Growing up, like most people I loved watching The Simpsons. Thursday nights (remember when?) were a highlight of my week waiting for the best show on television. It’s almost hard to remember now, but there were few shows that were ever as subversive, funny and as smart; and doing it while shattering people’s notion of what an animated show could be, was revolutionary. It should be no surprise then that The Simpsons had an impact on the way I look at the world of entertainment. What I didn’t expect was that one of those things would be movies in 3D.
The Simpsons episode ‘Treehouse of Horror VI’, the most anticipated episode of the season way back in 1995, ended with the animated Homer being sucked into the world of the third-dimension. For the creators of the show it was a fun way to needle the critics who never took their work seriously enough because ‘it wasn’t real’. Visually, working with a new dimension was a stark departure for the traditional 2D hand drawn cartoon. The disparity was even greater once Homer left animation all together and fell into the real world. While Homer being converted into 3D was certainly new, exciting and even kind of cool, it never felt quite right.
Today, I feel the same way about the use of stereoscopic 3D in Hollywood. With Iron Man 2 coming out next Friday and kicking off the summer movie season, you’ll be seeing a lot more of 3D. This is not at all a good thing. I will admit that I have been a 3D skeptic for a while now. Even when I was a kid and we had the red and blue 3D glasses from the 1950s, the effect got old pretty quick. I wrote an article last summer wondering aloud if 3D was just a gimmick by Hollywood studios and unfortunately the answer has come back a resounding yes.
I will be the first to admit that 3D worked great in Coraline, Avatar and How To Train Your Dragon. Unlike the bulk of movies being converted to chase James Cameron’s payday however, they each had two things working for them: First, they were all conceived and shot for a 3D presentation. Secondly, each feature was almost entirely created with computer rendered effects, from the sets to the characters. Even in Avatar, the industry standard for the technology, the scenes on base with primarily human actors and practical effects pale in comparison with the visual splendor that is Pandora.
Now I don’t begrudge a filmmaker the right to tell a story through whatever device and techniques they choose; I just ask that they tell it well. My problem with stereoscopic 3D is that for live-action movies it adds absolutely nothing to the story, and in some cases takes away from it. The very notion that the choice is between 3D and 2D is a false narrative to begin with. Stereoscopy just enhances the illusion of depth which is why there is that exaggerated spatial difference. For me, conventional films do a better job of creating realistic depth than stereoscopic 3D in live-action as it is. More and more however, even that distinction is muddled as films that are shot traditionally are being converted into substandard 3D.
Clash of the Titans rushed its print into 3D during post-production after watching Avatar break the bank, and those results were universally panned. Scratch that. Clash of the Titans in 3D was offensively, laughably, bad; and that’s not even talking about the script. The rushed and half-assed product actually ended up looking worse than the standard print, and in a movie with giant killer scorpions and Liam Neeson in unnecessarily glistening armor, that’s saying a lot.
Just last week it was announced thatM. Night Shamaladingdong’sThe Last Airbender would undergo post-conversion into 3D before its July 2nd release, and The Green Hornet is being pushed back to 2011 for conversion. Now I’ll admit to not having much faith in either of those movies, but it used to be that studios pushed back a movie to tighten up the story and not just visuals.Even James Cameron thinks studios going for the cheap money grab are diluting the market with an “inferior product,” when they jump on the conversion bandwagon.
We’re not talking about restoring color to The Wizard of Oz so we can see the film how it really would have looked. 3D Conversions are just going back to a finished film, slapping on a rushed, forced perspective and passing it off as something new. Unless you’re looking for a schlocky My Bloody Valentine-type experience, the supposed extra-dimension just doesn’t add up. I’ll save that extra $5 for the popcorn thank you very much.