This all started when I saw Thor. And let me be clear, none of this is because the 3D in Thor was bad. Visually it was very interesting and well done. But for the first time since I’d seen Avatar, I walked out of the theater thinking, “I wished I’d seen it in 2D. I’d have liked it better in 2D.” Which got me asking, Why?
I knew from Christopher Nolan that 3D compresses the light spectrum, so even though you have the visual extravaganza of the 3D you don’t really have a better picture or more clarity or more vivid colors or anything (you actually have a less bright picture – but 3D). When you’re watching Tron it works because you’re not really worried about the light spectrum. Tron: Legacy was good in 3D.
But as I really thought about it I had to wonder, can directors really like 3D? Can they manipulate depth of field the same? Can they move the camera in the same way they would in 2D to use the camera to tell the story? Would those stunning, emotionally gripping shots of planes flying in Pearl Harbor have worked the same or been as effective in 3D? Would Inception have been as intricate and interesting in 3D? Or would they have just been 3D movies without the substance a director brings to what the audience sees? I don’t know the answer to that one.
One thing I have decided, the primary substance to why I’d rather see almost anything in 2D now, is that the audience isn’t as emotionally invested in a 3D film. Because you’re not really watching an actor’s performance, not connecting with the emotion in their eyes as they tell the story. Your brain is processing the 3D imagery. Which can be stunning, but doesn’t aid the storytelling.
And that’s the primary difference between 3D and other innovations in film like sound, color or even THX and digital filming and cgi and IMAX technology. Those advancements helped filmmakers tell a story better. They let director’s imaginations spread farther, told the audience more about what was going on in the story, in the fabric of the life on film and in the emotions of the characters. 3D doesn’t do any of those things. It’s just interesting to look at. And I’m done being interested.
There’s also an inherent problem in 3D, which is what pushed me beyond, “eh, I prefer 2D” into “I’m actively against 3D”. Hollywood measures success in dollars. I’ve said before, you vote with your dollar and it matters very little whether you like a movie or not. Once you show up to pay for it you’re telling Hollywood, “Yes, please make more of this.” If a film is only offered in 3D on 80% of the screens it’s on, that doesn’t give the audience any leverage to use their money to tell Hollywood they’d rather have 2D. In addition, 3D tickets are more expensive. So, even if fewer people actually to go the movie, Hollywood is making more money. Granted, there are a lot of intricacies and politics and even math in all this but the gist of it is that the public has little power to spend their money in a way that discourages 3D films. So, studios will keep making them.
ETA: Slate showed the 3D format isn’t actually as profitable as it might seem.
Which leaves social media as the only avenue I see to averting the 3D debacle. Because, aside from dollars, the public’s one recourse is word of mouth. So that even if a movie makes $21 million on Friday, if it tanks Sat and Sun than the studio gets the message. 3D movies are going to continue to open at $50 and $60 million because studios are making their tentpoles in 3D – the movies everyone really wants to see anyway. But if you’d rather see those films in 2D, if you think Christopher Nolan knows what he’s talking about when it comes to filmmaking and perhaps he’s not the only filmmaker that thinks that, but the only one with the leverage to say it out loud (ETA: he’s not), then you also need to say out loud that you’d prefer 2D.
Until, somehow, the 3D phase runs it’s course (which may not happen until theaters have recouped the cost of buying all those 3D projectors James Cameron and Jeffrey Katzenberg told them to, but that’s probably another blog).
For me, I’d rather see any movie in IMAX 2D than any version of 3D. But IMAX 2D is rarely an option these days.