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3D or no 3D? That is the question ...


Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings, arrows and pointy things jumping out at you ...

... or to take arms against a sea of troubles - those of 3D.

As I wrote this article, heated debates broke out between my brother and I - he being strongly pro-3D and I anti-3D. He thinks within five years most movies will be filmed and projected in 3D; I disagree, stating 3D shall go the way of the dodo (once again). The 'pro' contingency believes 3D films are a better experience and far more enjoyable than 2D (normal vision). What a load of hype! It’s all to do with money. Don’t get me wrong - if people don’t attend cinemas the movie industry makes no profits and collapses – and I am definitely against this. I just say we don’t need 3D gimmicks to experience a true cinema experience. Some say 3D is a revolutionary change in the history of cinema just like the transformation from silent to sound films and black & white to color. However, if this was the case, wouldn't 3D have caught on a long, long time ago?

2012 is about to roll in with Titanic 3D (a re-release of the original converted into 3D at a cost of millions.), The Amazing Spider-Man 3D, The Hobbit 3D, The Great Gatsby 3D, Beauty And The Beast 3D (Disney’s original converted into 3D), The Avengers in 3D, Men In Black III 3D, Prometheus in 3D, all the Star Wars movies re-released in 3D (one per year)  and more on the way. But trouble brews in the movie industry as audience figures decline in 3D movie attendance and serious questions are asked as to whether 3D will succeed.

In the past, Hollywood used 3D films to increase cinema attendance, especially when the Threat of Television arrived.  Around the 1980’s 3D popped up again and the crowd “oohed”, “ahhed”, “wowed” and laughed. Similar films kept appearing. I was in my teens and a visit to the cinema with friends meant watching ‘things’ jump out from a 3D screen. Gradually boredom set in across cinema goers. Nobody enjoyed wearing 3D glasses and over time audiences felt 3D was used by cinemas to cash in from an uncomfortable gimmick – 3D faded away.

In 2009, James Cameron, using an improved 3D technique, created and released Avatar in 3D, which became highest grossing film of all time, with box office takings around $2.7 billion dollars plus - starting a frenzied gold rush by movie studios. (I have to say I do like James Cameron’s work but I don’t enjoy 3D. I actually saw Avatar on DVD, which was enjoyable, but nowhere as good as Aliens 2. Cut to present day – since 2009 the Hollywood 3D bandwagon rolled out films shot in 3D or shot in 2D (normal vision) and then converted into 3D. Once again the audiences flocked to the cinema, and “oooh” “ahhh” “woww” could be heard across auditoriums. Déjà vu anyone?

We are now being told 3D is the future – James Cameron believes this so much that he says will no longer film in 2D. He has converted his film Titanic into 3D through his company Cameron Pace Group (and many others are using his company for 3D, not bad for extra revenue if you can get it!) Other established film-makers such as Steven Spielberg (Tintin), Peter Jackson (The Hobbit), Michael Bay (Transformers 3), Martin Scorsese (Hugo) and a few others are in the process of creating their first 3D picture or have already released in 3D. The cost of 3D film production is expensive and time consuming - and what are the real benefits? Disney recently re-released The Lion King in 3D which made money. But I think it would of done so even if it had just a normal (2D) re-release as its in a small group of classic family animated movies whose appeal on re-release is not necessarily tied to the 3D gimmick.

3D films to date have taken in far, far less than Avatar's $2.7 billion creating a serious air of disappointment in the movie world. 3D production is still going ahead, but the audience is losing interest. We are being told 3D is the future but if so, why are audiences opting to watch more normal versions (2D) of films? Here are some reasons:

3D causes headaches, eye strain and nausea. 3D is a gimmick - it feels like a roller-coaster ride in a theme park and not much more. Ticket prices, already rising, are even more expensive for 3D films. 3D glasses are uncomfortable; people don’t like wearing them, and the tinted 3D glasses make the picture darker. Additionally, people with eye problems cannot experience 3D. Finally, 3D detracts from atmosphere and emotions of the film.

