Should 3D Die Already?

In a recent post at entitled ‘Dear 3D, Please Die Already (Again)’, Scott Weinberg (a writer whose thoughts on film I generally agree with) bemoaned the current trend of 3D films filling multiplexes. His piece taps into a number of opinions about 3D that seem very common right now and whilst I’m not exactly 3D’s biggest advocate (I still think it has a long way to go both technologically and artistically), I disagree pretty strongly with the argument he puts forth.

Scott Weinberg begins the piece with comments surrounding the idea that 3D is just a gimmick and one that is born out of purely financial concerns.

“…There are way too many entertainment options these days! We need to dust off our secret weapon! Yes, my brilliant fellow studio executives, we must resort to 3D again. We’re desperate.”

Whilst many films do rely on 3D as simply a gimmick and one that is used predominantly to make more money, this does not mean that this is all that 3D is. 3D is another tool for filmmakers and one that can be used badly or well, like any tool. If films shot in 2.39:1 only used the format in a gimmicky way, widening the frame only when a big landscape is visible or placing people or objects in areas on screen that pay no attention to the way in which an audience moves their eyes then I would not criticise the aspect ratio, the tool, I would blame the workman.

Some filmmakers have ignored the complexities of 3D filmmaking, some have tried and failed to master them and some have succeeded but to an only limited degree. But some have yet to weigh in and even those that have are working in an area that is still new and liable to change enormously in the near future.

The next criticism is that 3D has influenced the quality of scripts,

If only a similarly revolutionary new advancement in the craft of screenwriting took place, then maybe we’d be somewhere. As long as our huge leaps in filmmaking lie solely within the realm of technology, we’re missing something. A studio will spend millions to make a film “look 3D,” but they won’t spend a fraction of that to make sure their shooting script is kicking ass on all cylinders.

This is a common argument I’ve heard many times (although it is framed here more intelligently than it usually is) but I do not believe it is one that really adds up. Is it the over attention to 3D that results in studios ignoring basic storytelling and script development? Possibly. Does this mean that a film can’t have a decent script and be in 3D? Of course not, and I don’t believe Scott Weinberg is actually taking the point that far. But isn’t that really what matters, that the choice to shoot or post-convert in 3D doesn’t make it impossible for a script to be good. If you tell me that studios are spending too much time and money worrying about 3D and not enough about the scripts then I think they should be spending more time and money on scripts, I don’t blame the 3D. I don’t see that 3D factors into the discussion of script quality.

So what about the negative impact that 3D has on the viewing experience and the quality of other elements within films.

I saw it in Thor and in Clash of the Titans and even in The Green Hornet: the practical materials on the set are dulled, muddied, and made blurry.

This is a very fair point. Poor 3D harms the impact of a film. Lots of things do though and that’s surely part of the job of critics, to point out when people screw up and the film is worse as a result. One could of course argue that 3D is inherently flawed due to the darkening issues and the glasses (I get this – I hate wearing two pairs, it’s obviously ridiculous) but it is worth remembering that this is still a relatively fledgling technology. Patents have been filed, plans are in place, things are moving forward. When/If 3D gets to a point where nothing about the cinematic experience is effected (no glasses etc) then this argument becomes redundant.

There is also mention in the piece of cost and whilst this is a problem and one that irritates me when visiting the cinema, it’s not really an argument that I consider part of a critical argument about 3D. Sure it’s important but if cinemas started charging more for colour films (colour and 3D aren’t perfectly analogous but I feel they suit this example) would I say we should complain and everything should be shot in B&W? No, I would complain that we were being charged too much and would consider the choice of whether the film should be in colour or 3D should be left up to the filmmakers – whatever best serves the story.

A popular pro-3D comment one often hears is that 3D is more immersive.

The loudest supporters of the 3D trend — the people who make the movies, slap “3D!” on to the poster, and then stare the most intently at the opening weekend cash haul — will no doubt point to the few high-end 3D experiences and preach about the “immersive” nature of the experience.

I’m also pretty sick of the “immersive” argument but because it’s often put forward in an overly simplistic and hyperbolic way (I’m also kind of sick of the marketing trend in relation to 3D but to be honest I don’t care too much. I like films a lot more than posters or trailers). All great films are immersive and they are immersive for a mixture of reasons, including the filmmaking techniques that are used to guide and influence an audience – shot composition, depth of field, colour manipulation, lighting and so on. As I stated above 3D is one of these tools. Therefore it is a tool that can be harnessed for use in filmmaking, as part of this effort to immerse the audience.

Scott Weinberg ends the piece with the following statement that speaks directly to this,

“In 3D” is, to me, the same as “Now with louder explosions!” or “Improved wiith new shinier CGI!” These are visual tools that are employed to help tell a good story. They are not the story.

No, they are not the story. They are “visual tools”. Visual tools that can be employed to help tell the story. Who said they are the story? The posters? The trailers? The marketing executives? So, we know the truth, right?

If one of those visual tools, in this case 3D, can be used to more effectively to help tell a certain story then why shouldn’t it be used. And if it is at a stage where it shows potential but has negative aspects that need to be ironed out then shouldn’t we will these to be addressed and the technology developed, not flat-out tell 3D to die?

(This was originally posted at my old blog in 2011.)