It is very rare that that an article about 3D actually contains enough informed arguments to draw me into a conversation. However, the well-thought-through, reasoned and observed blog by Rian Johnson, which seeks to explore both the comments of veteran filmmakers and his own experiences, and Oliver Lyttelton’s article on Indiewire, were exceptions. While I agree with many of the comments, the conclusions that I have come to are slightly different.
I have been involved with stereo for almost 20 years, initially with Imax 3D and special venue films and more recently with mainstream commercials, documentaries and features, and I am currently supervising the stereo on two films to be released next year – “Jack the Giant Killer” and “Gravity.” I also work in 2D, having been involved with films such as Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” and Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” in recent years. I love the aesthetic of 2D film, and a beautifully shot and well-told story in 2D is something that can have a profound effect on the viewer. I have no doubt, though, that an equally beautifully shot and well-told story in 3D can have every bit as much impact.
Rian suggests that the introduction of stereoscopic photography is analogous to the introduction of colour, and in some ways I would agree. I recognise elements of similarity between where we stand with stereo technology and the early stages of colour cinema with hand-coloured prints, and this analogy is particularly strong when comparing post-converted 3D with hand colouring — both are creating the effect artificially and require an artist to decide on what the depth or colour of each individual element should be, and both are a result of imperfect capture techniques.
I would suggest, though, that the stereo 3D in a film is much more analogous to the score. It is something that most of the time you don’t consciously notice, even when it is contributing to the richness of the scene, but take it away and you would feel poorer by its absence. There are times when both can be used self-consciously to good effect and other times when reducing their impact has the biggest impact of all.
Rian makes mention of muddy eyeball-half-nelsoning, which is something I passionately agree with. However, I lay the blame at economics and theaters’ desire to save money on replacing expensive bulbs rather than on the technology itself. It is perfectly possible with a well-graded 3D film projected in a well-maintained theatre to have good light levels that are comparable to 2D. What is an issue, though, are the glasses. As well as being one of the culprits in the ‘muddiness’ accusation, they are also responsible for taking the shared immersive experience and turning it into a remote and personal one. Until we can get rid of those, it is hard to see 3D becoming the medium that it promises to be.