The Rise and Fall of 3D Films – According to cbx33

Maybe I need to get out more but I sometimes find myself musing over the most stupid things. Right now? It’s 3D films. Before I dive in to the meat of the article, I thought I’d take a few minutes to give you a background as to my expertise in this area. I would like to tell you that I attended film school, have a degree in film studies and work in the industry as a producer and director of Hollywood movies. No, you don’t understand, I really really would like to tell you that. Unfortunately the truth is far from it. I like films. About 1/40 that I watch, I see at the cinema, the rest I just see on a standard TV.

A few weeks ago, could be a month or more for all I know, (time recently has become something of a fleeting beast), we decided to go see our first 3D film. We picked something…..different, something we expected would make the most out of 3D, seeing as much of it was fabricated by those tiny little miracles we call CPUs, we saw…..Alice In Wonderland. Hoping that the film would be a perfect combination of 3D-ness, wit and humour, we left, tails between our legs, licking our wounds, as the battle for cinema supremacy was ultimately lost in screen 4, row U.

As I think back on it, it had promised to be a rather stupendous outing and as we queued for and received our swanky looking glasses, I couldn’t help but feel a little like the first time I ever fired up a BluRay disc but we’ll leave that experience for another time gentle reader. The glasses weren’t particularly comfortable, as can be expected when they had been manufactured with all the right criteria in mind……cheap, durable and recyclable, but they weren’t too uncomfortable either. Kind of like sitting with your back on a radiator. You know it’s gonna make you sick, you just don’t know how long it’ll take.

Perhaps a little overexcited I sat down in my seat and immediately put on my glasses. My wife leaned over to me and whispered, “I’m sure all the trailers and adverts won’t be in 3D as well.” I continued looking at the glowing screen in front of me, unashamed and resolute and was positively brimming over with smug-ability when the first advert appeared on screen in glorious 3D. It was actually for SkyTV. It meandered through a few shots of their new 3D service, (available in autumn) and ended with their logo slowly leaving the screen and hovering about 6 feet in front of me.

At that point I had to try so very very hard not to reach out and touch it. The geek in me knew that doing so would ruin the illusion and would forever mar my perception of 3D films, but the kid inside screamed “It’s floating, it’s floating dammit, and it’s all yours……quick grab it…….go on touch it.” I resisted and instead used some of my super-smug to turn to my beloved and say, in my most sarcastic of tones, “I think you’re right, they wouldn’t show 3D trailers before a 3D film would they…….that would be stupid.” No, it wasn’t big, or clever to say what I did. Was the extra boost of smug I received worth it…….No. Not at all. I am sorry darling!

As the film started, the effect of 3D was presented in all its glory. I wanted to ooooh. I wanted to ahhhh. I wanted to run into the office the very next day and shout “I’m in love.” However, suffice to say it wasn’t totally what I was expecting. Despite the hype of a film being released “ONLY in 3D” I can’t actually see a reason for me wanting to see another. Talking with several other people about the same subject, I get the feeling that I’m not alone in this.

First, the good. It’s a nice gimmick. Being able to see the world they are trying to portray with an extra dimension does indeed make it feel somewhat “special”. However the gimmick seems to wear off around 15 minutes into the feature. The bad, overwhelmingly outweighs the good. Many people I’ve spoken to have cited a feeling of tension and headaches whilst watching and it’s not surprising when you consider what’s actually going on. Just because the film is presented in 3D doesn’t mean that it really is 3D. What do I mean by this? Well the film itself is still just a 2D image, two to be exact, which your brain superimposes over each other in order to give the illusion of a 3D world. The effect works great, but only if you don’t change your focus. So your brain is constantly fighting between _wanting_ to refocus in order to look around in a 3D world, because that’s what it’s used to, and _struggling_ to keep focus on the 2D plane to maintain the illusion.

Herein lies another caveat. I don’t like being restricted. I have been given a glorious 3D world to wonder around inside but the focus for a particular frame has already been decided for me. I want to focus on that blade of grass in the corner, the one that is being presented as existing a mere 5 feet from my eyes, but I am not allowed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a limitation imposed by the filmmakers, but by the technology. The films are not _shot_ in 3D, they are merely recorded with two identical cameras, capturing two 2D planes. It is an illusion, and as such it has limitations, but in this situation, those limitations annoy me.

As we all sat there, wide eyed, fighting the fierce focus fatigue, I noticed my wife lifting her glasses off her nose and trying to watch the film _a capella_. I turned to her and asked if she was OK, hoping she’d forgotten my smugness earlier. “I’m bored of the 3D,” she said, “I wanted to see if I could watch it without.” For me, that just summed it up. Couple that with the fact that the viewport we are presented with inherently has a self destructive effect, and you have a recipe for an unhappy little camper. Objects which are at the edge of the frame are often things like grass, or trees, things which the filmmakers use to enhance the 3D effect. This does add real depth, but the problem is the depth is instantly destroyed when the object hits the edge of the frame. As a result, my poor little brain can’t seem to distinguish between whether the grass is really 5 feet in front of me, or whether it’s 50-60 feet away and stuck to the edge of the cinema screen. Consequently, it does something in the middle: it looks fuzzy, it’s green, and my brain just says grass.

As the movie drew to a close I must admit I was a little relieved. It certainly wasn’t what it had promised to be. I wasn’t drawn into another world, I wasn’t sitting on the edge of my seat while weird and wonderful creatures literally came out of the screen at me. I was sitting watching a film which had simply been enhanced with a “special” effect. As the final credits rolled up off the top of the screen, yes I am one of those annoying customers who waits right until the end of the film, all that kept me sitting there was the possibility of maybe, just maybe seeing the SkyTV logo again. This time it’s mine.

  1. I have to agree for the most part with you on this one. One caveat, Alice in Wonderland was pretty much universally panned for it’s shitty 3D. And most 3D that’s in the cinema these days falls into 1 of 2 categories. Either it’s a very poorly converted 2D film, lending to blurry images and headache inducing depth planes, or it’s so gimicky and over the top with the effects that it ruins the enjoyment of immersion. The only films that I feel have done 3D right in recent memory were Avatar (gold standard right now) and Coraline. Mainly because these films were crafted with 3D in mind and mainly used to add more subtle depth. Beowulf also gets a nod, because although it was not an especially great film, the sweeping camerawork lent itself well to the sort of 3D used, with only occasional pandering to the “make-it-jump-out-at-me” crowd.

    The sad truth is that as ticket sales continue to fall below greedy studio predictions, they will treat 3D as a sortuv golden goose, gouging the pocketbooks of the few customers still willing to pay for the social experience of the cinema. And as with all things, the quality will decrease as the quantity rises.

  2. for so long i have wondered why oh why do i not like 3d films

    …The effect works great, but only if you don’t change your focus. So your brain is constantly fighting between _wanting_ to refocus in order to look around in a 3D world, because that’s what it’s used to, and _struggling_ to keep focus on the 2D plane to maintain the illusion.

    and there we go, perfect. this is now what I’m telling people.

    Thanks Pete

    Ben x

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