Sunday, January 06, 2013

3D Was Jonny Woo ahead of his time?

As I mentioned on Facebook the other day, I had the great misfortune to watch 'Journey 2: The Mysterious Island' and decided that it was one of those moments when you realise it's 91 minutes of your life you can never get back.
However the experience did leave me musing a little on the latest fad for 3D cinema which seems like it might be here to stay unlike the several previous attempts in the decades gone by - for some reason 'The Creature From The Black Lagoon' and 'Jaws 3D' never converted the world to thinking that 3D was the new talkies. This outing for the technology seems to be lasting with TV channels (or channel at the moment) and home equipment making it much more accessible.
Unfortunately I just don't like it for a variety of reasons. Firstly, things looks unrealistic in 3D, as the way it's portrayed on the screen is not how the eye sees in reality. There's just too much in focus! Look up from this screen for a moment and at the nearest wall - the wall will be in focus as you look at it and the computer screen will be out of focus. Look back at the screen and that will come into focus and the wall will be out of focus. This doesn't happen on a movie however. Every level is in focus, so what you end up with is a sense of 'layers' rather than a continual depth. The director can never focus and de-focus individual objects on screen to reproduce 'real' viewing as he can't know which bit of the screen you'll be looking at at any time. So 3D actually ends up producing just 'cool looking' special effects rather than something realistic.
That then, plus the crappy glasses you have to wear, are my problems with the technology, but my bigger gripe with 3D is with what the movie makers do with it. 'Journey 2' was a good example of these issues (well it had to be good for something). Now it has to be said I wasn't watching the 3D version of this film, but this in part serves to illustrate one of my points. It was very obvious the 'bits' of the movie where the 3D effect was supposed to 'wow' you and hopefully they were far more successful than it's predecessor (Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, which used the red and green cardboard glasses on the DVD and in which sadly the best bit of 3D was a dripping tap), but there was no other substance to the movie. It seemed like the entire plot and action was just engineered around setting up cool 3D sequences. And that's just lazy - 3D should try to enhance a movie, not be the sole purpose of the movie.
In 2D of course all these effects didn't just not work, but the way they are filmed make the scene look just a bit 'odd' - generally everything goes into slow motion and there's random objects floating in the screen that just look out of place. I remember Jonny Woo always overdosed his movies with slow motion, and the standing joke was that at normal speed you'd only get a movie half the length of anyone else's. We have the same here; Journey 2 is only 91 minutes to start with, so once you have taken the slow motion out you've probably only got an an hour or so left - no wonder the plot seemed a tad light.
The other problem with this use of slow motion, is you just get very, very bored with it. Sometimes slow motion enhances things, as Attenborough's recent Africa documentary showed with a battle between two giraffes, which just looks like an almost playful scuffle at full speed, but in slow motion you can see the ripples of force the impacts of head butting causes, and get a better idea of the serious nature of the fight. However, when every time there's a special effect the movie goes into slow motion then you just end up groaning whenever it's kicks in.
Lastly, as I say, 3D should enhance rather than detract, and this should include respect for previous formats. Much as Dolby digital and DTS sound systems made a huge difference to the surround and the 'oomph' of a movie's soundtrack (I'll always remember the thrumming in the chest of the sound of the pod race in Star Wars Ep. 1, even if it was the only impressive thing about that movie). To watch the movie on a regular TV will not make it sound worse than had the DTS technology not been used in the first place - it sounds better if you have DTS, but sounds no worse if you don't. 3D on the other hand, does make a movie look worse if you can only see the film in 2D, so for me I am still clinging on to that hope that I am wrong, and that this current fad will after all be as short lived as the attempts at 3D in the 50's and 70's. it's probably an eternal cry to Hollywood, but can the movie makers concentrate a bit more on making good movies first, and then tinker with the toys if you have time please?

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