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Roger Ebert Says 3D Is Over & Won't Work Because Walter Murch Said So

The Playlist By Edward Davis | The Playlist January 26, 2011 at 2:57AM

Look, we dislike 3D as much as the next discernible filmgoer who finds little value in headaches, dim lighting, ephemeral visual tricks, and exorbitant ticket pricing, but Roger Ebert -- who is no doubt one of our best -- does have a flair for the melodramatic. A recent article of his making the rounds claims to once-and-for-all "close" the discussion on 3D -- and thus the absurd title: "Why 3D will never work. Case closed."
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Look, we dislike 3D as much as the next discernible filmgoer who finds little value in headaches, dim lighting, ephemeral visual tricks, and exorbitant ticket pricing, but Roger Ebert -- who is no doubt one of our best -- does have a flair for the melodramatic. A recent article of his making the rounds claims to once-and-for-all "close" the discussion on 3D -- and thus the absurd title: "Why 3D will never work. Case closed."

"I've received a letter that, as fas as I am concerned, ends the discussion on 3D," Ebert writes with dramatic flair. The letter comes from the great Walter Murch, one of the greatest editors (and sound designers) of our time whose award-winning work (seven Oscar nominations and two wins) is integral to the brilliance of such films as "Apocalypse Now," "The Conversation," "THX 1138," "The English Patient" and "American Graffiti" to name a few.

Here's what Murch, the man who essentially coined the term "sound design" had to say.

I read your review of "Green Hornet" and though I haven't seen the film, I agree with your comments about 3D. The 3D image is dark, as you mentioned (about a camera stop darker) and small. Somehow the glasses "gather in" the image -- even on a huge Imax screen -- and make it seem half the scope of the same image when looked at without the glasses.

I edited one 3D film back in the 1980s -- "Captain Eo" [starring Michael Jackson and directed by Francis Ford Coppola]-- and also noticed that horizontal movement will strobe much sooner in 3D than it does in 2D. This was true then, and it is still true now. It has something to do with the amount of brain power dedicated to studying the edges of things. The more conscious we are of edges, the earlier strobing kicks in.

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the "convergence/focus" issue. A couple of the other issues -- darkness and "smallness" -- are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen -- say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

If we look at the salt shaker on the table, close to us, we focus at six feet and our eyeballs converge (tilt in) at six feet. Imagine the base of a triangle between your eyes and the apex of the triangle resting on the thing you are looking at. But then look out the window and you focus at sixty feet and converge also at sixty feet. That imaginary triangle has now "opened up" so that your lines of sight are almost -- almost -- parallel to each other. More here.

Great, we really can't disagree, but c'mon Roger, because Murch said it, now it's final? He's actually not saying anything any of haven't already thought (though maybe haven't articulated aloud or in print as well or in such an educated and technical manner) and this reads like the "nyah, nyah, toldja 3D sucks!" post written by Mallory Keaton. We know you're trying to influence and sway a wide and broad audience Rog, but we expect better.

3D here to stay? In the long, long, term probably not, but in the short term, yes. Currently there are 18 more films scheduled for release in 3D this year (including one by Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg) and 7 scheduled for 2012. Yes, they are all large, spectacle-fest movies and it will probably stay this way (no dramas or comedies in 3D). But with James Cameron recently reiterating that "Avatar 2 & 3" are aiming to arrive in Christmas of 2014 and 2015, we're going to see at least two more gigantic 3D event pictures in our lifetime (though, let's not remember, Cameron promised "Avatar" for years and even after it was written and shot, it arrived well past his talked-aloud due date). Frankly, those silly enough to keep paying for 3D deserve it. We just wish more press screenings (and public ones too) would give viewers the option of just watching the film in regular 2D, but hey, studios don't want you to do that. They want you to pay maximum price. So Roger can say one thing and it can get a lot of press, but the studios are probably going to shrug and continue with business as planned unless business drops. You can rant and rave about it and or you can simply just vote against it with your dollars, choice is yours. Btw, we highly recommend the book, "The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film," and it's already on several must-read film book lists.

This article is related to: Vintage Filmmakers, Walter Murch


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