Okay, first of all, I have no idea whether it’s “3D” or “3-D.” The article I’m going to quote in a minute from The New York Times uses “3-D,” but movie posters like this, this or this all say “3D.” I’m a man of the people, so I put the question to Twitter: 3-D or 3D? Two out of every three responses I got ignored the question completely and replied “2D!”
In other words: who cares, we hate it either way.
Not a good sign for the movie studios who have invested so much money in the format, which is the point of that Times piece by Brooks Barnes. Apparently “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” director Michael Bay is working overtime to encourage people to see his movie in 3(-)D rather than 2(-)D, despite the increasing public perception that the format is a ripoff. Bay notes that the film was shot in 3D by James Cameron’s “Avatar” crew, and that he adjusted his signature run-and-gun visual style to suit the technical demands of shooting in three dimensions. He told the Times “If this was having my name on it, I was determined to make it technically perfect… we’ve spent an enormous amount of time making sure the eye is transitioned from shot to shot.” According to the article, Paramount spent an extra $30 million shooting “Transformers” in 3D.
I like 3D in theory (yeah, I’m going without the dash, it’s just easier to type). As a single tool in a filmmaker’s toolkit, I think it has a lot of potential. But a lot of things work better in theory than in reality — time travel, supply-side economics, “Star Wars” prequels — and so far 3D is one of them. I’ve enjoyed some of the films shot in 3D, but like most of the people on my Twitter feed, I’ve been burned over and over by movies shot in 2D and then hastily converted to 3D in post production. Since I live in New York City, where a 3D ticket can set you back $18, I’ve been burned more than most.
From the start of the recent 3D craze, there’s been a debate over what a modern 3D movie should be. Should modern 3D have dimensional gimmicks, like the old paddleball in the lens gag? Or should it just present a more immersive experience? To me, if I’m paying extra for something, I want to feel the difference. Maybe the most interesting quote in today’s Times piece comes from Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore.
“The consumer has had a reaction to bad 3D and subtle 3D,” Moore says. “They’re tired of sitting in a theater thinking, ‘Wait, is this movie in 3-D or not?’ Well, with ‘Transformers’ people are going to leave saying, ‘You absolutely must see this in 3-D.'”
“Subtle 3D?” Who wants to pay five dollars for subtlety? By diminishing if not completely rejecting the very thing that made 3D special, the format may have jumped the shark.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was “Thor,” which I saw in such dimly projected 3D that I could barely make out what was going on throughout the extended opening action sequence and many of the night scenes. Subtle is one thing; invisible is another. When I saw “Green Lantern” last week to discuss it on The /Filmcast, I did something I had never done before: I actively sought out a 2D screening. I was glad I did; the movie looked clear and bright. I didn’t miss the 3D for a single second.
I’ve heard from some friends that the “Green Lantern” 3D was better than the average post-production conversion job. But I’ve also heard from others that it was just as bad as the rest. Which is part of the problem: there’s so little consistency from theater to theater with these 3D movies. Sometimes you pay extra and get an extra dimension; other times you pay extra for a movie projected blurry and a pair of glasses that bring it into focus. What we need is some sort of consumer guide website devoted to cataloguing the 3D experience at movie theaters, pointing out which ones are doing it correctly and which ones aren’t so that you know where to go to spend your money. For seventeen bucks, you deserve at least three dimensions.