Three Cheers for 3-D

Is it safe to say that 3-D is the new poster child of indie hatred? It’s the thing to crap on at the moment. While I understand the restraint in embarrassing a new format in open arms (as I shrug in disappointment at my SACD and HD-DVD collection), I think we have yet to see its true potential.

“Avatar” was a real mixed blessing of a movie to introduce 3-D to the masses. James Cameron, historically speaking, was probably the right guy in many ways to invest in and deploy such a crazy new technology (see: “Aliens”, “The Abyss” and “Terminator 2”) even though he may not have been (okay—wasn’t) the right guy to pen the script.

With the exception of my kid cousins who saw “Avatar” in 2-D and LOVED it, I don’t know anyone who saw it in 3-D and was praising the script afterward. It was an experience movie, like the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “Gigli”—you see it to say you’ve seen it.

This really isn’t reading like a gushing endorsement for 3-D yet, I know. To understand why I’m so in favor of 3-D movies, though, you have to go to the core of why people see movies: to be entertained. And frankly, the movie industry needs a kick-in-the-ass quality-wise to stay relevant to a generation that can download any movie to their computer or portable media player, theater experience be damned. People forget, 3-D is one of the few big shifts in moviemaking, and is even a big step forward compared to other format lifespans.

When compared to the changes of music formats in the past 100 years: wax cylinder, vinyl record, 8-track, cassette, CD and digital file—the past 100 years of filmmaking has had a much slower pace of development: crappy slow frame-rate film, slightly better black-and-white film, color film, slightly better color film, bigger film and digital projection/3-D.

The point is that 3-D isn’t just a baby step for filmmaking—it’s a quantum leap. Give it some time, people!

Unfortunately, people don’t understand what the expectations for 3-D movies should be yet, either. Most people, for instance, are unaware that the best 3-D quality comes from movies shot from the beginning in 3-D. However, not all movies that go to the box office are shot natively that way; many are post-production conversions that come out abysmally, like “Clash of the Titans.”

A good 3-D movie can’t just be shot in 3-D either. It has to be conceptualized from the beginning that way. There’s a fine balance between 3-D movies with marginal depth to the end-credits animation of “Despicable Me” that breaks through the fourth wall. The purpose of 3-D is to add a sense of depth and create immersion in the film. Until movies start coming out without 3-D as the main selling point, people will always be watching the movie one step back, analyzing the 3-D first and the movie second.

The problem with using 3-D as a tool instead of the selling point is the cost. Three-D at the moment is an expensive technology to film in and is only available at the moment to the James Camerons of the world. Until we get good 3-D cameras in the hands of up-and-coming directors, cinematographers and directors of photography, we have yet to see the true potential of the medium. There are many ways for it to be creatively utilized that we haven’t even thought up yet; ways that don’t fatigue the eyes and don’t bore them either.

It doesn’t help the 3-D cause when directors and techies publically trash 3-D filmmaking. However, those critical of the medium need to remember that the people will ultimately determine its success or failure, and that publically bashing something on the cusp of its mass adoption will seem as ill-informed as someone like me lauding 3-D if it fails. The coin lands both ways.

So, while I do think 3-D is the best thing to happen to filmmaking in awhile, I’m also aware that it needs some more time to grow. Once the Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Copolla, [insert director in desired style] of 3-D come along, hopefully I can get the last laugh. For now, I’ll just have the first one.

Mike Boileau is a Fifth-Year Political Science and Cognitive Psychology Double Major and compulsive organizer. You can reach him at