What is it about 3-D? Those new polarized glasses seem to have people, well… polarized.
Roger Ebert, long-time film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times (also famous as half of the original team for PBS’s At the Movies and the later syndicated show, Siskel and Ebert), caused quite a stir with his Newsweek article last month, Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too). It didn’t help matters that the title was a bit of an overstatement compared to what he wrote. A careful reading indicates that he does see some use for 3-D – just not in any movie that should be taken seriously. (See the end of this article for links to some online responses.)
Mark Kermode, in his video essay on the 3-D debate, which focuses on the movie Avatar (James Cameron), concludes that what made the movie work was not the 3-D effects, but the story itself. He believes flat is the future.
But it seems the band wagon, with the promise of enhanced box office figures, is too tempting to miss. The studios have been jumping on and are even converting movies which were not planned in 3-D. The quality of films converted to 3-D (such as the recent Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans) does not compare favorably with the quality of those shot in 3-D, but the conversions are being done anyway.
James Cameron has been a bit wishy-washy on the subject himself. Although critical of 3-D conversions, Cameron does not seem uncomfortable converting his own movies to 3-D. (See Michael Bay And James Cameron Skeptical Of 3D Conversions: “The Jury Is Out” and Is Jim Cameron talking out of both sides of his mouth on 3-D conversions?) Is it all about the Benjamins, James?
As the Fantasy Editor for Hollywood Jesus, my interest in the subject began when rumors began that Peter Jackson’s team was considering filming the Hobbit movies in 3-D. (See Hobbit Team Considering 3-D.) Soon afterward I learned that the next Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, was being converted to 3-D. (See Conversion to 3-D Confirmed.)
Many (including myself) are worried that 3-D, especially the inferior conversion product, will detract from the message of such films. While we appreciate the filmmakers’ desire to make money, they need to focus on what will drive the story, not just the box office. My concern is the spirit of the tale will be lost in the sparkle of the technology.
With this in mind, I thought it appropriate to consider the place of 3-D in the film industry. Does it enhance the filmmaker’s ability to convey the story, or is it merely a novelty that distracts?
A Very Brief History of 3-D
No, my son, James Cameron did not invent the 3-D movie. It was actually invented in 1890 by British film pioneer William Friese-Greene. Two films were projected on a screen while the viewer looked through a stereoscope. This method proved impractical for theater audiences, and various other experiments were conducted through the early twentieth century.
The invention of polarized filters by Edwin H. Land around 1930 made “single screen” projection possible. Most people associate early 3-D with red and green lenses. However, the movies of the 3-D craze of the 1950’s and 60’s were shown using polarized technology, very similar to what is used today. Since polarized filters are impractical for TV, red/green glasses were issued to view later copies of those films made for television.
During the mid 1980’s, 3-D made a bit of a comeback with a few IMAX films being produced, as well as some other novelty films. It is only during the past several years that 3-D has made it back into the mainstream. Of course, the success of James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) has sparked a new interest in the technology. Will new advancements cause 3-D to be the latest “must have” – much like previous advancements such as color and surround sound?