Wednesday, June 20, 2012

3D Rant in E-Minor

All this talk about greedy Hollywood studios reminds me how much I absolutely hate 3D. It's an ugly gimmick designed to steal your money and create a false sense of immersion. It literally adds nothing to a frame that couldn't already be achieved through a deep focal lens and great storytelling.

Ben and John recently brought up Walter Murch. He has a great takedown of 3D that he sent to Roger Ebert a while back. In that letter, one of his best lines is this: "And lastly, the question of immersion. 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain 'perspective' relationship to the image. It is almost a Brechtian trick. Whereas if the film story has really gripped an audience they are 'in' the picture in a kind of dreamlike 'spaceless' space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with." The man couldn't be more on point. Great filmmaking silently and painlessly immerses you in an image, while 3D abrasively forces itself upon your eyelids, clumsily trying to hypnotize you into believing you are "there." Besides, an absorbing story will already appeal to you in numerous dimensions (emotional, philosophical, moral, etc.). 3D adds nothing to this age-old process of pure storytelling craftsmanship.

In a conversation about 3D, Scorsese brought up the deep focus cinematography of films like THE RULES OF THE GAME and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. He said that Renoir and Wyler were trying to create the first "3D" films at the time. There's no question that these films are shot in a way to draw the eye and mind towards as much depth and absorption as possible. But the difference between them and something like AVATAR is that they are natural photographic images; they did not need to be converted to another format, and you didn't need to wear special glasses to see them. Those past films aren't proof that 3D is the wave of the future; they are proof that 3D immersion is already available through the process of film. Say what you will about Chris Nolan as a storyteller, but frankly, I admire the guy as a filmmaker. He is someone who has been staunchly opposed to 3D, no matter how much Warner Bros. have tried to sway him so they could reap all that outlandish profit. In a discussion about why he refuses to shoot in 3D, he said, "3-D is a misnomer. Films are 3-D. The whole point of photography is that it’s three-dimensional." Amen, brother.

To me, 3D is a complete joke, but it points to a much more serious problem. This brings me to my next object of scorn: digital projection and an increased frames-per-second rate. I don't know if any of you have heard or not, but Peter Jackson shot and is trying to display THE HOBBIT at 48 fps as opposed to the standard 24 fps our eyes are accustomed to when we watch film or television (There's an article about it here). The whole point of shooting it at a higher frame rate is so the 3D becomes even more immersive, and it seems like you are actually sitting there with the actors. The problem with this, as people who've seen footage from it have written, is that this completely removes the gloss, filter, and aesthetic distance of film. It takes away the beauty of a film image (both its lighting and specificity of its lensing) and replaces it with ugliness of a cheap TruMotion HD tv or a hideous camera from a low-budget 70s tv show. The illusion of immersion a higher frame rate will certainly give you, but a better looking image? Not a chance.

Supposed "innovators" of movie technology like James Cameron and Peter Jackson are trying to destroy film. 3D, digital projection, and an increased fps rate are the death knell for the beauty of sitting in a theater with that glorious old-fashioned beam of light from a film projector stretching over your head towards the screen.

They are also the death knell for paying a reasonable price to see a movie. In that article, it's mentioned that Cameron wants to shoot the next AVATAR films at 60 fps. Increasing the frame rate on projectors this much will be very expensive for cinemas that want to display them. So, seeing the next AVATAR film in 3D at 60 fps on digital projection will probably cost you over 2o bucks. That'd be like paying 8 dollars a gallon for gas that ruins your car. When will we learn to just say no?

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