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2D Or Not 2D…

2D Or Not 2D…

By Jonahh Oestreich • February 19th, 2012

The idea of 3D movies is some 120 years old, and they have existed in one form or another for almost 100 years. After a short-lived heyday in the early 1950s, the 3D concept has been struggling its way back into mainstream since the mid 1980s.

Ghosts Of The Abyss
Ghosts Of The Abyss, 2003

Remarkably enough, it was Disney’s documentary Ghosts Of The Abyss that heralded the actual come-back of the technology in 2003. In the film, director James Cameron, together with experts and marine scientists, stages an expedition to the wreck of the doomed RMS Titanic.

Ultimately though, it was Cameron’s Avatar that brought 3D back to the big screen in 2009. The film has triggered an euphoria about the technology, though the humanistic credo and deeply ecological message has contributed more to Avatar’s success than its 3D appeal.

After all, the technology is flawed and full of compromises, even with the latest hitech equipment. Far enough from a real 3D illusion, those films tend to miss out on colour depth, vibrance and brilliance of light. Not least they are prone to induce nausea, especially when the spaces we find ourselves in offend natural perception, or the movements we are to follow are humanly impossible.

Avatar
Avatar, 2009

Over decades, the industry has spent millions perfecting the 2D technology and has reached a quite incredible level of reality illusion.

In the age of HD and digital cinema, I would even go as far as to say they have pretty much come to exploit the last bit of what the human mind can physically perceive and process. Thus, 3D often seems more like an afterthought and an attempt at making the last possible Dollar.

With me, many of my colleagues and friends noticed that the 3D effect wears off a few minutes into the movie, or at least they are not that much aware of it any more. The focus quickly shifts back to the story, and that is what still makes or breaks a movie. 3D adds little to characters or dialogues, and worst of all it emphasizes bad acting.

As long as 3D doesn’t play with my expectations it won’t add value to the experience. Showing me things as I’m used to seeing them in the “real world” is not good enough — as the best (2D) movies inspire me, challenge my perspectives or just entertain me in the smartest way possible, 3D as such will only capture my attention when it shows me the world in ways I haven’t seen it yet or leads me beyond the limits of my sense of sight in unexpected ways.

Despicable Me
Despicable Me, 2010

On this note and quite surprising, a few of the recent kids movies manage to use 3D as a storyteller’s tool playing with surprising perspectives and angles .

Despicable Me was an outstanding experience for the little ones — the more so as it had scenes that obviously excited and involved the young audience more than it may have have done in 2D.

In the end though, a flood of blood doesn’t make a good horror movie, a frenzy of bullets doesn’t make a good action flick, and a thousand kisses don’t make a lovely romance. Effects alone and in themselves remain but a means — to telling a story and emphasize its “message”. 3D might add some entertainment but it won’t render a film remarkable, let alone memorable.

Having said this, the 3D technology is still infantile, albeit expensive, complex and in many cases a hit-and-miss. The true revolution will be when we go and watch holographic movies that actually put you right in the middle of the events, stories you literally live inside of for a couple of hours.

But the closer you get to the story, the more critical your mind is. More than ever, this kind of movie will make the art of storytelling an absolute must — something that many contemporary 3D movies rather lack.

That is not to say there are no storytellers who would be up to the challenge. I’m sure they are out there however, I think many of them are underrated, ignored or plainly underpaid. In particular the big studios might have to brace themselves and put stories first, take a risk and regain the courage that made Hollywood what it used to be in the last century.

If the dream factory goes back to producing “dreams” rather than fake-dimensional illusions, cinema might take a leap that is founded on (3D) technology making a story fly; not the other way around. With today’s equipment getting cheaper and cheaper everybody can make a film, but not everybody can make a film.

With every new high-end tool that is prohibitive for aspiring filmmakers who may have ideas how to actually use them to tell their stories, it seems “Hollywood” tries to race ahead and away from the competition that is creatively evolving faster and faster. Unfortunately, the industry giants seem to do only that: getting a head start on the wings of complex and expensive tech, rather than compelling and innovative stories.

TRON: Legacy
TRON: Legacy, 2010

For years, we have been experiencing the ultimate immersion at least in one regard. The soundtracks of many films pull us in deeper than what we see on the screen; they add more “3D” to the movie than its optics, as it where. In a way, they tell the story that should happen on screen.

For instance Tron: Legacy. Whereas the plot is somewhat vacuous and cliché, Daft Punk’s music and the sound design make it a real experience — and against all odds a rather memorable film. The 3D element does its bits and pieces however, it wouldn’t be worth a lot without the soundtrack, and the overall stunning production design.

Yet, listening is not our primary sense, especially not in the movies. I find it promising that, in the age of 3D, a silent movie (in 2D and black and white) like The Artist can become a real success — at the box office, too…

Tell me a great story, and I’ll dance with you.

Jonahh Oestreich

Jonahh Oestreich

One of the Editors in Chief and our webmaster, Jonahh is a photographer and journalist who has been working in the media industry for over 15 years, mainly in television, design and art. As a boy, he made his first short film with an 8mm camera and the help of his father. His obsession with (moving) images and stories hasn’t faded since.

His passion for intricate stories and the ‘seven basic plots’ (ask him!) often times makes his friends and family put him in the doghouse for "predicting" too many twists and endings.

You can follow Jonahh on Twitter @Resonance_Zero.

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