Talking Point: 3D

3D glasses
The classic design of 3D glasses.

When I was a kid back in the 1980s, 3D was considered a ridiculous novelty idea that would every so often resurface when some TV channel or cinema would put one on for a one-off showing, usually requiring a tie-in promotion to distribute cheap cardboard glasses so that people could enjoy the show.

For some reason, and despite my best efforts to resist it in the initial stages, it seems to be a properly big commercial thing now. Every effects-laden tentpole blockbuster or animated release is put out in a 3D version, whether or not it was intended to be shown that way when made.

What I don’t understand is quite why it has taken hold to the extent it has. Every film I’ve seen in 3D makes me feel like I’m watching cut-outs being waved about in front of background scenery. Even when the parallax layering is done well, there’s still a sense that everything is slightly miniaturised somehow, as if you are even further removed from the action on screen (which, as someone who generally prefers to sit closer to the screen in the auditorium, is not a feeling I find particularly enjoyable). And then of course there’s the brightness of the image, the way that everything seen through 3D glasses is darker and murkier.

I’d like to be clear that I’m not saying people are wrong to like 3D, I just don’t understand the appeal. I think my favourite so far has been the animated film Wreck-It Ralph (2012), though I’d still have preferred it in 2D. However, I concede I’ve only seen four 3D films at the cinema in recent years.

So why do 3D films appeal? And what are some examples of really good use of 3D in cinema?

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14 thoughts on “Talking Point: 3D

  1. Interesting points and I’m with you – the norm seems to be that ‘cardboard cut out’ thing you mention. I’ve seen Avatar, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Alice in Wonderland and Prometheus in 3D – the latter is the only one I’ve been impressed by, the only one where I’ve actually forgotten that I’m watching 3D while it played.

    I’m seeing Star Trek Into Darkness in 3D tonight, even though I know it’s going to give me a headache.

    1. I look forward to reading your review of it, and whether you get anything from it. Besides a headache that is!

  2. Not a fan of 3D at all to be honest. It’s just a way to try and bring people back to the cinema as if it’s something new or to try and get people to spend more when they’re there. 3D isn’t the norm but we’re charged more for it, therefore it must be special! I agree with Stu above that Prometheus was alright in 3D and I thought Life of Pi was actually probably the best instance of it I’ve seen, but there’s nothing about 3D that actually improves a film for me.

    1. Hmm yes Life of Pi is a film I’ve heard lots of positive things about, particularly with respect to the 3D. I missed it because I was convinced I wouldn’t like it, but I should probably give it a chance…

  3. I’m personally very against 3-D, but I think it could be used well. Hugo and Life of Pi are great examples of that, but both have strong directors at the helm. Most 3-D movies just use 3-D to charge a few extra dollars to a ticket.

  4. The main advantage of the new round of 3D to me as a glasses-user is that it actually works for me! I first saw it in 2009 on a trip to New York – I tentatively tried Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and was so blown away that I excitedly went to polish my real glasses and, er, lost them in the cinema.

    I think it’s definitely true that the effectiveness of the 3D has nothing to do with the quality of the film – I rushed out of that (after finding my glasses) and into, er, G-Force, the rodent espionage squad. An entirely disposable movie, but still one of the best 3D effects I’ve ever seen – seeing arrays of hologram boards in one of the base’s war rooms move around in their own distinct planes was lovely. And of course Avatar is jawdropping, but completely forgettable (I’d like to read something about how odd it is that the Biggest Movie Ever title has been passed from Titanic, a movie which I’ve never seen but which I can still reference a dozen different way in jokes, to Avatar, which disappeared from culture immediately).

    I quite liked the effects in Iron Man, but that’s partly because they didn’t really stand out as flashy.

    I was hoping that Oz The Great And Powerful would be 2D until we hit Oz, but that movie was not good for my hopes in general.

    1. I suppose it may make a great difference to those who habitually wear glasses, that’s something I didn’t really consider. A lot of the things I find annoying are things I’d probably find annoying about wearing glasses…

    1. If I could forget about it while watching, that would be ideal! My feeling is that too often I just can’t forget about it…

      1. I had that issue watching GI Joe Retaliation, I just had no idea what was going on during the action scenes because of it…they were just to quickly edited and my eyes couldn’t keep up….

  5. Personally, I hate all the “subtle” uses of 3D – it’s a gimmick, and should be exploited as such. It was made for films like Piranha 3D – I feel it generally cheapens the overall look of the film and distracts from it, so it’s perfect for those that are trashy to begin with. Having discussed this with projectionists and the like in the past, it seems that it was initially introduced for two (cynical) reasons – in an attempt to stop piracy, and to get a few extra bucks from the viewer. I will say, however, you’re not alone in not enjoying 3D – when given the option, many people choose the 2D version and don’t feel like they’re missing anything at all. There have been some articles recently about the decline of 3D and its increasing unpopularity; I don’t think it’ll disappear altogether because it’s really being forced down people’s throats (or in front of their eyes), but likewise, I doubt it’ll ever replace or even dominate traditional 2D viewing. For me, it seems 3D should start to focus on the games industry, where I can imagine it would be both appealing and successful.

    1. Personally I’d be surprised if it was still around in 10 years, but it really depends on whether audiences continue to flock to 3D films over the 2D equivalents. And yeah, like you say, it’s largely a cynical money-spinning exercise it seems!

  6. To me it is more of a novelty thing, I usually find it superflous. Those old school glasses are a far cry from the active shutter XpanD glasses they have at the high end theater in town.

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