This has been the summer of digital 3D, from early releases like “Up” to last weekend’s “The Final Destination” to the growing drumbeat for James Cameron’s much-anticipated “Avatar,” which began at Comic-Con and will crescendo with the film’s year-end release.
A recent Newsweek article touted the imminent arrival of 3D TV – which would, of course, require new TV sets, receivers and DVD players.
Not to mention, of course, the glasses.
Ah, the glasses. There’s the rub.
Because no matter how open I am to 3D – to what some have referred to as an “immersive experience” – I still can’t get past the glasses.
Glasses = gimmick.
Certainly, 3D can enhance the experience. But should it define the experience? More to the point, how important is a work of art that requires special equipment to be able to truly enjoy it – beyond one’s eyes, ears and brain?
At its best, film should already be an immersive experience. Indeed, that’s true of the best examples of any art. Whether it’s a great book, a soulful piece of music, a transcendent painting or a significant film: The definition of art is its ability to reach you in a way that takes you out of yourself, out of your own head, out of your everyday life, and puts you squarely in the realm of the artist.
I haven’t seen the “Avatar” footage. And I would certainly never bet against James Cameron, a visionary director who makes me glad that my career as a critic has overlapped with his as a filmmaker. (I feel the same way about a couple of other directors, a short list that starts with Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen.)
If anyone can create a digital 3D method that pulls you into his make-believe world in a way no one has before, it’s Cameron. I’m anxious to see it.
But if “Avatar” turns out to be a great film, I’m betting it’s not because of the technology. It never is. You can’t name a movie that works in IMAX, for example, that doesn’t work in a regular format – other than those nature movies made specifically for IMAX. IMAX may enhance or alter the experience of watching a big-budget studio film – but it doesn’t change the movie itself.
Neither does 3D. I saw “Up” in 2D when I reviewed in it May – and thought it was one of the best films of the year. After it opened, I took my wife to see it in a theater and, as it happened, the showing we went to happened to be in 3D.
It was still a great film. And, yes, it had an immersive quality – that depth of field and sense of being right there in the picture. But was it a better movie? Not really.
If “Avatar” works, it will be because Cameron knows how to tell a story, to create characters the audience cares about and then send them on a journey the audience wants to share. The 3D won’t be its defining quality.
So it was when films went from silent to sound, from black-and-white to color, from film to hi-def digital. Ultimately, the delivery system is just that: technology, not art.
Story-telling is still story-telling. A great movie can stand up to almost anything – even being watched on an iPhone.
Bottom line: 3D is a gimmick and always will be, at least until they find a way to create the same effect without the glasses. I believe those are called holograms – and when the first hologram film arrives, it damn well better have a solid story and believable characters or it won’t matter if it’s gold-plated and diamond-studded.
Digital 3D may be a wave of the future but it’s not the game-changer that its proponents want us to believe. Movies in 3D still need to have the fundamentals: a great script, great performances, a director’s vision holding it all together. If a movie doesn’t have it in 2D, then adding a third, fourth or fifth dimension isn’t going to improve it.