In Defense of Movies in the Third Dimension

Old timey 3D viewers

I’m sure I’ve discussed my thoughts on the latest wave of 3D films before, but I have noticed a new spate of anti-3D articles and posts and now feel compelled to bring up the analogy which has completely won me over in the war over which dimension we should be viewing movies in.

Every new technology has a period of adjustment once it is introduced where every naysayer chimes in with the arguments of “cynical money grab” and “gimmick”.  I remember when I first wanted to be a writer back in high school… I didn’t have a computer, but I did have a fancy word processor.  Do you remember those big bulky units with a small screen and a slot for your floppy?  These computer-lites did nothing more than act like a typewriter with a screen that you could print out AFTER you’ve written whatever it is you were writing.  Hell, you could even edit on that magic screen!  So many people I knew cautioned me against this transition… “You can’t write poetry on a screen!  You need an old manual typewriter like Hemingway had!”

I always imaged the same argument when the non-quill pen came into use… or the aforementioned manual typewriter.  Each transition led to another round of outrage at the lessening of the artistic purity of the word, besmirched by technology… Shakespeare didn’t need Word, just a quill and ink!

Every analogy I’ve heard regarding 3D always boils down to color and black and white.  Would we watch a black and white movie in color?  Would we watch a color movie in black and white?  Ted Turner tried the first idea to little fanfare, and the latter is actually growing in popularity in some circles.  Watch the pilot episode of The Walking Deadin color then watch it in black and white (available on the 3-disc Blu-ray and well worth the watch)… a completely different, and creepier, experience.  But does that analogy really apply to the difference between 2D or 3D?  I find that argument lacking…

The analogy I like to use when discussing 2D vs. 3D is this… music and recorded sound in general began in mono.  One speaker to represent all sound.  When stereo was developed, there was the requisite outrage.  Just ask any hardcore Beatles fan about their earliest albums and whether or not they prefer the monaural recordings or the converted stereo recordings.  Their answers will probably have a lot to do with their ages.

Do we listen with one ear or both?  We listen to both, which is what stereo sound was meant to represent and imitate.  In it’s earliest incarnations, bands used the technology to its furthest extent.  Again… listen to much of The Beatles catalogue between Rubber Soul and Abbey Road.  I can’t listen to those album when I’m at work because I can only have one ear bud in at a time, thus, I can only hear half of the instruments.  Guitar all the way to the left, bass all the way to the right, one singer over there, one over hear… no bleed between the two until you hear it in stereo.  Eventually this spread out over both sides, but never completely.  Listening to Radiohead in this way (with one ear bud in) can also be difficult for the same reason.

Now of course we pride ourselves on surround sound… 5.1, or now 7.1, sound which allows us to separate noises coming, not just from the sides, but from behind and in front as well as separating the bass altogether to maximize the boom felt in your chest from the higher register of crickets surrounding you during a movie about the Vietnam War.  Listen to Saving Private Ryan’s first twenty minutes on a good 5.1 system… it’s terrifying because it is everywhere.  Now imagine that in mono.

We see with two eyes, not one… unless you have one eye… and if you do, I’m sorry, I hope you rock a patch.  Why must we insist on everything being flat and in two dimensions?  We don’t see anything in our waking lives in two dimensions.  Even the great masters of art understood the importance of depth of perception.  If you were to stand under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you would be amazed to see this two dimensional image painted on a ceiling appear to have great depth to the point where cherubs appear to drop from the image into the empty space between you and them.  This is the effect of a masterful understanding of how we perceive the world and the emotional effect that added dimension imparts on us.  Why do movies have to be flat?

The three dimensional experiment has been tried in the past to poor results.  I can’t tolerate the whole red/blue imaging of older 3D films.  My eyes could never properly adjust to the color ratio and I ended up never seeing a 3D film in it’s proper color unless I squint one eye just enough to balance them out… then that headache would come.  Not worth it.  We aren’t at that point anymore…

Technology has taken great strides in improving the visual experience of watching a film in 3D.  I personally find the results to be staggering and wonderful.  Of course, not all films and not all techniques are equal.  Some conversions are done poorly with little care given to the overall quality, but that could also be said about movies in general… but some films; Avatar, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Hugo, and most recently Prometheus are gorgeous in their depth and their non-gimmicky use of the technology.  These films use the technique to immerse you into the story in a way that hopefully, you don’t even notice after a while.  To me, that is the mark of a great 3D film… immersion without distraction.

To those that still gripe about this being nothing more than a way for theaters and fat cat studio execs to separate you from you dollars, sure… there is some truth to that.  Because home theaters are so much better now than they used to be, many people choose to stay home instead of paying small fortunes to see a film in a crowded theater with the potential of having a bad theater experience (talkers, texters, babies, and idiots being chief among the offenders).  Can you really blame an industry for trying to maximize their investments by giving you some draw to get you into their theaters?  Also, for the record, theaters don’t make much money from ticket sales… they milk you on concessions.

I for one welcome this new technology and look forward to a time when the complaints are voiced by only a few die-hards, much the way old radio fans derided television, old theater goers balked at these moving pictures, old movie goers dismissed sound in general, and don’t get me started on color.  If you think of the mono vs. stereo argument I’ve presented, perhaps the “gimmick” will appear less so once you realize you have two eyes.  I suggest we use them.

Going out on a three dimensional limb,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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