A final judgement on 3D

There’s been a lot of talk about 3D recently and even those with a marginal interest in film couldn’t have missed the chatter. Over the years, we have been bombarded with publicity from the pro 3D camp, followed up by wave after wave of stereographic blockbuster seat fillers. Avatar has been the bespoke leader of this revolution, which I feel is a perfect choice. Avatar the film is an empty, unrewarding experience that cost the earth. Whilst 3D is a… Oh, did you see what I did there?

Yes. I think 3D is shit. Absolutely fucking shit. It hurts my eyes after seconds, darkens the image in an already darkened cinema by 30% and makes me physically recoil from the screen. Why the hell would I pay extra money for that experience? But that’s the problem. If I want to see film projected in the cinema I have to pay extra money for THAT experience. Increasingly, cinema chains are pushing the unwatchable (for me) 3D version instead of the 2D version. In some cases, such as ‘Dredd’ (the current cinematic iteration of  2000AD’s stone cold, pre-Robocop satirical anti-hero/fascist cop/futura-Dirty Harry) the 2D version is widely unavailable in theatres, thank you very much. Reassuringly, there has been some backlash against this, with the SFX website posting a list of available 2D screenings, pathetically numbering no more than 10 on the opening weekend. That’s 10 across the whole country! These were mostly just a single screening to cater to anti-3D whiners like me. But with only a single screening on one particular day in the whole of London, It didn’t feel like we had won the battle. Thankfully, the internet kvetching over the weekend has expanded this list to 29 – http://film.list.co.uk/article/45206-dredd-2d-screenings-around-the-uk/

Even so, that’s still a pathetically small amount of screenings for a British film that has received near universal praise while being keenly anticipated by an impatient genre audience. Exactly the kind of demographic who, if denied a cinema screening, may have turned to the torrents… Which is exactly what 3D was supposed to stop in the first place!

But so what. I’m the one with the problem, right? Most people get on just fine with 3D, happily paying that little bit extra for an enhanced cinematic experience. Surely their needs come way before the minority of geeky complainers prattling on about losing 4 foot-candles of illumination…

True, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, as Lenin said (I think it was him). Unfortunately for an increasingly desperate and paranoid Hollywood, the issues of economic instability, piracy and falling cinema attendance have not been countered by the 3D revolution. Over the last year, attendance at 3D screenings has dropped 50%. The average cinema goer was choosing 2D, despite the numeric balance of available screens being in 3D’s favour.

Whilst 3D still has it’s enthusiastic supporters, the masses seem bored, disinterested, indifferent or financially unwilling to pay for this “upgraded experience”. The rest, like me, get head fucked by the eye strain. The film industry lived in hope of salvation from the Luciferian forces of piracy, but the evangelists for this most unholy means of product distribution are failing to spread the gospel! Those passing the Dimensión tres collection box around have missed the bleeding obvious…

Everyone’s eyes are different!

Remember those magic eye pictures? Another fad that died… But also, some people could get the ‘magic’ effect to work, some perhaps pretended or imagined ‘something’ into happening. Others just felt stupid for staring at a piece of paper for an hour, waiting for the punchline but feeling like they were the joke. Because everyone’s eyes are different. Or rather, the way we process visual images is variable. Magic eye pictures are an optical illusion that doesn’t work for everyone. Stereographic 3D too is an optical illusion…. that doesn’t work on everyone! It’s true that the 24 frames per second that speeds the projected image on the cinema screen is also an optical illusion. But given cinemas continuing (though declining) presence in our lives over the past century, I think it’s fair to say this optical illusion is more successful than others.

Those of us who need glasses or contact lenses may have a greater level of difficulty with sterography. Unfortunately, 75% of American’s require sight correction and I suspect the number is similar here in Britain. Some of us are short sighted, others far. We use the refraction in artificial lenses to correct our vision to the normal 20/20 standard. But none of us see the world in exactly the same way. Our focus, our depth of field… all variable. Some, such as myself experience double vision when our eyes rapidly change the point of focus. Most of us can handle a nice, flat image perfectly fine. And obviously some have no issues with 3D (including, I have to say, some people with eye correction). But alas for stereoscopiciphiles who enjoy their 3D pictures…. For many of us, the third dimension is a dimension too far. We still don’t fully understand how vision works and whilst I’m a great believer in experimentation and developing new technology, I know a failed experiment when I see one.