Try it out: watch a 3D film then view normal version - or the other way around - and test this theory, you’ll be surprised how the 2D version has greater emotion and is more satisfying. I remember watching Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs in 3D where I laughed a little, felt unemotional, distracted and irritable. When I eventually watched the DVD release (normal vision), the film burst into life, was much funnier, colourful, emotional and was thoroughly enjoyable.

Fast action sequences in 3D create problems as the image turns blurry and flattens out the 3D effect. 3D framing and filming is very different, if you get it wrong, it really does affect the outcome in a bad way. A 3D shot covering action must last longer on screen before cutting to the next image; too fast and the brain does not register the depth of the scene.

A camera assistant who worked on one of the latest 3D movies explained that some parts of a 3D film might be shot in 2D (normal vision and on film generally) for scenes containing a sunset or sunrise. 3D can’t handle the way some light is reflected and processed within 3D cameras.

If you ask me as a film maker (or as an audience member), do I want to film in 3D, enjoy 3D or think this is the future of cinema, I would say no.

Recently I attended a charity preview of Puss In Boots 3D with my 6 and 8 year old niece and nephew. The  wows, oohs, and ahhs by the audience at items flying out of the screen throughout the film came on like clockwork. A little later, some children removed their 3D glasses and seemed to be losing interest. People kept readjusting their 3D glasses - mine showed double vision on the edges - result; less emotion and less enjoyment!  The film itself was very good but spoiled by the 3D. The kids commented that it was 'more fun to watch films without glasses'.

The question remains, will the public walk away in large numbers again to end the current 3D domination? Time will tell. Influential directors like Christopher Nolan and Tom Hooper have chosen to make their next projects exclusively in 2D - nether The Dark Knight Returns nor Les Miserables will be available in 3D. Nolan stated, regarding 3D, "On a technical level, it's fascinating, but on an experiential level, I find the dimness of the image extremely alienating." Hooper, similarly, said, "With a two-and-a-half hour film, I didn't want to make something that anyone might think 'That's not for me, because I don't like the medium."  Totally agree.

Worse, we seem to be at a stage in the movie world where some film makers are being pressured into using 3D. J.J. Abrams, who reportedly was against using 3D to film Star Trek 2, has changed his mind after discussions with Paramount. IMajor film brands are to follow in 3D, and some are being shot at 48 frames per second (The Hobbit being one of the first).  The idea behind changing from 24 frames per second norm to 48 frames per second is to give the audience a more  ‘real’ experience. Is this addition onto 3D another way to push us further into that camp? Will the 3D saga continue?  Do I care what happens next..?

Yes, for I believe cinema is a great medium for powerful emotional stories for ALL - without gimmicks. Technology is changing all the time, and should help enhance a movie project - not overwhelm it for the sake of technology. The next two years will be extremely important for the movie world as the results unfold: 3D or no 3D? That is my question. (And I’m still debating heatedly with my brother!). What’s your view point?

See also:

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace 3D review

Peter Jackson easing 3D eyestrain for The Hobbit?

Hollywood's determination to sell us Victorian 3D technology

The worrying rebirth of 3D

Secret immunity to 3D movies

Michael Bay jumps on 3D bandwagon

The last great frontier of CGI: The eye

Happy Feet 2 3D Premiere review

Kung Fu Panda 2 - 3D review


If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.



#1 NO 3D!!!!! John D 2011-12-14 03:35
I HATE 3D!!!!!!!!!!
It will always be my most hated thing in the world and the biggest gimmick ever!
I hate it for everything including movies, TV, games and literally everything else connected to it.
3D has to be abolished and never return, EVER!
#2 Ups and downs Josh 2011-12-14 17:33
I have to say, I think your statement that "cinema is a great medium for powerful emotional stories for ALL - without gimmicks" is a bit shortsighted. Cinemas *as we know it* is already on its way out, and Hollywood's constant remakes and sequels are one of its death knells. But so much of what we see in big-budget Hollywood movies today started as gimmicks, I don't think its asking too much to forgive the beast for experimenting with new ways to increase revenue -- *while also moving the medium forward.*

I'd definitely agree that 3d is a gimmick, used to garner revenue. But does that means 3d is outright evil? I don't think so.

