A few days ago, after seeing How To Train Your Dragon, I couldn't resist taking a cheap shot at 3D movies in my instant review of it on Twitter. As I'm far from being the only one not to like 3D, that actually got retweeted by a few people, eventually catching the eye of a certain StempTheViking (a complete stranger who, according to his recent tweets, is a Yankees fan and cannot therefore be a truly good person), who didn't take lightly to my disparaging this new(ish) technology and its use in movies (because, as we all know, anything said on the internet was meant as a personal insult to you if you happen to disagree with it). This is what he wrote:
"Oh yay another 3D hater, man we should go all the way back to black and white like film was MEANT to be. Oh and silent too."
Stemp (as I'm guessing "TheViking" is a description of his occupation, and not actually part of his name) has it right, I guess: I am indeed a "3D hater," although my dislike for 3D is not as irrational as the term "hater" would make it seem. It also has nothing to do with my being a reactionary film snob (whether that's the case or not is still up for debate), as Stemp also implies. I have, I believe, very good reasons not to like 3D. Since I couldn't possibly explain them within the 140-character limit of Twitter, I'll do so here instead.
First and foremost, 3D is most often, when it comes to film, little more than a useless gimmick. 3D is useless because "normal" movies are not like medieval paintings. The latter often feel slightly off, because painters at the time hadn't yet mastered perspective, making it somewhat harder to distinguish what was supposed to be in the background from what was supposed to be in the foreground (though they used other tricks for that). Film, being based on photography, doesn't suffer from that problem. The screen, and the image that is projected onto it, may be flat, but your eyes have no trouble perceiving depth. Actors evolving on different planes don't seem to crash into each other other all the time.
Some filmmakers understand that, and contend themselves with using 3D to add some additional depth to the picture. James Cameron did so with Avatar, for instance. Most filmmakers (or rather, I suspect, studio executives) don't find that to be enough, though. Perhaps they realize that using 3D in such a way results in an almost imperceptible effect most of the time, and (wrongly) believe that 3D which doesn't draw attention to itself is bad 3D. So they throw stuff at you.
In the recent Alice in Wonderland alone, I counted at least four or five instances of a character throwing something towards the audience, so to speak. What made it most awkward was the fact that I was actually watching the movie in 2D. The "random item thrown at the audience's face" is pretty much a fixture of the 3D movie, although it is sometimes done with more subtlety than in Alice. It has no aesthetic or cinematic value whatsoever, and only exists to point out that, yes, you're watching a 3D movie. Granted, it did startle me and make me laugh the first time it happened (which, I believe, was in 1993 in a Disneyland attraction), but it has long stopped being funny to become excessively annoying.
I like to think that throwing stuff at the audience is a director's way of admitting that he has no idea what to do with this fancy 3D thing. An admission of its uselessness, if you like. If that's the case, Tim Burton must really think 3D sucks. In his sarcastic response to my tweet, Stemp likened 3D vs. 2D to color vs. black and white, but I think I have yet to see a movie whose director feels obliged to point out that his movie is indeed not in black and white every ten minutes or so.
On a more personal note, 3D glasses also tend to detract from my enjoyment of a movie by dimming the picture quite a bit (though I have to admit they've gotten much better at that lately) and by giving me headaches (that, on the other hand, hasn't been getting any better).
The financial aspect of 3D movies should not be disregarded either. In France, seeing a film in 3D will cost you and additional 3 euros, and it can be even more expensive in the US. When your average movie ticket costs 9 euros, that's a 33% increase. In Europe like in the US, the price of going to the movies acts as a deterrent for a lot of people; a 33% increase only exacerbates that problem (a family of four would have to drop $56 in tickets only to see How To Train Your Dragon in 3D).
If, as some studio executives predic, 3D is the future of movies, the problem created by that additional cost will have to be addressed. If it's not, it will be good news for huge blockbusters (like, say, Avatar), which will bring in even more money, and bad news for smaller movies, which will lose part of their potential audience due to their jacked-up price. Even if 3D remains the domain of blockbusters and family movies, the hike in ticket prices for those movies means that your occasional moviegoer will be less likely to go see both a blockbuster and a less agressively marketed movie.
What I find truly sad in Stemp's tweet, though, is the way he sarcastically refers to black and white movies, as if those were somehow inferior to their color counterparts. Would Some Like it Hot be any better if it were in color? Is Casablanca any less of a masterpiece for being in black and white? Of course not. Moreover, some of the most visually striking movies of the past few years were filmed in black and white--think Sin City, for instance, or Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro, perhaps the most gorgeous movie I've seen in the past few months. As a matter of fact, every single person I know who's seen Tetro, regardless of whether they liked it or not, said it made them wish that more movies were done in black and white.
Black and white vs. color doesn't make any sense. Ideally, 2D vs. 3D shouldn't either, and both should instead be equally valid aesthetic choices. It isn't the case right now, and 3D is instead being pushed by studio executives for purely financial reasons. The technology is still young, though, and with enough people with the enthusiasm and talent of James Cameron working on it, 3D might eventually become more than just something used mainly to throw Johnny Depp's hat at a jaded audience.
The day that happens, Stemp, I promise I'll stop being a hater.