Tuesday, December 20, 2011

3D Nostalgia

I've made no secret about my hatred of the current 3D trend.  Hollywood has invested a lot in the technology and boosted ticket prices because of it, but in the end we've seen backlash from audiences and critics -- and (guess what?) ticket sales are still down.  When will they learn that it's about story, not three-dimensional gimmickry?  Is 3D really the number one option that consumers want in television sets, video games, and smartphones?  Obviously the answer is no, no, no.  Let's face reality -- 3D started out as a novelty and so far I still need proof that it will rise above that lowly status. 

Now, being a cheap fad (or in the current case, a not so cheap fad) isn't necessarily a bad thing. I have some fond memories of 3D when it didn't have delusions of grandeur.  I wasn't around to see House of Wax, It Came from Outer Space, or The Creature from the Black Lagoon when they were originally released in 3D, but they delighted moviegoers who didn't think of them as anything more than fun popcorn flicks. Those movies still hold up as cheesy guilty pleasures, with or without the primitive 3D effects.  The crappy 3D revival of the 1980s failed to catch on because, let's admit it, the movies were terrible -- Jaws 3D, Amityville 3D, Friday the 13th Part III, and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone.

As a kid, I used to have the stereoscopic binoculars called View-Master.  (It's still a toy that's available from Fisher-Price.)  I remember collecting the discs and enjoying peeping through the double-viewfinder (making sure I aimed it at a light source so I could see) and watching crude three dimensional images tell a story in seven double-slides, one for each eye, creating an illusion of multiple layers of depth.  It wasn't so much the 3D trick that made the toy interesting, it was collecting the discs -- I had ones about dinosaurs, cartoons, superheroes, and more.  It was like collecting Pez dispensers, bubblegum cards, or other trivial but enjoyable stuff that kids got a kick from accumulating.

Television experimented with 3D off and on, but again it was never anything more than a cheap stunt -- episodes of 3rd Rock from the Sun, Medium, Chuck, and Arrested Development.

The first (and probably only) use of 3D that grabbed my attention and made me see the potential for the technology in storytelling was the well-made theme-park attraction T2 3D: Battle Across Time.  The 3D effects were spectacular and really worked well, and most importantly served the story, so when things seemed to pop out of the screen at the viewer, it wasn't distracting, but rather fit perfectly with what was happening (and it actually looked like it popped out of the freakin' screen!) 

People now praise recent movies like Avatar, How to Train Your Dragon, or Hugo, but I argue that those are well-made enjoyable movies even without the 3D technology (which I still think is over-rating, kind of like "the emperor's new clothes").  Other films either succeed or fail based on their own merits, not just on their use of 3D.  Other times, like in A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, they use 3D well because they understand that it's just a gimmick and they make it fit the story.

It's a lesson that I'm surprised filmmakers haven't learned yet after all this time. 

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