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Discuss: Is Rian Johnson Right About 3D Technology Still Catching Up To The Ambitions Of Filmmakers?

by Oliver Lyttelton
June 14, 2012 12:03 PM
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We're coming up to three years since "Avatar" became the biggest-grossing film in history, and any thought that 3D film, which James Cameron's picture helped to revive, was a flash in the pan seems to have been wishful thinking. The top two slots at the current U.S. box office are taken by two 3D films that couldn't be more unlike one another: "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," a colorful, star-studded animated sequel, and "Prometheus," a dark, live-action sci-fi horror from Ridley Scott. And yet they happily sit side-by-side, raking in the cash without cannibalizing each other's 3D screens (not to mention those of "The Avengers" or "Men In Black 3," which are still very much in theaters). And these are hardly outliers: when you include the stereoscopic re-releases of "Titanic" and "The Phantom Menace," eight of the all time top grossers were released in 3D.

And yet the medium still proves highly divisive, online and in the real world. Fears last year that domestic audiences were actively rejecting the format seem to have eased off, but it's still easy to find audiences complaining about the added expense, poor presentation and shoddy conversions -- anecdotally, we certainly know more film fans who actively avoid 3D releases, preferring to see them in 2D screenings, than those who eagerly anticipate the next stereoscopic release. But we're coming to an interesting fork in the road, where the format isn't merely a vehicle for CGI-driven action fare and animated fare, but also dramas from major filmmakers. Following Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," two of the major fall releases are Ang Lee's "Life Of Pi" and Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby," both of which are prestigious literary adaptations that wouldn't necessarily be obvious choices for 3D transfers. Even Jean-Luc Godard is shooting his next film in the format.

Clearly filmmakers are enthused by the possibilities from what they've seen from the likes of Cameron, Scorsese and Scott. But even three years on from "Avatar," can the technology really match their ambitions? That's the question raised by Rian Johnson, director of "Brick" and the upcoming "Looper," and one of the smartest young filmmakers around. On his Tumblr, Johnson (who's been a notable digital refusenik, posting some brilliant and technically insightful pieces on things like the Red camera), admits that he's someone who'll go twenty minutes out of his way to avoid a 3D screening, and yet says he agrees with two statements from the pro-3D lobby: "3D is the future of cinema" and "The introduction of stereoscopic photography is analogous to the introduction of color." And yet the filmmaker is less than enamored of the actual reality of what we have. And we thoroughly agree.

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More: 3D, Rian Johnson, Features

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  • Ben Rider | June 18, 2012 4:15 PMReply

    I liked certain moments in Promethues in 3D, but still feel that it ruins the film, often making dialogue scenes boring or confusing. It feels like a pop up book - at times appropriate, and others not.
    Only time will tell.

  • Xian | June 14, 2012 4:13 PMReply

    To 3D or not 3D, that is the question... I'm still adverse to the "conversions" that abound in most theaters, but I did feel 3D added something special to "Avatar" and "Hugo," but beyond that, I've not been impressed (even the, the dark, murky quality of most "filmed in 3D" features often proves to be a liability when compared to 2D showings). I'm going to check out "Prometheus" in 3D tonight, but would just as easily see it in 2D at some point to compare. I'm glad Christopher Nolan has continued to avoid 3D (imagine the pressure from Warner Bros.), and though the IMAX effect in "The Dark Knight" was interesting, it's also something that didn't add a bit to the most important things in a movie: story and character.

  • Vasilis | June 14, 2012 12:40 PMReply

    ... some very thoughtful comments by Johnson!

  • brou | June 14, 2012 12:22 PMReply

    You could apply the same thoughts to performance capture... Seeing it as a way towards virtual cinema more than an aesthetic choice... Like stereoscopic photography is a tentative to approach 3D and immersion more than an aesthetic choice.

  • Carl | June 14, 2012 12:19 PMReply

    Yeah I mean unlike James Cameron, Martin Scorsese and Peter Jackson, Rian Johnson still has a hard enough time making a good movie in two-dimension, let alone three... so yeah maybe it would a wise choice for everyone to leave 3D to bored, veteran filmmakers looking to spice-up their day to day creativity. Maybe after Johnson has made a handful of films that can even be mentioned in the same list as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Aliens, Terminator, LOTR, etc. then he can start messing around with all the dumb new technology

  • Jeeby | June 15, 2012 3:39 PM

    Carl is right on the money.

  • Daniel | June 14, 2012 12:37 PM

    C'mon, Carl. Rian Johnson is 2 for 2 so far in my book. Everyone's entitled to their opinion but since all the critics fell over themselves praising 'Brick' you can't exactly imply he's some bumbling dope who doesn't know his ass from a camera. And yeah, he doesn't have as many stone-cold classics under his belt, but the others all have at least 20+ years on him. I think he'll do fine.

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