The 3D Film Farce

Film studios want everyone to desire three fucking dimensions in theatres. This is bad for the film industry, bad for artistic direction, and even worse for our wallets. The New Yorker’s Third Way article is a recent piece on the history of 3D in the film industry, right up to the point we’re at now: Avatar, and everything after it.

Avatar was a big deal because it was shot with two simultaneous cameras (via James Cameron’s 3D Fusion Camera System) and an assload of special software. It was new technology, and it did simulate a three dimensional environment that could be curated on-screen in theatres with special projection hardware and glasses. It worked because it was designed to move 3D into more professional territory — revolutionary stuff. But it’s absolutely imperative to know that every live action film that has arrived in theatres since then is bullshitting the 3D. From the article:

“Alice in Wonderland” was shot in two dimensions and then converted, during postproduction, into three, and, to a theatre full of pedants—which is what we have become—there are holes to pick in the screen. The flora through which our heroine passes is every bit as luxuriant as we expected, but not once do we sense ourselves yearning to catch and stroke it as we did those glowing woodland floaters—half jellyfish, half thistledown—that bloomed from the digital mulch of “Avatar.” The bar, in short, is being raised at a vertiginous rate, and today’s 3-D viewers deride the effects that felt so special in “The Polar Express,” all of six years ago. Those smooth, not quite real faces in which the director, Robert Zemeckis, likes to deal (and continues to deal, to judge by “A Christmas Carol”) now verge on the embarrassing, such is our craving for an alternative world in which we can place our trust. Before our eyes, the idea of 3-D vision has gone from hobby to heavy industry, from a treat to an essential, and from a creed to a need.

The only way to shoot a film with Avatar’s three dimensional precision, thus far, is with Cameron’s 3D Fusion Camera System. Otherwise, you’re hacking that shit in postproduction. Digital movies, however, are different — Pixar flicks like Up or DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon are already designed within an environment completely conducive to viewing in three dimensions. These can be translated perfectly fine to the hardware.

Cashing in on this nonsense is offensive — why pay more for a “simulated”, postproduction 3D version of a film? Smart audiences should be able to tell (or know) the difference, but if the film studios sell mass markets on fake 3D versions of big-budget films, it could get ugly for the specialists who know how to leverage 3D Fusion Camera Systems for actual production-grade 3D.

Whether or not 3D is a viable, sustainable mutation of the film medium is a completely different post, fyi btw.