On the film making side, shooting in 3D is more time consuming, more expensive and restricts the film maker creatively. Fast cutting or whip pans conflict heavily with this format, for the human eye has trouble adjusting to rapid changes in a stereoscopic image. It doubles the amount of rendering time for any CGI and involves a prolonged and difficult post process. A format favoured by a shrinking minority strikes me as the least important thing a film maker should be doing with their budget.

The writer/producer of Dredd, Alex Garland recently spoke in defence of this troublesome format, but even he said shooting in 3D was an expensive pain in the arse. In conversation with the notorious anti-3D film critic Mark Kermode during the Prometheus media blitz, Ridley Scott suggested that the extra dimension crowbarred into his pictures was more of a business decision rather than for any aesthetic qualities, before proceeding to acclaim the quality of the 2D version. Not an absolute damnation, but hardly glowing praise, whilst Chris Nolan has an opinion not far from mine (presented with more eloquence and qualified with technical observation, such as the business about losing 4 foot-candles due to those damned glasses).

And yet, the vested interest fights on. Increasingly, it is difficult to find a showing of many films in eye friendly 2D, despite the failing box office. Why does the film industry persist? What does anyone do when they are drowning? They cling on to the nearest object… And clinging on is exactly what these limpets are doing. There is talk of putting a premium on the price of a 2D ticket, a tax on those who have the nerve to see a film in a preferred format. I know, it’s OK to be angry…

Besides this outrageous knee jerk reaction, there is also the belief in 3D as the piracy panacea. Yet piracy continues to thrive, the infestation resilient to the real3d sugar pill. And eventually, someone will figure a way of bootlegging 3D blu-rays, if it hasn’t already happened.

But despite these failings, the increased premium on ticket sales makes 3D a viable option for now. How long this will continue is uncertain… But just to add some greys into a black and white argument, I learned today that China will only screen Hollywood films IF they are in 3D. No 3D, no sale. And China is an increasingly important market for cinema distribution. Perhaps tastes are different in China, but I think the bubble will eventually burst, both at home and abroad. 3D will eventually fail, though it’s demise will be long and drawn out (in the finest Hollywood tradition).

So the advocates of the 3D movement refuse to concede defeat, return to their homes and accept that the projected image on their cinema screens is better off in two dimensions. Instead, they press on.

This is bad news for the film maker. Many investors insist the films they back are subjected to this grossly expensive process. While such costs can be accommodated by big budget efforts, within the low budget world, such extra costs can be disastrous. Bad enough our budgets shrink, investors disappear and funding opportunities dry up. What’s can be just as fatal is the extra weight on a production that 3D brings, a drain on time and fiscal resources. To me, slapping a film with the burden of 3D takes away investment that can be spent on the script, actors, the sets, the fx… anything that actually improves the film. Your film ends up being a lesser work than intended, whilst costing the earth and will be projected in a format most people do not want to pay for. At every level, the film suffers. The audience stays away, the returns are poor. The investors are displeased. And next time, it’s so much more difficult for you to attract financing.

As film makers, we must resist the urge to perpetuate this folly. And as cinema goers we must avoid those damned indoor sunglasses whenever we can.  Even if it means you have to take a seat at the Wandsworth Cineworld to see Dredd in 2D for it’s single showing at 6:10 pm on a Friday evening.

As the aforementioned Dredd would say himself, the verdict is in, the judgement is final and the sentence will be passed. 3D is a criminal waste of time and money at a time when many creatives are feeling the grip of austerity on their collars. All 3D serves with it’s “Look At Me” show boating is to reveal a troubled industry out of touch with a changing world. An act of desperation that pushes the viewer away from the silver screen, a self destructive act during an economic recession for an industry losing the war on piracy.

One thought on “A final judgement on 3D

  1. Great point, I never thought there could be a relation between wearing contacts and experiencing 3D. It kind of makes me feel a little more bitter about the whole gimmick of it (mainly because I’ve ended up wasting my money to see a 3D show when the 2D was sold out).

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