Sunday, April 14, 2013

How 3-D Is Ruining Movies For Me

First, let's get one thing straight: there is no such thing as a 3-D movie.

3-D movies are two dimensional like all movies.  In the case of traditional movies, the flat screen uses certain context cues (scale, overlap, etc.) to trick our brains into perceiving apparent depth.  In the case of 3-D movies, an additional trick is used: two slightly off-kilter images, which our brains, assisted by special lenses, combine to perceive apparent depth.

I was perfectly happy to imagine movies as having depth.  I didn't need to wear funky glasses to aid the deception.  In fact, to me, that additional illusion destroys the illusion: the few elements that jump out of the screen only emphasize how flat everything else truly is.

To me, the 3-D movie craze is absolutely ruining my ability to watch the kind of movies I want to watch.

Case in point: Jurassic Park.  I saw it twenty years ago, and I was excited to see it again on the big screen.

But I can't.  Why?  Because it's in 3-D, and the very few 2-D screenings are in the middle of the day.  When I'm, you know, at work.

Most of the movies I enjoy watching--that is, fantasy and science fiction--are now being presented in 3-D.  Soon, they might only be released in that format.  At which point, I'll probably stop watching movies altogether.

And maybe that won't be such a bad thing.  Because the other, deeper way in which 3-D is ruining movies is by dictating their content.  With our fancy new 3-D technology, we take a perfectly nice story like The Hobbit and add endless chase scenes, dropping-off-cliff sequences, and other completely needless nonsense merely because it looks really cool in 3-D.

The technology, rather than the story or the theme or the character relationships, drives the film.

Now, to a certain extent, technology has always played a determining role in fantasy and sci-fi film.  A main goal of such films is to produce the illusion of the impossible, and technology has kept pace in striving to make that illusion convincing.  By introducing another illusory reality to fantasy and science fiction film, one could argue that 3-D is only extending that tradition.

But 3-D, I believe, is different.  To a far greater extent than any of the technologies that have preceded it--stop-motion animation, blue and green screens, CGI--3-D takes on a life of its own: it becomes the film's reason for existence, over and above its function of enhancing the realism of the film's patently unreal effects. If you want proof of that, the mere fact that these movies are advertised as 3-D should supply it: no one ever said, "I'm going to a CGI movie today," even if (as in the case of the original Jurassic Park) revolutionary advances in CGI modeling greatly added to the film's appeal.  3-D, in other words, is a kind of uber-technology, a technology that calls attention only to itself.

And ultimately, that's why it's ruining movies for me (and seems likely to ruin them for everyone in the long run).

We don't watch movies anymore.  We watch the technology.

Like so much in today's digital age, we've added a (virtual) dimension, while losing the thing itself.


  1. I'm not a fan of 3D either, but then I don't even like Disney's digital color updates to old classics. We went to How to Train Your Dragon (the first and last 3D I've watched) a few years back and the kids couldn't keep their glasses on (so total waste on the added pricing) and it wasn't nearly the experience I'd expected. 2D is perfect. Let my imagination do the rest of the work. I want the story, not the 3D to drive the movie.

    thanks for visiting my blog. Your "without of" comment cracked me up.

  2. Thanks, Robin. It's good to know there are others who find 3D needless and obtrusive. (And I plan to visit your blog regularly, though I can't always promise crack-up lines!)