the technology. As much as I enjoyed a film like “Up,” for instance, none of the sequences created for the film worked any better in 3D than in 2D. Three-dimensional sequences often feel very superficial as though they were added in as an afterthought so that audiences don’t feel cheated out of the extra money they have to pay for 3D screenings.

As much as Hollywood executives keep pronouncing 3D as the future, its market so far seems pretty limited, restricted largely to children’s films and action-oriented blockbusters. While both types of films usually earn an immense amount of money, they represent a fraction of Hollywood’s cinematic output. Can you imagine a regular drama in 3D? While I would actually pay to see the sheer acting of Meryl Streep in 3D, it’s unlikely that a film like “Adaptation” or even “The Devil Wears Prada” would ever be released in 3D.

The use of 3D by itself isn’t so bad—though not especially riveting, it’s not a huge annoyance. However, theaters have exponentially raised the price of attending 3D screenings in the past year. This is in response to the economics of the situation. Installing the technology necessary to make a screen 3D compatible is very costly and since distributors receive the majority of a film’s profits, theater owners have been forced to raise prices to pay for the added technology.

Additionally, since most theaters only have a few designated 3D screens, 3D films cannot stay in theaters for as long as movies in 2D, which potentially hurts a studio’s profit. Price hikes have also been used to remedy this situation. While this wasn’t a problem for “Avatar,” which had 3D screens to itself for nearly three months, this has certainly influenced recent price raises that occurred after a glut of films in 3D—“Alice in Wonderland,” “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Clash of the Titans”—were released all within the span of a month.

To cash in on the higher prices that 3D screenings promise, some films that weren’t initially shot in 3D have been “upconverted”—a process that has elicited mixed reactions. “Clash of the Titans” is the most recent example of this. The studio added the 3D effects in postproduction and these effects have since undergone some criticism.

Most theaters have retained screenings of these films in 2D, but film distributors have reportedly been increasing their pressure on theaters to cut down on their number of 2D screenings and have also in some cases suggested eliminating them altogether.

Three-dimensional films have captured the attention of theatergoers before—most notably in the 1950s and 1980s. In both of these cases, however, it eventually fell out of favor and became seen as a gimmick after the initial excitement around the technology wore off. Hopefully the same will happen again—or maybe we’ll instead be reintroduced with such cinematic innovations as Smell-O-Vision. Perhaps I’m simply old-fashioned, but for now I’ll restrict my cinematic life to two dimensions.

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