Sunday, November 6, 2011

HOLLYWRONG III in 3-D

Catch up with the beginning of the series in Hollywrong I & Hollywrong II

The Dimension of Sight, Sound and SUCK!
NOTE: This article was originally conceived and planned at the start of the summer movie season. Now that it has ended I see that much of what I had intended with this article has come true. The fad is fading.


Contrary to popular belief, the ability to present a film in 3-D has been around since the beginning of cinema. Experiments with the technology, known as stereopsis, first began in the 1800s and continued up through the 1920s and ‘30s. It was considered an expensive process that added little to the film going experience. It wasn’t until the 1950s that 3-D had a commercial breakthrough as a visual gimmick. Many genre pictures such as House of Wax (1953), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and Dial M for Murder (1954) were filmed and released in 3-D. By the time Dial M for Murder had been released the charm of 3-D had already begun to wear off and most prints of the film were screened in 2-D. Thirty years later a generational revival, brought on by the filmmakers who had grown up with 3-D movies in the ‘50s, brought the medium back from the dead to better showcase the dead. A slew of horror franchises in the 1980s including Amityville Horror, Jaws, and Friday the 13th all exploited the market with third installments filmed and released in 3-D. To all but those who were there this seems like pre- and ancient history, especially in the razzle-dazzle 21st century marketplace.


Looking forward to the future.
Today everyone wants everything in 3-D, including their televisions; and why? Because they were raised on a lie. Beginning in the 1980s animators started applying 3-D principles and technology to their work. Simply because their work was created in a 3-D environment doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a 3-D product. In fact, most 2-D products actually adhere to the principles of 3-D – they just aren’t jumping out of the screen at you. Images are composed of several elements including color, shadow, distance, angles, etc. to create the illusion of depth, representing the fundamentals of 3-D. This applies not only to film, but also video and computer games, advertisements, visual effects and animation, although computer animation tends to steal the show in this arena. What people continue to not realize is that 3-D is an illusion, a gimmick, a distraction, just like the marketing campaign that sells it. If you put an outline or drop shadow on text does it become a 3-D document? NO! It was through videogames, promotional films, documentaries and advancements in visual effects that the modern commercial revolution of 3-D technology came about.

Unfortunately there is very little practical use for 3-D outside of these formats. Misconceptions and crafty marketing have swindled the movie-going public into thinking that 3-D presentation actually enhances the film going experience. In reality the only thing it enhances is the cost of the ticket and ultimate box office return on a movie that would have been just as good, if not better, in 2-D. Like any real butcher of humanity, Hollywrong feels the impending need to milk anything even remotely profitable for all it’s worth as long as it’s worth something. Never mind exhibiting grace, understanding, or restraint. There is no hesitation when it comes to tacking a higher price tag on something even if it is completely saturated in harmful bile.

The problem is that there is no long-term future in gimmicks, no matter how little of an option you offer. Sooner or later people will just stop going to see new stuff because the allure doesn’t apply to every title. Avatar (2009) wasn’t successful just because it was in 3-D. Many people had been waiting twelve years for James Cameron’s narrative directorial follow up to Titanic (1997). Avatar inadvertently set a new standard for sub par filmmaking by having amazing visuals and production value while hiding a run of the mill story and predictable narrative structure. This opened the floodgates for a slew of halfwit films that continue to pollute the marketplace. No longer are 3-D movies regulated to cheap thrills offered by horror and science fiction films as in the 1950s and ‘80s. Now whole movies can be presented in the format, as long as they are riddled with visual effects.

The phrase “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” comes to mind when thinking about 3-D movies, especially as of late. It’s very easy to forget that limitations inspire creativity and without them things begin to blend and become less distinguishable. Of course technology has helped expand the boundaries of imagination, but when the imagination is limited to begin with then the technology has to pick up the slack.

You can imagine where it goes from here.
For me the best 3-D films have always been the ones that didn’t rely on the technology, but rather used it as another tool to tell and enhance the story just as they would the score, the lighting, or the costumes. Films like Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), which only features a select sequence in 3-D, or Tron: Legacy (2010), which regulates the 3-D presentation to a specific setting are actually making the best use of the technology. The only other film that I can recall that utilized 3-D technology to its full cinematic advantage was Jackass 3-D (2010), because they literally had shit flying at the audience. I guess it takes a gimmick to embrace a gimmick.

What they don’t tell you in the trailer is that the 3-D process actually saturates the color and makes it a less vibrant image, which is actually counter conducive to the whole goal of the format. So now you’re paying extra for a crappier looking image. That’s almost as interesting as the con they’re running on the glasses required to watch the movie. Every time you go to a 3-D movie you have to pay extra for the glasses, which they ask you to return at the end so they can recycle, sterilize, repackage, and resell them at future showings. You’d think if they were serious about being green they’d rely on people to keep their glasses and only charge them extra if they needed them. I’m still wondering why they haven’t started selling Advil at the concession stand for the ringing headache the follows every 3-D screening. If there is still any doubt in your mind about the viability of experiencing the third dimension please read this letter to Roger Ebert from Walter Murch

As Hollywrong continues to cling to 3-D, all the while looking out for the next best thing, they continue to regress with ideas from the past. In the 1970s Universal Studios developed the Sensurround system to physically engage the audience in the story. 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. soon followed with their own formats respectfully called Sound 360 and Megasound. It is this physical engagement with the audience that, when coupled with 3-D, creates 4-D. Nowadays it’s not just regulated to sound, but any physical effect such as fog, mist (for rainy or watery scenes), wind, or even hot and cold bursts on the audience. This process is incredibly expensive and hasn’t caught on in a commercial sense, but it does drag one further down the rabbit hole and back to the concept of virtual reality, where the viewer becomes a part of the environment. Of course if people wanted to do that they could always just go to the theater, but then actors would have to really know their craft.

- COMING SOONER THAN LATER - 

HOLLYWRONG IV:
Raiders of the Lost Art (of acting)

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