NOV 10 — The 3D debate, about whether it’s more than just a gimmick, has been going on for a few years now, ever since the second wave of 3D started to really build up steam with the monstrous success of Avatar.
Yes, you read that right, there was an earlier wave of Hollywood 3D movies a long, long time ago, with films like House Of Wax and It Came From Outer Space. Even Alfred Hitchcock weighed in with a 3D effort back then with Dial M For Murder.
There was even something close to 4D, way before the last Spy Kids movie claimed a 4th dimension with their sniff cards, when legendary producer William Castle rigged cinema seats with surplus army devices that can cause mild electric shocks to provide even more “jolts” of excitement when he screens his movies.
But like I said earlier, these early forays into 3D were unfortunately more often than not just gimmicks, as the movie studios in the 1950s desperately tried to come up with whatever novelty tricks they could to differentiate going to the cinema with merely staying at home and watching television, as they were losing audiences to television by the truckloads back then.
We’re probably used to the widescreen format now, but back then TVs were square and widescreen was probably the studios’ most successful gimmick as each studio or company would have their own version of the widescreen format, from Cinemascope to Tohoscope and beyond.
The reason we’re used to the widescreen format now is surely because the format has now become not merely a gimmick, but also an important expressive tool in the filmmakers’ arsenal, able to convey things in a different way than the square format (often called “the Academy ratio”) of movies before that.
It’s become so prevalent that it’s rare to even find a new movie being shot today in the Academy ratio as the default setting for almost all productions nowadays (even TV series) are in widescreen.
Which now brings me to the future of 3D. Detractors have always harped upon the fact that 3D movies have always seemed like cheap gimmicks, with the filmmakers usually failing to make proper (let alone creative) use of the extra dimension that comes with the format.
It’s usually used to just throw things from the screen onto the audience, and in return people always associate 3D with being able to do nothing more than that. In fact, some even complain when a 3D movie doesn’t resort to throwing things at them!
Defenders of the format say that like any other new technology, it’s not the tool that is the problem but the user. In time, great directors will take a stab at filming in 3D, and maybe then we’ll see the format’s full potential being explored.
As a film geek and keen follower of film history, I tend to agree with this camp, as even with the widescreen format you can clearly see how remarkable its usage can be in the hands of a master like Vincente Minnelli, Akira Kurosawa or Bela Tarr and how useless it can be in the hands of journeyman hacks (not naming names!).
It’s unfortunate that films falling within this latter camp like Cave Of Forgotten Dreams (by Werner Herzog), Pina (by Wim Wenders) and even a children’s film like Hugo (by Martin Scorsese) failed to make it to our shores in 3D. I only had the pleasure of watching them in normal 2D on DVD, but even then I could actually imagine how remarkable the play of dimensions would be if I saw them in 3D.
While most live action 3D films are trashy commercial vehicles at best, this year has seen a fair share of good ones too, with The Avengers being far ahead of the pack and Dredd giving me quite a pleasant surprise, especially with its “slo-mo” sequences. And props must also be given to trashmeister Paul W.S. Anderson for his last two movies, the obviously not-so-good The Three Musketeers and Resident Evil: Retribution that were still pretty good examples of how to use 3D excitingly.
Being Malaysian, I guess the best 3D examples that you can find in local cinemas would be with animated films, and I thought that Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures Of Tintin was an outstanding example, outstripping even Pixar movies with its remarkable use of 3D. And just a few weeks ago, we’re treated to what’s surely one of the most gorgeous looking (and most gorgeously used) 3D animated film yet in Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, a black-and-white stop-motion animation film (yes, believe it or not, a B&W film in 3D!).
I watched it twice, once in 3D and after that in 2D just to see the difference, and I can safely say that seeing it in 3D was a heart-stopping experience. And with rumours going around that Jean Luc-Godard’s next film will be in 3D (no joke!), I’d have to say that the future of 3D looks quite alive and well!
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.