3D films: Pros and Cons

3D technology may have revolutionized the cinema industry, but at what cost? Ali Abdel Mohsen and Ahmed Ramadan present both sides of the argument.

As a child, I was obsessed with Back to the Future, admits Ali. My father had illegally recorded it from a Dutch television broadcast onto a videotape that had been previously used at least five or six times, most recently to tape a Johnny Hates Jazz concert (this was the 80’s, when apparently everybody had questionable taste in music). I watched that film, cheering, at least twice a day, every day of the week for most of my childhood, and when the videotape finally dissolved and broke (and my attempts at gluing it back together failed miserably), I was seriously depressed.

The point is, despite the fact that my copy of Back to the Future came with mile-wide tracking lines and clunky Dutch subtitles, my memories of it are crystal-clear. That’s not to say image quality isn’t important, just that it takes a distant backseat to story and character. 3D technology serves neither, and instead, is often employed as a distraction from weak plots and hokey dialogue (hello, Avatar).

3D technology is like a third nipple–completely unnecessary, but interesting to look at every once in a while. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, it’s just…there. And kind of weird.

Ever since its inception in the early 1950s, 3D has been nothing more than a gimmick, fading in and out of popularity and occasionally resuscitated by relevant technological advancements. From 1953’s Cat-Women of the Moon to the unnecessary Jaws 3D to 2003’s Spy Kids 3D: Game Over (remembered only for its disturbing imagery of Sylvester Stallone in shaky, eye-watering 3D), the concept has failed to make a lasting impression on global audiences.

The reason is simple–so far, studio executives have seemed unable to understand that 3D can be more than just an excuse to increase ticket prices. As a result, they rush to green-light projects that confuse plot for any premise that allows the filmmakers to throw stuff at the audience. The audience, in turn, is impressed for a while, and then, eventually, gets sick of it and moves on. If 3D was indeed intended to enhance realism, shouldn’t it be used to depict situations that can be accepted by the human brain as at least somewhat realistic? 3D might in fact turn out to be the ideal medium for documentaries, low-key romantic comedies, or courthouse dramas.

This time, though, 3D might just stick around, for better or worse. Evidence for this comes with the recent Clash of the Titans remake as well as the upcoming Harry Potter film, both of which were forced by their studios to “go 3D”, despite their directors’ protests.  And earlier this year, 3D televisions became commercially available for the first time ever. You’d still need to wear those glasses, though.

And to all those championing 3D for its “realism”, are viewers ever really convinced that the blue skinned aliens and beheaded Jabberwockies they’re watching are real? Or are they just ridiculously detailed illustrations? What would they compare a Jabberwocky to, and what would they base these comparisons on?

However, despite the overabundance of screen-boners, there remains a glimmer of hope that 3D can find a home among audiences seeking more than just quick thrills and reflex exercises. With respected filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Peter Jackson all currently planning their own 3D projects, there might still be a valid reason to put on those clunky glasses again. And in the unlikely event that they all stumble, we still have the geniuses at Pixar, who, despite their continual use of cutting-edge technology, never seem to forget the essence of film-making.

However, Ahmed Ramadan believes other wise:

I did not get the chance to watch the Robert Rodriguez 2003 flick Spy Kids 3D: Game Over but I’ve heard it was the worst film Sylvester Stallone ever starred in (which tells a lot, I’d say). What stands out about this film is that it was the first film to re-introduce 3D screening into cinemas after the technique was limited for years to the amusement park cinemas.

Later on, the third dimension was used to enhance the beauty of so many movies that we in Egypt did not get to watch on 3D screens for the simple reason of lacking any. That, however, did not mean that I did not get the chance to watch 3D flicks before the famous Avatar craze. Maybe you did it too and you did not even know it was 3D.

Take The Polar Express (2004) for example, the animated flick starring Tom Hanks in six different characters (including Santa Claus and a 10-year-old boy). The film was released in the US in IMAX 3D experience theaters and became an instant Christmas classic.

Although a number of amazing films have already screened around the world in 3D, such as Pixar’s masterpiece Up (2009) and DreamWorks’ Monsters Vs Aliens (2009), we, poor 3D-thirsty people, had to wait for Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009) to witness our first experience of 3D.

The beauty of 3D managed to hide the flaws of the film in general. The extra dimension covered the lack of depth in the retelling of the Dickens’ classic and introduced a new element into a story that we knew and watched repeatedly over the years.

James Cameron, of course, couldn’t keep his hands off the new technique, as his film Avatar (2009) went on to become the highest-grossing film in history. Some people criticized Avatar for being shallow, stereotypical and predictable but no one can deny that the film was extremely entertaining, though Cameron was not lucky enough to win an Oscar–to the satisfaction of his critics.

Finally, 3D is undeniably considered yet another milestone in the history of cinematography, along with voice recordings and colorization. 3D does has not had as dramatic an impact as the adding of actors’ voices back in the late 1920s, but it surely adds to the magic of the make-belief, making the films much more enjoyable.

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