Let's discount the 'health' issues related to 3d right off the bat. No one is *forcing* you to watch a 3d movie, so if it gives you a headache, take off the glasses and avoid 3d next time.

More importantly in the debate: what does 3d offer that makes it worth the additional investment for the ticket-buying public?

The biggest gain is that audiences see *more content* in a 3d screening -- the eponymous third dimension. For over a hundred years, we've understood that in the language of (2d) film making and photography, depth of field conveys much of that same information. But now, we have a *new grammar in film language* to deliver that information.

Filmmakers now have more tools at their disposal for delivering depth information to viewers, and I think we've only just scratched the surface of their power. You might consider "Avatar" to be "The Great Train Robbery" for 3d. Suddenly, there is a new way to deliver information to viewers. Of course this could be used poorly by some directors, but its hard to disagree that Avatar was a completely immersive experience thanks in large part to skillful use of 3d.

As the medium matures I think we'll see better and better uses of 3d (such as a way to exploit the limited POV it offers -- I imagine a few good horror stories could be told in first person 3d). And of course, as it gets cheaper (and thus, into the hands of more independent filmmakers) we ought to expect "Un chien 3d andalou" and I'm quite excited about that.

In the meantime, we can see some impressive 3d effects easily rendered from the many computer-generated sequences *already* in movies. I just saw "Happy Feet 2" in 3d and for something that no doubt cost relatively little to produce (re-rendering and testing for left and right eyes) it did add a lot of fun to the experience.

Audiences are fickle, and if no one can come up with interesting and original ways to put 3d to use, it will no doubt fade away into obscurity yet again. But the fact that it keeps coming back shows people are willing to give it a try. I personally hope the 3d revolution is televised.


3d movies offer an extension to film language that deserves to be given a chance to carry cinema into new territory.
#3 3D or Normal Vision :) HS 2011-12-14 18:59
Hi Josh, thanks for your response, apreciated. I beleive 3D movies reappearing with a newer technique is not what will save cinema - it may add another level of excitement for a short while but that's about it, again once the public will realise the deja vu as tunnel. The film community has got to make sure it brings out good stories including original ones to capture the audiences hearts and minds - and not slowly cause pain and have the public walk away - which is what 3D has begun to do. Don't take my word for it, check out cinema admissions for 3D films (low), forum sites, surveys both online and officialy here in the UK and USA. It seems that the public is saying and doing one thing and the 3D bandwagon another. Don't get me wrong I;m not saying no one should make or experiment with 3D and progress technology, it's just that many don't want to sit and watch movies wearing 3d glasses that cause what i mentioned in my article and try to push normal vision (2D) away from the main. Yes you're right we have a choice but what choice is that when 3D is thrust at us giving little choice? HS
#4 Interesting piece Nick 2011-12-16 13:34
Hi Hasan,

You've put forward an interesting case and I agree with a lot of what you've said. A lot of the 3D releases over the past year have been shameless cash-ins using 3D as a marketing gimmick, and I've seen some trailers suggesting there are more to come.

I think though that 3D is more of a revolution than you say. You argue the format would have taken off much earlier if it really was The Next Big Thing, but then cinema was already more than 30 years old before sound was introduced. Colour took another ten years to become mainstream and evolved over time.

The evolution of 3D has definitely been slower, and this has been because of its use as more of a theme park attraction in the 50s and 60s.

I disagree that 3D detracts from the emotions and atmosphere of cinema. I find 3D adds varying levels of depth to the image (depending on how well it was shot or converted) and it's darker too, but I've never heard anyone complain that it takes away from the story itself. For me, the worst-case scenario is that poor 3D is an unnecessary visual distraction.

Lastly, I don't think it's quite accurate to say audiences are losing interest. This was a concern for the studios earlier in the year when Pirates 4 and Kung Fu Panda 2 came out, but Transformers 3 was a huge 3D hit and did a lot to reassure the industry.

