Kevin Carr: In Defense of 3D

Over the past few years, I have been a very vocal supporter of 3D films, and unlike many of the voices in the blogosphere, I don’t see the technology as a gimmick or a fleeting element of the cinematic experience. Now there is a veritable war for 3D with Clash of the Titans battling with How to Train Your Dragon and even Alice in Wonderland for digital screens, and from the noise created on the Internet, you’d find it hard to believe the general public cares.

I’ve heard all the arguments, pointing out everything from eye strain to the technology overshadowing the art of the film (which was also said about CGI a few year back, incidentally). But for people who spend as much time in the theater – often at reduced prices or for free at advanced screenings – there seems to be a disconnect with the general public about the process. We sometimes forget why your average American will plot their hard-earned cash down at the box office to see a movie. They do it for the kicks, man.

I have heard as much about the 3D retrofit for Clash of the Titans as I have about any other aspect of the production. Like Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans was back-engineered into a 3D film. In layman’s terms, that means the film was shot for 2D and later converted to 3D. This is an inferior process (and I don’t think anyone – from the filmmakers to the biggest supporters of the technology – will argue this point) and the result is a slightly distorted picture. But your average moviegoer probably even won’t notice the difference.

There are people out there who simply hate 3D. They hate all thing 3D. They seethe at the mere mention of it and rant about how it ruins movies or tarnishes great films (which I heard more than once said about last summer’s Up). Even a film like Avatar, which was conceived in 3D before the technology was even available, is received begrudgingly by these people. They dismiss it as a gimmick, something that will flitter away through the moviegoing public’s taste in a couple years.

Whether that will happen – and the jury is still out on that, but considering the fact that studios are prepping to roll out digital 3D in home theater systems in the not-too-distant future – I wouldn’t bet on it. Go back and read some film criticisms circa 1920s. They said the same thing about talkies.

The anti-3D sentiment out there is huge and vocal… and completely unrepresented by the moviegoing public. At least for now, people are gobbling up 3D. Whether it’s shot for 3D like Avatar (currently with a domestic gross of $740+ million) or converted in post production like Alice in Wonderland (currently with a domestic gross of $295+ million), people are paying these higher ticket prices, and they’re doing so with a smile.

It’s easy for 3D haters to dismiss the audience attraction of these films as the masses not knowing any better, similar to how many film journalists out there denounced the public as stupid for paying money to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But the truth is there was valid entertainment value in both Transformers movies. And there’s valid entertainment value in 3D films.

Let’s face it, with numbers like these, the studio won’t climb off the 3D bandwagon any time soon. Call it a gimmick or call it a way to enhance the theatrical experience. 3D is here to stay… at least for the time being.

In regards to digital effects, in flicks with a 3D edge, like Clash of the Titans, the real money shots still look great. That’s because the digital shot are rendered in 3D rather than converted. It’s similar to the Toy Story/Toy Story 2 re-release last year. This is when it really counts. The pure conversion scenes look awkward, but they aren’t visually stimulating to begin with, so people will deal with some distortion in the picture here.

So when Perseus is chatting it up with his fellow warriors, it looks a bit goofy. But when the Kraken is laying waste to Argos, or the massive rock scorpions are attacking, things look fantastic. Say what you want about the plot or the characters or your nostalgic fanboy love for the original (which is riddled with flaws in both storytelling and effects), Clash of the Titan delivers what the public wants.

But take heart, 3D haters… all the bitching about conversion 3D is only going to last for another year or so because studios are now planning all tentpole and event releases in 3D. Will this stop people from complaining? Not at all. Even when it was announced that Spider-Man and Transformers films are going to be shot for 3D, the internet erupted with venom (not the Eddie Brock Venom, of course).

Does this mean that all movies should be in 3D? Not at all. There’s no reason to have shot Precious or The Blind Side or An Education in 3D. But the blanket dismissal of the product for event films is like a non-baseball fan hoping for a union walk-out just to shut down the season for those who actually enjoy the game.

But all these complaints are moot. If you’re one of those folk who doesn’t like 3D… don’t see your movie in 3D. Save some money and enjoy the show in glorious 2D. With very rare exception, every movie released in 3D today is also released in 2D… and it’s usually just playing down the hall in a different auditorium not fifty yards away for a few dollars less. Until all multiplexes do a full 3D digital conversion of all of their screens (which is unlikely in the near future), there will always be a 2D option.

So why all the hate?

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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