Oscar-Winning Editor Walter Murch on Why 3D Stinks

Oscar-Winning Editor Walter Murch on Why 3D Stinks (photo)

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Walter Murch is no dummy. The man edited “Apocalypse Now.” He edited the sounds of “The Conversation.” He made maybe the scariest kids film of all time. On the subject of movies, this guy knows what he’s talking about. In a letter written to Roger Ebert and published on his blog, Murch explains why he believes 3D filmmaking is a creative dead-end. He worked in 3D while editing the theme park attraction “Captain EO” in the 1980s and has observed its return to prominence with concern. Here is part of his explanation why (read the full letter at RogerEbert.com):

“The deeper problem [with 3D] is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen — say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what. But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

We can do this. 3D films would not work if we couldn’t. But it is like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, difficult. So the “CPU” of our perceptual brain has to work extra hard, which is why after 20 minutes or so many people get headaches…consequently, the editing of 3D films cannot be as rapid as for 2D films, because of this shifting of convergence: it takes a number of milliseconds for the brain/eye to “get” what the space of each shot is and adjust.”

This letter is brief but damning. I would love to hear what a devout 3D convert like “Avatar” director James Cameron might say in response. Ebert, who has written extensively on the subject of (and his perceived inferiority of )3D claims it closes the discussion on the format forever.

Murch’s fundamental argument is that human beings are ill-equipped to handle the neurological strain of 3D movies. Essentially, 3D works on our minds the way alcohol works on our livers: by upsetting our normal anatomical functions. And as with alcohol consumption, the results vary: some find it pleasurable, others disorienting. Either way, you’ll probably wind up with a headache at the end.

As someone who still enjoys a cheap 3D gag (and the occasional glass of scotch), I still finds something intriguing about 3D. I read Murch’s superb analysis and see an opportunity. I’ve spoken in the past with members of the New York Stereoscopic Society and USC’s Entertainment Technology Center. These men understand three-dimensional filmmaking as well. They talk about the language of 3D filmmaking and how that language is different than the language of 2D filmmaking. They believe that language is still being written.

Murch is certainly right that 3D films work on brains differently than 2D films. And perhaps they do create some perceptual roadblocks for viewers. But couldn’t a smart and enterprising filmmaker use those roadblocks to his advantage in the same way that Steven Spielberg turned production roadblocks on “Jaws” to his advantage? The shark doesn’t work, you make a movie where you’re forever waiting for the shark to strike. If 3D cinematography disorients us, why not use it to tell a story about disorientation?

What I think Murch’s letter does explain conclusively is why movies shot in traditional 2D and then converted in post-production to 3D for exhibition do not and will not ever work. At this point, most of these films — like “Clash of the Titans,” “The Last Airbender,” or the recent “Green Hornet” — do not even offer much of a 3D effect. Essentially in these cases, you’re paying several dollars extra for the “privilege” of watching a blurry movies with glasses that bring the image into focus. In the case of “The Green Hornet,” the post converted 3D didn’t great a true three-dimensional effect, it simply turned the film into a series of 2D planes, flat actors at a remove from a flat background. In its worst moments, the movie looked like a projected celluloid diorama.

But even if the post-conversation process improved on a technical level these films still wouldn’t work because of the physiological processing differences between 2D and 3D that Murch explains. So if 3D has any hope of emerging as a legitimate artform, these fake 3D films have to die, or audience’s interest in 3D will dry up long before the medium’s true potential can be explored. If you don’t believe that, you’d have to be a dummy.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.