We'll see what happens.
#5 3D or No 3D? HS 2011-12-16 20:36
Hi Nick, thanks for the comments and agree with some of your points. However, couple of issues, one, overall, 3D at the cinema has actually declined as reported form different theatre chains, my report had comments and surveys from official sources - one being YouGov, stating overall audiences not happy with 3D and prefering normal vision. Due to lack of space report is as read above. If studios only relase the big movies mainly in 3D it usually gives very little choice to view it normal. Where there is a choice it's the normal version bringing in the crowds. If you troll through the net and read public views, it's around (to what i have read so far) about 90% against 3D and 10% for. The the latest Twilight movie has taken more at the box office than most of the 3D films out there, that's just one of the nornal vision films - thank heaven 3D was dropped for the latest Bond film. 3D reminds me of the classic story "The Emperor's Clothes" - one child looks at the emperor parading through the streets and says, 'he has no clothes on' where as everyone else fell for it and dared not criticise for they maybe be punished. :) Another point, for example, if you had a whole day viewing star wars (or any other tilogy plus) back to back in 3D in one day you'd be rushing out of the cinema with sickness. The debate continues...... :)
#6 RE: 3D or no 3D? That is the question ... Arthur 2011-12-19 16:56
Hi Hasan

To 3D or not 3D. That is the question...I'd say not. It can be fun but I find you miss an awful lot because you can only really see one aspect of the screen picture at any one time so with 3D you concentrate on the main characters more but the perifferals less. Also, as to the comment that Cinema is on it's way out, this has happened before. Undoubtedly it'll happen again as soon as ticket prices get too high and film going quality dips too low, combined with new technology. But I suspect the public will go back to cinemas after a while as the night out experience can be a whole lot of fun and the big screen has that Wow! factor that the TV screen just can't generate.
#7 RE: 3D or no 3D? That is the question ... james 2011-12-29 11:58
The first thing I ask if someone asks me to go to the cinema is "is it in 3D" if the answer is Yes then I wont go. I wont pay the extra money for something I neither like nor want. Cinema is expensive enough as it is, the extra cost is not welcome especially as I believe 3D adds nothing, I end up taking the glasses off after a while as they irritate me and would rather watch the blurry image on the screen than wear the stupid glasses. To sum up:I HATE 3D
#8 RE: 3D or no 3D? That is the question ... HS 2012-01-01 21:47
Hi James,
Thanks for your comments which I agree with. What's baffling still is why some filmmakers and studios are continuing to push ahead with 3D where as the public is slowly walking away from 3D. The other problem which the crowds may face is where cinemas choose not to show the normal version but 3D only. Apparently this is happening in in certain parts of the USA. We also have James Camerons 3D company over here in the UK pushing for greater number of tv broadcasts to be in 3D. This really feels like the "Invasion of The Body Snatchers" 3D being the thing that takes destroys and takes over humans :) I'm hoping the audineces are too clever for that to happen....I'm really hoping :)
#9 Theater < Home Allan 2012-01-26 17:38
3D in the theater? No. Costs way too much, and doesn't seem to work quite well enough.

3D at home? Yes. The glasses are better, and the effect works quite well.

But it all comes down to the movie. Drive Angry is really the only movie I can recommend in 3D because of the grindhouse feel already in the story
#10 Titanic in 3D on its way HS 2012-01-30 21:16
As James Cameron prepares to re release his normal vision really good film, will the audience go to see it in 3D or will it sink and help take 3D with it? I guess the marketing campaign behind the 3D version is going to be huge and try to convince us to see the same film in have been warned. I recently saw Mission Impossible:Ghos t Protocol on Imax and I have to say was a great experience without 3D! For now, that's all folks! :)
#11 RE: 3D or no 3D? That is the question ... Jonny 2012-08-11 16:04
I think there is no problem with freedom of choice. You can always find 3D movie in 2D. 50% of 3D ticket sales is a big piece of pie. Nobody knows whether there would be less tickets sales if 3D version did not exist, but technically you take an image only for one eye and watch it in 2D (VLC media player makes it easily).

Filming in 3D today is cheaper and quality is better than converting later. I think that all "big" moovies should be filmed in 3D today for the sake of tomorrow. Technology is rapidly evolving like never before and becomes more health friendly and cheaper. As soon as 3D equipment will be payed of the ticket price will drop. There is no way back to 2D-only film making anymore.

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