One of the most offensive things you can say to a movie buff (depending on the movie buff, that is) is that 3-D is the future of filmmaking. I fall into that category but not for the reasons you might think. There are plenty of people out there who bemoan 3-D as just a marketing gimmick, that it doesn’t really work, and that it does nothing but cause headaches. There are very few exceptions to this such as Avatar and Dredd. I, however, feel that 3-D is just another tool at the disposal of the filmmaker. Even Wim Wenders, the celebrated director of two of my personal favorite films (Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire) has announced that he’s going to direct solely in 3-D from here on and he doesn’t exactly make Michael Baysplosion flicks. The problem is that 3-D is getting a bad wrap and it’s all unfair because it’s not the fault of the filmmakers or even the studios. Here we’ll go in depth as to why 3-D doesn’t seem to work, ways it can/does work, and what the future holds for it as a medium.
It’s the Theater’s Fault
One of the biggest complaints you will hear about 3-D is that it is very dark compared to watching something in 2-D. Welp, you can blame that on your lazy local theater. When you put on 3-D glasses you cut the brightness of the image in half. Then you have to factor in that a projection filter is used to accomodate 3-D. In other words you only get 1/4 of the brightness you need to get a faithful image. This can be compensated by the projectionist but most local theater owners either don’t know enough or don’t care enough to raise the brightness levels and the audience suffers for it.
It’s Also, Sorta, the Studio’s Fault
Here’s where you CAN pin the blame on the studios. When you convert a to 3-D when it was shot in 2-D, you’re looking at a process that should, for all intents and purposes, take over a year to do properly. But studios try to meet already set deadlines. GI Joe: Retaliation is the only movie I’ve heard of that where the studio has taken the proper time to have it converted to 3-D. Converting to 3-D without taking the proper time essentially means that you’re racing to beat the clock, and it’s a battle you will lose 9 times out of 10.
How Frame Rate Affects It
When the Hobbit was announced to be at 48 frames per second people were not sure what to make of it. To quickly explain it, the human eye sees everything at roughly 60 frames per second. Movies are traditionally shown at 24 fps. This gives movies that almost inexplicable dream-like quality that many refer to as the “film look”. This is part of why many people had an adverse reaction to the 48 fps projection of the Hobbit and why Warner Bros. is limiting the 48 fps showings and featuring a standard 24 fps showing instead. The problem however is that 48 fps is perfect for 3-D! The headaches that 3-D cause are a combination of darker images (which we just explained) and blurred images. If you are going to have a realistic, three dimensional experience that is supposed to be closer to reality then you have to sacrifice the dream-like image of 24 fps for a higher frame rate that is more faithful to the human eye. This is part of why James Cameron is saying that the sequel to Avatar will be 60 fps, in order to fully realize the goals of 3-D.
It Is, Sadly, Still a Gimmick..and It’s Our Fault
One of the saddest parts about 3-D is that it can be so much more than just a marketing gimmick. But the fact is that not a lot of people are going to the movies anymore. Sure they’ll turn up for the gigantic blockbusters like the Avengers and even Looper, but a large portion of movie goers are streaming their movies or pirating them. 3-D is being used as a gimmick because it’s something you can’t experience on your laptop. It’s being used to get butts in seats again because Hollywood is desperate. After all why do you think there’s such an emphasis on remakes, sequels, and adaptations? These are properties that have built in fan-bases already. The problem is that Hollywood is not in a position to take risks, but that’s their fault as well. It’s their fault for cranking out movies blindly and it’s our fault for not going to the movies to support the kind of movies we actually want to see. If we do that then 3-D will stop just being a marketing gimmick and will become a tool for filmmakers, it will be just another brush to paint with at the artist’s discretion.