3D- A Two Dimensional Delusion

George Chang


Remember that old nickname everyone uses to mock people who wear glasses? Did you guess four-eyes? Bingo, you’re right. Now that you’re re-acquainted with that, do some math: what do you call a nearsighted person sitting through a 3D movie? If you’re about to say six-eyes, hurray, you got it right.

For a nearsighted person (like me) who doesn’t wear contact lenses, there’s a downside to every 3D movie I attend, usually at the forceful manipulation of friends who persistently think 3D is cooler on the big screen. The downside is trying to wear two pairs of glasses on one nose. 3D is a definitely not cooler on the big screen; it’s costly and it’s an unnecessary technical gimmick this technological era has produced. If you do not agree, think again whether that extra $2 is worth an “enhanced” movie experience consisting of barely distinguishable pop-up objects projected by a piece of plastic sitting on the bridge of your nose.

After spending $15 each watching Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Transformers 3 and Harry Potter 7 part 2 in 3D with friends, I found the best part of a 3D movie to be the very beginning, before the movie titles show up. Before the opening scene there’s an on-screen notice that tells us to put on our 3D glasses. As I recall, it can be seen without the 3D glasses without looking fuzzy and layered. On goes my Real-D 3D glasses…and voila, the words “PLEASE PUT ON YOUR 3D GLASSES” with a pair of 3D glasses in a green recycling logo pop off the screen towards me, as if they are real. With the 3D glasses, the logo looks to be more textured and in a higher resolution, making it fly off the screen. My friend would then slap my arm down, calling me an idiot. Now that’s a 3D experience! Sadly by the time the movie starts a minute later, all that 3D magic has vanished.

Initially, the point of 3D technology was to enhance the perception of depth in 2D photography. The term 3D on a movie’s poster officially took off after James Cameron’s Avatar (yes, people wanted to see a space opera-version of Pocahontas), the biggest blockbuster of all time, released in 2009. The next two years, especially 2011, saw the release of more 3D movies than any year in the history of film: Saw VII, Clash of the Titans, and many more. If you’ve seen some of these black-listed (by me) movies, in 3D or the wiser, normal, D, you probably will agree that applying 3D, a privileged technology, to such mediocre and terrible films is a waste of precious resources and time.

Of the 3D movies I have seen, the only significant wowing moment I have experienced was the Romantic Flight sequence in How to Train Your Dragon—which had more to do with the cinematography than the 3D effect. When I saw How to Train Your Dragon two months later on DVD, I had the same spine tingling experience I had back in the theater. This movie proves a point: not all 3D movies are terrible. It’s foolish to be prejudiced about something as neutral as 3D technology, but it isn’t wrong to be critical of it. There are many great 3D movies.  However, most of them, such as Harry Potter 7, Toy Story 3, and Avatar, are already examples of great filmmaking. The 3D aspect simply enhances the already overwhelming acting, cinematography and emotion. The 3D in these movies is the extra icing on the cake, making the cake even more appetizing to enjoy.

The surge in 3D cinema poses some burning questions: is 3D for every movie or just a chosen few? Is 3D a higher form of artistic expression? Or a marketing tool employed by greedy studios to cash-in? Scrolling down the list of 3D movies released in the past decade and onward, it looks like 3D is being used (or abused) for exactly what marketing executives think it’s good for: a reason to see movies, even if they suck…Especially if they suck.

The word 3D remains a two-dimensional delusion tricking people into minor, if not major, disappointment. Behind the 3D, there is no other-world we come to the movie theater to experience, only a white screen.