The Return Of 3-D

Five AM and done with sleep. What better time for some Jackie Paris. The above “Tis Autumn” is from his greatest album, “The Song Is Paris”. 1962.

I’m perplexed by the re-emergence of 3-D. Not just the why of it but the reality of it. Seriously? 3-D? This isn’t a hoax? It’s the twenty-first century and we’re going to wear the glasses again? Or have they found a way to do without them?

Read the following and tell me what year we’re in.

“The panic within the movie industry has never been more palpable. Concerned that a new medium will finally empty out movie theaters, studios and exhibitors have seized on the new three-dimensional process as more than a gimmick-a new way for audiences to experience motion pictures. And one that can only be experienced in theaters.”

No–not 1952. Now. 2007. How boring. I still don’t know if we have to wear the glasses. The new medium then was television. I suspect the new medium now is youtube.

I went to a 3D festival last summer at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood and caught a few films. Although I have fond memories of the Three Stooges in 3D, this time I was disappointed. It seemed to me that the better the movie, the more distracting the process was to it. Specifically “Kiss Me Kate”, a very underrated MGM musical version of the Cole Porter show, was utterly not in need of a “third dimension”. I felt myself wanting, after the film, to get my hands on a nice DVD transfer and watch it the way it was meant to be watched.

In my home–the virtual cinemateque–on my fifty incher.

But it led me to think about 3D and here’s where I got to.

Movies are naturally in 3D. Without the glasses.

When we watch film, we assume a third dimension. Our brain adapts to the reality of the image–implying the depth rather than noticing the lack of it.

And that, in a nutshell, is why 3D always stayed a gimmick rather than becoming a neccessity that filled a void. Nobody had ever watched movies and lamented the lack of a third dimension. Indeed if 3D had never been invented, it wouldn’t have been missed. (Not that it was terribly missed after it was invented.) Though its fun to see a 3D film now and then, I never find myself watching a “flat” movie and wishing it had been shot in 3D. Frankly, I’m relieved to take the glasses off. I always pretend I’m going to save them. I never do.

The movie industry, in its charmingly panicked state of disarray, has once again seized on a gimmick to guarantee that theatrical exhibition of movies will remain a going thing. The theories as to why it failed in the past–for instance, that the movies that were shot in the process simply weren’t good enough–don’t really hold water. (There was a New York Times piece that rehashed a lot of this in the past few weeks.) Indeed, the best of the third dimensional movies–Hitchcock’s “Dial M For Murder”–wasn’t even released using the process. As if the studios saw the writing on the wall and realized that with a good story and Grace Kelly, you didn’t need to work so hard to add a little depth.

The last 3D phase lasted about three years (not quite, given the glut of films that were shot in the process but released flat). How long will the new phase last? Given that our attention spans are seriously shorter, I can’t imagine more than a year. A few films will be done in 3D. The ones that will work best will be for kids. The glasses will still cause headaches. This time the headaches will lead to pile of lawsuits. End of the return of 3D.


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