Justin Pierce raised an interesting thought about the use of 3-D projection in a recent Wonderella comic strip. At the time, I got a bit of a chuckle out of it and went on my lachrymose way. After all, Cracked has been poking fun at 3-D television since at least January, and the Muppets were making 3-D jokes back in the 70s or 80s (I wish I could track down a video of the scene; it involved the Swedish chef working the concession stand at a movie theater and flinging popcorn everywhere).
Well, now the latest review at The Editing Room is making the same commentary. So is one of the comics over at Dean’s Comic Booth. It seems only appropriate, then, that I jump on the bandwagon and offer an opinion of my own.
My big complaint with 3D television and film is that, decades after the 3D concept was introduced, the technology is still in its “wow” phase. Those of you who are my age, do you remember how aggressively Sega marketed its Game Gear as the first handheld video game device with a color screen? Think how few years (or months) it took for a color screen on a handheld to become commonplace, nothing to get excited over. The same thing goes for sending photos and video from a mobile phone, the touch screen on the Nintendo DS, or whatever deep-fried lunacy the fast food corporations are wrapping in waxed paper and flinging out the drive-thru window this week. A certain amount of hype is generated, people voice their respective admiration or distaste, and within months it’s no big deal. And yet more than half a century after people started wearing funky glasses to the movie house*, we’re still expected to sit up and be amazed that such and such a movie has excellent depth** . . . while the producers trot out the same tricks as ever.
Personally, I’ve gotten jaded enough that a character’s arm sticking out of the screen like he or she is going to grab my face no longer impresses me. The same goes for the plethora of projectiles that various shows have flung out of the screen with the intent to make me flinch***. The problem is, that’s about the only way you get people to notice that your movie is in 3-D, because most people won’t care that the background now sits behind the characters. And if no one notices the 3-D effects, then why bother funneling the extra cash into a 3-D movie in the first place? But the mark of any well-done cinematic craft is the fact that people don’t notice it; if it stands out too much, if Jake Sully goes running through a bunch of roots and pebbles or the Cheshire Cat drifts too far out of the screen and makes the viewer flinch, then it breaks the illusion that the rest of the film is trying to weave.
And that, right there, is the problem with 3-D cinema. As it stands, it takes too much extra effort for not enough pay-off. The extra immersion granted by the addition of depth perception is ruined by the producers having to make absolutely certain that we’re aware of the depth perception. If it ever gets past this Catch-22 phase of perpetual novelty and settles into the background with all the other tricks of the trade, it might actually be worthwhile. But until then, I’ll file it with Shaky-Cam under “That’s nice, but will you please STOP?”
* If Wikipedia is to be believed, 3-D films have existed in one form or another since the 1890s. Chew on that for a while.
** At least, depth in the binocular sense. Hollywood remains as vapid as ever, even when it tries to wax pseudo-philosophical.
*** I recall an episode of Family Matters done in 3-D, wherein a cannonball was fired through the fourth wall, followed by Steve Urkel leaning out through the hole to try and grab it back. I remember this mostly because I didn’t have a pair of colored glasses, so I had to make do with tinted clear Lego pieces taped to my regular frames.