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3D or not 3D?

As 3D enters its second golden age (yes, I’m using a little hyperbole, but let’s run with it), it’s generating a lot of discussion. Just how gimmicky is it? Is doomed to forever by a “nine day fad”, as blithely summed up by Alfred Hitchcock himself? Worse, does 3D fade colours and detract from the actual viewing experience, as Roger Ebert protests? I figured I’d give my two cents on the third dimension.

Retro chic

Retro chic

Let’s get some of the ridiculous claims out of the way. It is not, despite Jeffrey Kratzenberg’s claims, the most innovative advancement in film since sound. Nor, as Pete Buckingham from the UK Film Council would have you believe, is it on a par with colour. It is an immersive experience in film, on par with a 7.1 surround sound or high definition in the home media market. Both are to be lauded and do add a lot to the viewing experience, but they aren’t huge strides forward.

On the other hand, from my own viewing experience, it is not necessarily everything that detractors accuse it of either. Maybe it was because of Coraline‘s well-chosen colour scheme, but I did not notice any discernable loss while watching the film. Sometimes I even forget I was wearing the glasses. Nor is it a gimmick designed to exclusively increase cinema revenues by creating an experience that cannot be replicated at home – the Coraline blu ray will come with both 2D and 3D versions. Still, it isn’t necessarily ground-breaking. I imagine that Coraline would be almost as enchanting in the standard 2D version. I say almost because the 3D enhanced the film’s atmosphere, rather than (as with most other projects) distracting from its flaws.

As the many, many fads Hollywood has gone through go, 3D isn’t that bad. I heard tell of one of the lecturers in my college attending a “Smell-O-Vision” screening. Apparently it was as dodgy as it sounds. Still, while the technology involved in 3D may have improved dramatically over the past few years, I think that we are right to be skeptical. The bulk of work has been on a host of dodgy projects aimed at undiscerning children (G-Force, Mosters vs. Aliens), and that stinks of exploitation. That the only such movie aimed at adults was a dodgy slasher movie (My Bloody Valentine 3D) does not help much either.

On the other hand, Coraline showed that 3D need not be gaudy in its application. While I don’t doubt that Up will be similarly classy in its execution, I sense that 3D needs an autuer, a director willing to offer an experience in 3D that can’t simply be replicated in 2D. By all accounts (based on early footage shown to insiders – so take with a grain of salt) James Cameron seems to be achieving this with his epic space opera Avatar. The maestro has the clout (after Titanic) to do just about anything he wants, and the vision to make it happen – which is why his proposed Heavy Metal seems so interesting. Avatar is shaping up to be a game-changer, and I’m already eagerly looking forward to it. I want to see what a legendary film maker can do with the 3D process.

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