The 3-D Re-Invasion! (Even This Blog Post is 3-D!)

This past Friday the Film Forum opened a special two week program of “Classic 3-D” films that once upon a Golden Age leapt off screens during 1953 – 1954. The line up includes some lesser known noir like Man in the Dark as well as the more notable champs like Dial M for Murder and Kiss Me Kate.

Classic 3-D

A New York Times article by Dave Kehr opens with the question on every filmmaker’s mind: “Does 3-D represent the future of the movies?” This is a question that taps at the back of my mind from time to time, too, and I think that filmmakers might be taking the current 3-D renaissance a little too seriously.

There’s a good article in The Village Voice penned by J. Hoberman that’s worth a read on this subject. It outlines “The Problem With 3-D,” highlighting the current CGI-based trend’s inferiority to photography-based 3-D. Besides claiming that most current CG3-D has an “underwhelming mediocre quality” to it, Hoberman also believes it may detract from the story being told in most 3-D features today (or in my view, tries to compensate poor script for powerful graphics.)

Earlier this year I saw my very first 3-D movie ever. And yes, it was Avatar, which is a movie worth all the fuss of filming with this enhanced technology. I even paid the extra few bucks to see the film on the ginormous IMAX screen. Barring a grossly Hollywood storyline and lack of unforeseeable twists, I was entertained primarily because of how James Cameron’s world opened up to me because of its IMAX 3-D format.

Disney's TRON: LEGACY in IMAX 3-D

3-D should therefore be reserved for films that truly warrant it. Let’s face it, Avatar was made for 3-D, and so are films like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Tron: Legacy and maybe even (gulp!) The Expendibles. If your story is one that has its most climactic scene set in a café between two people dialoging back and forth, it’s a safe bet that 3-D’s not for your film; so instead of worrying about leaping off your two-dimensional playing field onto this retro-bandwagon, filmmakers should stay focused on story they can.

Dail M for Murder is constantly hailed as a prime example of 3-D being used to actually enhance, not detract from, the storyline. Hitchcock used it in a minimalist way and achieved maximum results, successfully heightening the tension during the attempted murder of Grace Kelley’s character.

Hitchcock 3-D
Alfred Hitchcock used 3-D sparingly to heighten the audience's tension during particular moments.

The real question is whether or not the current 3-D phenomenon will truly revolutionize the cinematic experience. Or will it simply fizzle out into another brief stereophonic excursion until future mad cinescientists can discover a bridge to the third dimension without the use of glasses that induce headache, nausea, and a plethora of other fine print side effects.

And if you truly want to watch a story unfold between two people at a diner or coffee shop for an hour and a half in three dimensions, you can see a good play for the same price as an IMAX admission. (This piece from the 2010 New York Fringe Festival really pops out at you!)

Either way, a story told in 3-D needs to be one that can only be told in 3-D, one that in any other format would do a disservice to its excellence. Had I watched Avatar on a normal sized flat screen, I’m certain I would have been utterly disappointed. But 3-D opened the doorway to the film’s potential to dazzle and bring out the child-like wonder of film. If only it had a better story, it might have been worthy of that “Best Picture” nomination it received, and might’ve won as well.

What are your thoughts on 3-D and the future of cinema? Of storytelling?

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