Film journalist Nick Goundry considers the future of cinema’s third dimension…
The Titanic sails back into cinemas in April 2012 in a bid to recoup more of the staggering production costs it incurred way back in the late 90s. What’s that you say? It did alright the first time round? Well, either way, James Cameron feels the centenary of the actual disaster should be marked with a re-release, and this time the ship will sink in 3D.
Cameron’s been a vocal critic of sloppy post-conversion 3D – that is, making movies poke audiences in the eye after they’ve been traditionally filmed – but he insists Titanic will be a different experience. Apparently almost $20 million and 12 months have been spent converting it, and big numbers like that seem intended to suggest lots of tender loving care and thorough quality control.
It’s been an eventful year for 3D Hollywood. Pirates of the Caribbean and Kung Fu Panda sequels yielded lower box-office from 3D shows than they did from conventional 2D performances – the first time this had happened since Avatar made 3D fashionable again and turned its cast of blue aliens into more green dollar bills than anyone expected. You could practically hear the studio suits’ collective sighs of relief when Transformers: Dark of the Moon hoovered up the pocket money of every adolescent teen on the planet by hinging its marketing on the 3D factor.
Over the summer movie chief Jeffrey Katzenberg – the ‘K’ in DreamWorks SKG – told The Hollywood Reporter that he lamented the cynicism of many of his competitors who have been using 3D chiefly as a marketing gimmick to plaster over poorly-scripted films. It’s what you might call the theme park approach to 3D: the story might suck, but you’ll want to grab stuff as it sticks out of the screen.
No doubt many of you agree with Katzenberg, and this writer is no particular fan of 3D, but I feel there’s hope in the auteurs. Martin Scorsese surprised many by coming out as a supporter of 3D, and his upcoming family-friendly flick Hugo is, to borrow some anatomical terminology that feels suitable, a 3D ‘outie’ rather than a 2D ‘innie’; early reviews have specifically praised the 3D.
Which brings us to the central point: when it’s used properly to enhance a great story and is embraced by a committed and passionate filmmaker, perhaps 3D really is the future of cinema.
Cameron and Scorsese have vocal support in Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott, to name just three filmmaking titans; Scott has gone so far as to say he’ll never work in 2D again. Both of Jackson’s Hobbit films are being shot in 3D, but crucially the third-dimension mindset has permeated the project’s production process from the very beginning. Even the initial concept artwork for the films has been created in blue and red – the artists viewing their own drawings in 3D to see what works best.
Working alongside the 3D format on the hobbit films – and planned for the Avatar sequels too – is the decision to shoot 48 frames per second, rather than the previous standard of 24. To paraphrase the science, this matches human vision more closely and amps up the sense of ‘real’. The idea is to close the barrier between the audience and the story, and make the cinema auditorium seem more like a window than a screen.
It’s difficult to argue against immersive 3D being the next technical step in cinema, but is it necessary as a way of telling a good story? Well, no, it isn’t. But then again, sound and colour aren’t necessary either. Cinema was doing just fine when someone realised how to work a microphone in the late 1920s, but audiences liked sound and it turned out a few years later they liked colour too. The third dimension is a tool that can be used as a cynical box-office boost, or it can be used to heighten the viewing experience to window-like proportions. It’s there to be rejected or embraced by you the viewer, depending on how you like your cinema served.
Regardless of your position on 3D it’s hard to argue that, if done with the right care and artistry, a window to a great story would be very nice indeed.