3D – A Qualified Defense

At home, the TV industry encouraged the networks to create TV shows with bold chromatics so they could sell more of their new “color” sets. That’s how we got “Batman…in COLOR” or why everyone on the original Star Trek had different colored uniforms. Now think of that. TV manufacturers pushing color content so they can move product. Not dissimilar to 3D TV manufacturers pushing for 3D content so they can sell more sets. I’m not saying that relationship is right or wrong, just that this “new” 3D model is not without precedent.

The issue of color really helps to illustrate where I’m going with this. The conversion to color movies didn’t happen all at once. You would find black and white films in theaters at the same time as color. The push for color was most of the time market driven. But sometimes it’s just a case of the best way to tell the story. For example, Dr. Strangelove came out in the 60s, long after color film was standard. But I don’t think anyone aside from possibly a 1990s Ted Turner would argue that it should be in color. I’m convinced that Kubrick felt it was best for the movie. More modern examples abound: Raging Bull, Schindler’s List, Young Frankenstein, Zelig, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Pleasantville, Good Night and Good Luck. Use of black and white in all of those films was an artistic choice because it was the best way to tell that story. Ideally, I think the same thing could be applied to 3D.

Critics like to tacitly dismiss 3D. But look at some of the better examples of this new 3D trend: Coraline (where the 3D added depth and wonder to the world she falls into), Beowulf (the dragon flight during the climax of that movie is exhilirating in 3D), Monster House (my candidate for best use of that kinda creepy motion capture CGI that Zemeckis is so fond of). And then we get to the game changer that is Avatar. I would actually argue that this movie should not be watched in 2D. The enveloping spectacle is the main point of the experience. The film itself is good, with innovative creature designs and fun action. But the script isn’t particularly spectacular. I haven’t seen it on video yet, but I’m guessing those who waited for 2D home video to watch Avatar may have ended up asking what all the fuss was about. Some of them may ask why “Smurfses With Wolves” was so hyped. Cameron’s revolutionary use of 3D makes the movie come alive. And I’ve seen some demos of scenes from this on a 3D TV as well. It’s gotta be the best looking image I’ve seen on a 3D TV so far!

The Avatar example is really what I think we should be after. 3D is not an end unto itself. It doesn’t make a movie better by itself. But a skillfull filmmaker can use it as another crayon in their box. With James Cameron or a Steven Spielberg or a David Fincher or a [insert big Hollywood Director here], who knows how to skillfully use the technology, it has the potential to enhance the story dramatically. Let me use another glowing recent example that illustrates this point succinctly: Pixar. Now, I saw Up in 3D and thought it enhanced the images somewhat. The added depth of field in some shots was fun. But given that film is also amazing in 2D, Up does not provide proof by itself. So then comes along Toy Story 3. In IMAX 3D, there were some shots in that film that were helped considerably by the 3D. The opening chase with the train robbery and flood of toy monkeys was exciting and envoloping. But even more so, during the climax at the dump as the heroes are holding each other’s hands while staring into the furnace that threatens to destroy them, the giant 3D image enhanced the experience. That swirling flame became a gaping maw, a literal hell itself that they could see opening. The audience could feel what the toys felt by staring into that deep flaming hole. It made the threat feel even more real.

However, as much as I liked the 3D use in that film, it’s use just before Toy Story 3 started is grossly overlooked by everyone. I’m talking about the Oscar-nominated short Day and Night. This was the short film about two amorphous blob people that represented daytime and nighttime as they compete with each other, if you’ll remember. It is at times funny, sweet, and, in the best traditions of Pixar, moving. Now, I’ve seen this short in both 3D and 2D in theaters. The experience was drastically different. I believed this Pixar gem has the most innovative use of 3D since Avatar. One of the whole points is the use of depth. Each character has a scenario playing out inside their body that is in the foreground or background at alternating times. Their battle with each other is played out in this depth of imagery. Who is winning and who is losing is based on how those depths intertwine. Meanwhile, in 2D, those images play as cute, but not amazing. In fact, the whole short seems like one of that company’s lesser efforts without that interplay. It’s no surprise that in the Best Animated Short catagory last year Pixar suffered one of its few losses with this movie. I’m willing to bet that most Academy members watched those shorts from screener DVDs at home, so most of them probably never saw it in 3D at all. It then probably came off as less impressive, and they ended up voting for The Lost Thing (which was a good movie in its own right, no slight intended).

My personal flipside is what I think I may have missed. For example, I didn’t get to see How To Train Your Dragon until I rented it on Blu-ray. I liked the movie and thought it was sweet. But I will always think I missed out on something not seeing the flying sequences in 3D. I feel like I’m missing something. Recently, I finally saw Tangled in 2D. It was ooookayish. I’m not saying 3D would have made it infinitely better, but there were some action sequences that looked like they were intended to be seen that way.


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I'm a family man who got his Drama degree back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and now works at a desk. I love movies of all kinds, and I am still working my way through the list of 1001 movies you must see before you die.

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