3D Is A Gimmick, But That's Okay (Part Two)

by Samuel Marlow. Published 13th February 2012

Read 3D is a Gimmick, But That's Okay - Part One in Dimensionalised 2D!

In my previous post, I discusses how I found the 3D in Hugo distracting on occasion. I realise I have to tread carefully here, as when both sound and colour came about people called them gimmicks. It could well be that 3D will become part of movie grammar and film students of the future will be taught about the semiotics of depth along with colour, depth of field and sound.


The difference as far as can see, is that neither sound nor colour as they appear on screen are realistic - realism being the main argument in favour of 3D-as-standard. The hyper-saturated colours of Amelie are not how the world looks (which is a great pity). No movie scene set in a public place or restaurant has anything like realistic sound, as the characters would be shouting at each other. Even the way movies are lit is unrealistic. If you actually pay attention to the supposed light sources in a standard short/reverse shot set-up you will see the light sources are jumping around all over the place, getting warmer or cooler, hard and soft, near and to the side to high and far away. Even the convention of editing is unrealistic. To an extent it mimics the way our eye flick between stationary views, but it is entirely invented for cinema.

In all of Amelie, there is only one single shot that I can think of that might be more effective in 3D - the shot where she finds the tin in her bathroom. One out of thousands. An incidence of 0.1%


To make matters worse, there is the current trend of retrofitting or "dimensionalising" 2D films and movies for a 3D presentation. Even worse are the movies that are shot in 2D with the intention of releasing them in 3D as a cost-saving measure.

So why am I picking on 3D? Well, to be honest, I'm not. 3D has come into criticism for being a way to give cheap thrills to an audience that is no longer dazzled by effects for their own sake. 3D is, by its nature, impressive when something is thrust into the auditorium. The notion of restrained 3D that only exists beyond the cinema screen seems to make action feel even more removed than a stage.


Predictably, George "I Just Can't Stop Picking At It" Lucas is re-re-re-releasing the Star Wars saga in dimensionalised 3D this month. This was one of the trailers I saw at Hugo, but it left me feeling underwhelmed. If this must be done, I would want to see it pushed to breaking point. If we must continue the increasingly necrophillic revisiting of Star Wars, I want the Star Destroyer in that first shot of A New Hope to be inside the auditorium. When the Millennium Falcon blows up that TIE Fighter and flies through the debris in Return of the Jedi, I want it heading right for me. I want to feel the urge to duck.

When I saw Pixar's Up in 3D, part of the preamble included an excerpt from A Christmas Carol (the 3D animation, not Alistair Sim), with snow fluttering down as if from the ceiling over my head. It was enchanting and just what I would expect. By contrast the more restrained snow in Hugo was like watching snow falling outside as opposed to standing in a snowstorm.

What I'm saying is 3D is essentially a special effect. Used without shame it can make you feel literally part of the action. I can imagine the "storming the beach" scene at the start of Saving Private Ryan could be one of the most heart-pounding experiences short of actually going to war if the poor soldiers were in the auditorium with you. If shrapnel and body parts appeared to be whizzing past your head. The point is if you must use 3D, use it to its full potential. Don't shackle it out of embarrassment or artistic pretensions.

So would I use 3D in a project? Of course. It would be churlish to dismiss it. I have scripts I would love to direct one day (when someone will cough up somewhere in the region of £100m!) that have scenes that might be wonderful in 3D. I also have intimate dramas that 3D would crush with its weight (in my opinion, at least). If and when I use 3D, though, I imagine using it similarly to how Christopher Nolan used IMAX format in The Dark Knight - shoot 2D for dialogue, and 3D for action. I guess time will tell.

Read the shocking conclusion the 3D is a Gimmick Trilogy!


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