By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood September 23, 2011 at 5:14AM
This week, in his Immersed in Movies column, Bill Desowitz talks to James Cameron at the 3D Summit.
Don't try to convince James Cameron that 3-D is faltering. He's still a true believer, despite some recent 3-D blowback. He laughed if off as growing pains and negative media spin at the 3D Entertainment Summit this week at the Hollywood & Highland Center, but said it's nothing that can't be fixed with a change of perception and better 3-D authoring and presentation.
But while a few of his industry colleagues bemoaned a lack of exhibitor respect (picture quality still lacks brightness) and not enough studio restraint (3-D is not a panacea for financial woes), Cameron maintained that the business model is working just fine. After all, "you can't put the toothpaste back in the bottle," and you can't complain with the likes of Michael Bay (Transformers: The Dark of the Moon), Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Steven Spielberg (The Adventures of Tintin), Francis Ford Coppola (Twixt), Ridley Scott (Prometheus), and Baz Luhrmann (The Great Gatsby) dipping their feet in the 3-D pool.
Plus Cameron's just made a deal with Disney to transform Avatar into an immersive and interactive theme park attraction at Disney World's Animal Kingdom. It's further proof of the wrap-around effect of 3-D.
"The general goal, aside from working with Imagineering, which I've always wanted to do, is to bring Pandora to life in a tactile way, not just visually but experientially," Cameron explained. "You're there, you feel it, whether it's motion when you're riding, whether you're flying, whether you're moving through the jungle in a way that's [new]. Film is a directed experience -- I'm telling you where to look, I'm showing you what I want you to see. In a wrap-around experience, you can look over [here], you can look over there. You can feel like you're physically present. It's much more subjective.
"It's also not just a single ride attraction -- it's an environment. So you leave an attraction and come out and it's a themed experience. So you go buy food and somehow the food is themed to that world of Pandora or of the Na'vi culture. And so, you'll have a number of attractions and spaces within this 12-acre land that all are constantly reinforcing to your mind and to your imagination that you're on Pandora. And I think that's great. I think that people want that kind of immersion."
In fact, Cameron believes that the movie industry is really competing against interactive media, and not the small screen, and so 3-D makes you feel more activated, he claimed.
And how is Cameron wrapping himself around Avatar 2 and 3, which he's making as a combined production for intended release in 2014 and 2015? Massively, including a whole new set of efficiences, not only the 3-D photographic technology but also the virtual production workflow.
"So we've been working on the cameras, the real world photographic part of it," Cameron continued, "and we've been working over here with Weta and with Autodesk to really improve the toolset on the virtual workflow, so it's all going to be a whole lot easier at the exact moment it's twice as hard. So I'm betting that it's going to be just as hard as the first Avatar."
That's where Cameron's partner, Vince Pace, comes in as co-chair of the Cameron|Pace Group. He's creating smarter rig technology to increase 3-D adoption while working with manufacturers to make lighter, faster, and smarter digital cameras.
"It's a great time for the filmmakers taking charge and exhibiting their craft in this new media," said Pace, who recently created the stereo rig for Hugo (Nov. 23)."I was just trying to balance to Marty's work and not change what he does. What an opportunity to look at characters and relationships in this medium. And here was such a delightful man [Georges Melies] to bridge to: a magician turned filmmaker that just had this wild imagination. What a shift of positions, and so I just walked away refreshed by the medium."
Staying refreshed is what it's all about for Cameron as well. On the Avatar sequels, for example, how do you keep that once in a lifetime sense of discovery of a new world alive? "You give them enough familiarity to be satisfied and enough shocks and twists and turns and brand new stuff that they feel like they're getting a rich new experience."
By contrast, Cameron finds it "freaky" to resurrect Titanic as an $18 million 3-D post conversion. For one thing, after putting it behind him, he must confront all the flaws that he'd just as soon forget. "Dumb ass, why'd you pan?!," he joked. And yet the opportunity to move around the Titanic more intimately and get closer to its inhabitants is tantalizing.
"The result of it, I think, is stunning," Cameron admitted. "So I would imagine that fans that saw it multiple times and cherish the big screen experience are the ones that are going to get it. But you've also got a whole new generation that has never seen it in a movie theater. There's a certain type of movie, whether it's The Godfather or Avatar or Titanic, where you actually make a decision: I'm going to give myself the experience of watching this unbroken. And it will therefore do something to me. There will be an emotional result of having gone through that experience. And it's not about finding out what the movie's about. When you rush out on opening weekend to see some new movie, you're just hoping it's good and you're going to see something you've never seen before. But when something is defined or known, like Avatar in week five or Titanic in week 16, people will line up for that. They make that deal with themselves and with their friends to go and subject themselves to that experience, and that's unique. And you can't get that on other platforms -- it's about going to the movie theater."
Sounds like the best indirect defense of 3-D yet.