Why 3D is bad for Hollywood… in large quantities

A recent article on 3D shows why Hollywood needs to stop churning out so many damned 3D movies; the health impacts, which to be fair is a few patrons complaining about headaches; I’ve never suffered it, nor has anyone I know; the seemingly persistent lack of story and plot quality; finally, and this one is my original idea: the lack of 3D films actually using the 3D to any sort of serious artistic effect.

However, it is the second and third charges I intend to look upon. Take The Avengers for instance. It is a brilliant superhero movie; the action sequences are handled intelligently, the story (although weak at points) is better than your standard action film’s plot (meaning there’s more to the non-action scenes than just bridging the action scenes), and the characters are well played. Did it really need to be released in 3D? Worse yet, it wasn’t even shot in 3D; it was converted to it in post-production, a process costing tens of millions of dollars. Quite frankly, I didn’t see the need for it in 3D; yes, there are a few scenes where it enhances the film, but there aren’t enough to completely justify the process. All this said, The Avengers stands as a better 3D film than most.

Let’s go back to the beginning of the modern 3D era: James Cameron’s Avatar, which is the progenitor of the modern era in so many ways: it has a weak, bare-bones, heavily derivative storyline (Romeo & Juliet, Dances With Wolves, just to name a few); it is far and away more an artistic achievement than a cinematic one, and it best demonstrates how the extra $3 per ticket can make bank, to the tune of the biggest box office return in history.

However, Avatar, for all its faults (and there are a lot), was a brilliant film in terms of its artistry. The use of 3D was ground-breaking, to the point that James Cameron actually had to design a new system just so it would work the way he wanted it to. When the film is supposed to pop out at you, it pops out. When it needs you to focus more on the story, it pops out less. The 3D enhances the storytelling in a manner that has only been matched once or twice.

One of the many filmmakers James Cameron invited was Paul W.S. Anderson, the writer/producer of the Resident Evil film series. Anderson applied Cameron’s 3D system in Resident Evil: Afterlife, and was so impressed with the system that stepped back into the director’s chair for the first time in many years. Unlike Cameron, though, he used in a different way, emphasizing freeze-frame and slow motion so that the viewer could fully appreciate the 3D image on the screen. I know a lot of people dislike the Resident Evil films, and to be fair, they are not extraordinarily great cinema, but the use of 3D here was, like Avatar, very intelligent.

I chose these two films to discuss here for one good reason: both of them were shot and edited in 3D; they weren’t converted later on, something that James Cameron expressed a distaste for. They were always designed to be 3D films (similar to Saw 3D, where the use of 3D effected production design to maximize the effect), unlike The Avengers, or worse yet, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, where there was no need for 3D, since nothing really popped out at all, and they weren’t even shot in it to begin with.

Now, I cite both good and bad uses of 3D for a reason: I get a kick out of it, but the novelty of it is beginning to wear thin on me, and that’s because it is seemingly everywhere; it seems like every week there is a 3D film coming out, and with a few rare exceptions, they always look like junk, or at a minimum, something to wait for blu-ray for. Additionally, the 3D share of the box office appears to have hit its ceiling; despite a record number of 3D releases in 2011 (over 400), the market share remained the same as in 2010, when fewer 3D films came out.

Which leads me to my main point: the title I put is why 3D is bad for Hollywood, not why Hollywood needs to abandon it like a washed up actor. Studios see the money-making potential and demand from them increases; screenwriters and producers rise to meet it, and the result is what we have today; subpar stories that studios help will be buoyed by 3D. In a sense, 3D is a far worse drug on Hollywood than anything a doctor can prescribe, since at least with prescription meds, the general public at large doesn’t suffer. 3D is getting crappy scripts that would normally be relegated to the Syfy channel green-lighted for theatrical runs, with tens of millions of dollars being thrown at them.

I chose the prescription med metaphor for a reason: prescription meds are best used when the occasion calls for it, and 3D has occasions where it works best, and that is when it is in the hands of a master filmmaker. Take Prometheus; I saw the 3D trailer for it when I went to see The Avengers, and the trailer by itself was a far better use of 3D than the whole of The Avengers, and that’s because the man behind the camera is Ridley Scott, who shot Prometheus in 3D by the way, and is a master of cinematic imagery, as seen by his work on Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator, just to name a few. James Cameron is also a master at his craft, and he handled Avatar with that skill set, bringing it to life in a manner which best fit it.

Anything is bad in excess, and I feel that 3D is being thrown at us that way. To add to my sentiment is that some filmmakers are coming out against it; Christopher Nolan resisted 3D for both Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, saying that “cinema is inherently 3D to begin with.” Moviegoers and film fanatics seem to appreciate 3D, but sometimes, even for them, it is just unnecessary; the proof of that seems to be declining market for 3D televisions: there are fewer commercials for them, and as a Costco-holic, I can’t help but notice that the 3D TVs are no longer front and center when you enter the warehouse.

Now, general resistance to the mass use of 3D does not mean that 3D is dying; if anything, resistance ensures its survival. What do I mean by that, you may be asking. In the American marketplace, when something comes out and is universally huge amongst most consumers, nine times out of ten it runs its course and dies out completely; look at the age of disco in the 1970s, or for something more recent, try the run of forensics shows that is slowly leaving the airwaves (or adapting to more contemporary tastes). If 3D is encountering resistance at this juncture, it will effect the market and the studios’ bottom lines (ex. John Carter and Battleship); studios react to anything that costs them money, and this, hopefully, will lead them to reserve 3D for films that truly deserve it, and for filmmakers who know how to use it.

One last point: animated films. It is easier for animated films to employ 3D, since all that is really required of it is inserting a new line of computer code, and to this point, I haven’t seen an animated film using 3D that thought was bad, whether in terms of its use of 3D or the film itself. Now, I haven’t seen every animated 3D film, so this isn’t to say that they are all brilliant.

Finally, although there’s a barely a chance in Hell of it ever happening, theaters need to cut the 3D surcharge down a buck or two. I have no doubt that 3D has come additional equipment that requires money for it, but it’s been two years since 3D came into the mainstream, and you’d think that either (a) some theater chain would see an upside to cutting the surcharge, or (b) they’d have come up with a more efficient method of producing it. Although I will continue to patronize 3D films (and pay the damn surcharge), there is nothing that says I have to like paying more for it, especially when, more often than not, it seems like a money grab.

In conclusion, Hollywood needs to stop prescribing 3D to so many films, because it costs money on both ends of the cinematic marketplace. 3D doesn’t need to go, but it needs to used in a more efficient manner, by better filmmakers who utilize in the proper way, and most importantly, 3D cannot be randomly applied to a mediocre screenplay and used to buoy it; that’s Michael Bay thinking, and we all know how good a filmmaker Michael Bay is.

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About brettryanclu

I reside in California, and I am a graduate from California Lutheran University, where I received my Masters in Public Policy and Administration. I like to write, talk politics, and exchange comments and opinions.
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