An Extra Dimension?

Cinematic curmudgeon Conor Barry isn’t quite convinced that 3D is the holy grail in the struggle to keep film afloat

It may have passed you by but, just so you know, we have entered a new cinematic age: the age of 3D cinema. Well, that’s the plan anyway, as long as we keep paying for it. With an increase in downloading and a drop in cinema-going, Hollywood has decided it needs to come up with a reason for people to actually leave their houses, rather than passively absorb stolen movies through their pirate eyes – and so a lot of the big budget movies are gaining an extra dimension. But is 3D really the final solution to get rid of those pesky pirates?

This isn’t 3D’s first attempt to revolutionise cinema – lest we forget the spectacularly crappy red-and-green-cardboard-glasses brand of 3D, which is slowly being shown the cinematic back door. This technology produced classics such as Jaws 3D, and Shark Boy and Lava Girl (don’t ask me why I picked two shark related 3D films; there are literally hundreds that hardly even mention sharks) and were quite clearly cash-ins using 3D novelty over interesting stories. This is fair enough – but it’s hard to take any film seriously when it’s being viewed in red and green blobs that are vaguely reminiscent of colour and shapes. There was a sort of charm to it, as if both the creators and the audience knew that it looked a bit terrible, but enjoyed it nonetheless. Eventually, and inevitably, the novelty wore off and everyone got in with their two dimensional lives.

Technology has come on leaps and bounds since then, though,and the cardboard 3D spectacles that you would’ve gotten free with the Beano have been replaced by new fangled glasses that make it look as if you’ve walked into a Blues Brothers convention. This made everything on the screen look more convincing and, well… real. For the first little while the novelty was exciting again. There was Journey to the Centre of the Earth, The Final Destination and the cream of the crop: My Bloody Valentine 3D, containing not only a fantastic amount of gore but, to my knowledge, the only sex scene in a mainstream 3D film (I say mainstream because I’m pretty sure there is 3D pornography. Horses for courses, I suppose). 3D films were back in all their novelty glory with stuff popping out of the screen left, right and centre. And that’s where it should have stopped. That was fun and everything, guys, but go away now.

But it didn’t go away. Real directors started to take 3D seriously and now we’ve ended up with Avatar. Sure, it looks very pretty but, as everyone knows, the story was complete piddle. Sure, 3D films don’t need a good plot if they can make up for it with simply being fun, but Avatar took itself way too seriously, as if it was changing the entirety of cinema once and for all. Hollywood has jumped on this bandwagon (“Would you like another Oscar nomination, Mr Cameron?”) because the 3D ploy legitimises their business strategy. According to Hollywood, 3D isn’t only for the fun-but-we-know-it’s-terrible films such as The Final Destination; Avatar is apparently proof that you can use 3D for proper films too.

But I don’t think I’m alone when I say that 3D films just look sillier. There’s something slightly farcical about the way the characters look when they’re in 3D, not to mention that the audience are wearing stupid sunglasses throughout. The next Citizen Kane will not be 3D, no matter how much Hollywood would like to think otherwise.

Now on one side, we have major directors like Spielberg and Peter Jackson heralding 3D as some sort of cinematic rebirth, and on the other we have Hollywood milking the cash cow for all it’s worth, rereleasing old films in 3D and forcing new ones to add on 3D as some apparent bonus. James Cameron and his cronies are single-handedly destroying what made 3D great in the first place – the fact that nobody took it seriously. Everybody was in on the joke that these films were stupider but more fun than proper films; you were just supposed watch and have a good time. But Avatar has the audacity to tell me I should feel emotions while watching it, and it’s opened the floodgates for other directors to take it seriously, to think of it as another tool in a serious filmmaker’s cinematic toolbox.

So where does that leave the future of 3D? While it’s come and gone in other decades, this time it might actually stick. Cinemas are refurbishing their screens with fancy new 3D technology – something they wouldn’t do if they weren’t in it for the long haul. It’s probably up to the audiences to see how long it takes before they’re bored of it. Of course, the hope is that eventually we expect 3D of the almost every film in the cinema, while the Hollywood fat cats laugh away on their thrones made of box office incomes. Then will come the inevitable rerelease of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Cool Runnings and so on. Then 3D films like Jaws 3D will be looked down upon as primitive rather than awesome, and we won’t notice Hollywood slyly stealing our wallets from our back pockets because we can’t see through these stupid glasses. Thanks, Avatar.

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