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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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Johnson quotes Martin Scorsese as saying that, "It’s like seeing a moving sculpture of the actor and it’s almost like a combination of theatre and film … it immerses you in the story more,” and admits that to hear what he's talking about, "It's hard not to be thrilled by the possibilities." And yet, Johnson says that "None of it has ever held any water for me, simply because what they describe does not match up with my personal experience, and with what I see on the screen. To my eye stereoscopic does not create living sculptures, it creates artificial dioramas. It doesn’t immerse, it distances..." The "muddy, eyeball-half-nelsoning reality of stereoscopic movies" has never lived up to the wondrous 3D world described by people like Scorsese, Cameron and Peter Jackson.

Men In Black 3

And that's certainly been our experience. Almost invariably, post-converted films look like pop-up books, even when they're well-planned: we were actuallly impressed by the way Barry Sonnnenfeld shot "Men In Black 3" for the format, but we never felt immersed, we felt "oh, that's a cool 3D moment." Natively shot 3D is certainly preferable, but even when it's well acheived -- "Hugo," "Prometheus" -- we find ourselves seeing "ghosting" (blurring round the edges of characters or objects). And perhaps most importantly, the difference betweeen what you see with 3D glasses and what an ordinary 2D screening shows with cinematic tools like focus and perspective seems so minimal that we wonder why they bother. Film is essentially 3D -- as Christopher Nolan says, "The whole idea of film is that it's three-dimensional on a two-dimensional plane." Stereoscopic cinematography is the same thing, just with a little more artificial depth, and the bells and whistles -- the glasses, etc. -- don't immerse us, they take us out of the film.

But Johnson is right that the idea of a truly 3D, truly immersive experience is an exciting one. But what he has in mind is closer to the work of artist Patrick Jacobs, thinking of stereoscopic photography not as an attempt at creating reality, but as an artificial artistic technique akin to hand-painting black-and-white film frames, as Georges Méliès, the central figure of Scorsese's "Hugo" did. And that seems to be a good way of coming to terms with something that clearly isn't going away for the moment. But as a way of bringing down the barrier between film and reality, we concur with Johnson that the dreams of filmmakers are a long way off from the technology that exists today.

Does 3D work for you? Does it enhance your moviegoing experience? Sound off below.

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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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