Movies in the Amazing Third Dimension

I saw my first modern 3-D movie this weekend and I was appropriately impressed.  Well, impressed and annoyed.  There are a lot of annoyances associated with a modern 3-D movie that will need to be addressed before this movie technology is adopted into the mainstream.

First, those Buddy Holly thick heavy glasses have to be improved.  They are a vast improvement over the red and blue lenses the movies used to require, but the one size fits all approach means the average sized glasses don’t fit my ginormous melon of a head.  Some people get headaches from the eyestrain of a 3-D movie, I get a headache because the glasses are a vice on my forehead, slowly squeezing out my creamy head filling.  If 3-D technology becomes mainstream, I look forward to buying my own pair of 3-D glasses that will be lightweight, comfortable, and stylish because it is important to look great in a dark movie theater.  I should wear corrective lenses, but I don’t, so I can’t answer the question of how you use 3-D glasses with regular eyeglasses?  Do they make 3-D glasses that go over regular eyewear or are people who require glasses to watch movies just going to be left behind?  A quick look at some forums on the net with people who wear glasses asking this very question means this is a concern for many.

My second issue is in the movie making process itself.  In the olden days of movies, a microphone boom making an accidental appearance broke the flow of the movie.   In a 3-D movie, all it takes to really shock the audience out of the scene is to have part of a person’s head or arm suddenly appear incidentally in the foreground at the bottom of the screen.  It breaks your focus on the action the camera is pointing at much in the same way your attention at a play would be broken if someone shoved their hand in your face while you were watching the stage.  I see this as a problem with lack of experience with the technology.  As more and more 3-D movies get made, some editing standards will come to into play.  Filmmakers will become more experienced with playing with the audiences’ field of focus, and realize some elements are more distracting than they should be.

The third issue is one that isn’t just for 3-D but all the amazing CGI created worlds out there.  I just felt this more in the 3-D movie I saw.  We have hit a standard of building fake worlds that I can now sense certain things are missing – like air.  By now everyone should realize that I saw Avatar over the weekend.  I don’t want to get into a review of that movie right now, just use it as an example of what I’m trying to say.

There is a moment in the movie where these light and feathery seedling things are floating down around one of the characters.  These are delicate tiny things, yet they are undisturbed by the breath of the characters, by the motion of the character’s body.  I suddenly ‘felt’ the lack of air due to the realness of everything else around.  And because of the phenomenal 3-D effect, I felt I could accurate judge the distance of the seedlings from the characters to know whether or not they should be affected by how the air moves around the characters.  It is to the credit of the technology that I suddenly felt this lacking in the environment.

I won’t delve too far into the concept of the Uncanny Valley – the idea that as artificial life gets more realistic, it hits a stage where it is just creepy.  We see this in terms of robotics.  Those lifelike looking Real Dolls also have a high creepy factor.  I think the same applies to constructed realities.  We are reaching a point where the artificial environment begins to seem creepy for lack of a better word.  This works for alien worlds, but I think as other filmmakers begin to explore the technology and try to replicate more normal environments, the environments will seem sterile and ‘wrong’ in some fundamental way.

My last concern regarding 3-D in movies is I want the 3-D to be more than immersing me into the movie environment.  Honestly, it is unnecessary.  I’ve read regular books, picture books, and pop-up books and never felt the pop-up books were telling me a better story just because it had these extra features.  What sort of story can be told now that we have 3-D versus regular movies?  I suspect it will take some time before we get some experimental story telling with 3-D but I can’t wait.  I can’t wait to be brought into a story in an entirely different way.  Not to be shocked by chainsaws or critters flying at the screen, but to share the awe of a massive gothic cathedral or the thrill of a bustling dynamic city street.  I want 3-D car chases and 3-D moments of pathos that makes me feel like I’m in the room with the actors.  We need stories that utilize the perception of a third dimension as a part of the story instead of a visual gimmick.

I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon regarding advancing technology.  I love advancing technology and I know that each leap forward has these moments where everyone questions the ‘need’ for it, wonders if it is a fad, or in general attempts to dismiss it.  Sound. Why do you need sound in a movie, it is a visual experience.  Color.  What will color add to the story?  3-D. What good does having a sense of depth do for a movie?  I fully admit, Percepto! was not an advancement in movie technology that stuck around, so maybe 3-D will join it on the scrap heap… but I doubt it.