Why The World Doesn't Need 3D

June 30, 2006

Superman Returns opened on Wednesday boasting a special IMAX 3D version featuring a "select 20 minutes" of scenes from the movie in stunning 3D. Is it really worth it, though? I don't think it is; I don't think this world needs 3D films, at least yet. Superman Returns is only the first mainstream movie to feature this supposed revolutionary advancement and at the same time only presenting a mere 20 minutes of a 154 minute movie in 3D. This visual enhancement should be exciting to all movie fans, but it lacks the real quality and inherent representation that has become the standard for films for the last 110 years of their existence.

The simple interest of 3D has already sold out all of the showings of Superman Returns since its opening, but this is just due to well designed marketing. Of course it does appear 3D when you see it; the idea of taking a 2D film and tricking your eyes to believe what you are viewing is represented in 3D is perfectly valid. It's merely an excellent marketing technique to turn the medium of film, that as we know it is a 2D medium, into something more dynamic and real - an "experience" as they refer to it. However simply re-emphasizing the fact that film is a 2D medium and has been since its introduction reiterates that this is more of a breakaway into something designed to sell and not actually designed to entertain.

Directors and cinematographers and everyone in the film industry, everything they all do is done to create a vivid image on a 2D piece of film to later be shown on a flat screen. They use unique angles, dynamic lighting, and a number of various techniques to represent a 3D world perfectly on the flat 2D screen. This is how we have seen and known movies. You recognize when you watch a movie you are either watching it on a flat wall in a movie theatre or a flat screen on a television, and your mind interprets it from there. In Superman Returns, Superman flies through the clouds in a half computer generated half real representation that your mind interprets as an actual depiction of what the environment and experience is really like. It's easy to sit back and enjoy this show on the wall in front of you because we're all used to seeing this representation in movies forever. And it just works and works well. Everyone gets immersed in the environment of Minas Tirith in Lord of the Rings because you can feel exactly what the movie is showing.

In Superman Returns the scenes in 3D were simply a trick of positioning objects in various 2D planes that your eyes perceive as being a particular distance away or near to you by using your depth perception and senses. Although our technology and ability to create this has advanced considerably in coordination with computer generated graphics and manipulation, it still seems a bit tacky and unrefined. In a flat scene projected, a number of objects, whether it is Superman or various background/foreground elements, are set into these visual layers. In watching these scenes these layers were quite visually unappealing given that it was just placing the flat object in the layer. In a true 3D representation there would need to be a new layer for almost every single millimeter of the person or object to give it the true depth. In Superman Returns a few short parts of the 3D scenes were layered enough to give the proper effect, however more-often-than-not the layers were just as flat as the screen. It caused the "experience" to lack the same interpretive effect as found when just watching a normal movie.

In addition to the layering effect, the off-and-on 3D was an annoyance in comparison to the remainder of the movie. After watching a majority of it in 2D and reaching a point where you had to put on the glasses for 3D, it would not provide the same fulfilling experience as watching it all in the same 2D field. I saw it for a second time in 3D and knew the scenes that were in 3D already. I wanted to just sit and enjoy them, but instead had to wear the glasses and "experience" it in 3D when I already was experiencing and becoming immersed in the 2D film. This disconnection between the 3D and 2D elements took away from being able to fully enjoy these scenes. It takes away the freedom your mind has from inferring it into its own experience and forces you to see a 3D representation of exactly what they want. In essence it eliminates the creative freedom your mind enjoys from watching movies.

Our world really does not need this marketing scheme and unrefined technology to be pushed as the premium movie-going experience. Your mind needs its freedom to imagine what it wants and interpret how it wants in order to truly enjoy the world of movies. This is what we've all grown up experiencing and come to expect when we watch a movie. The 3D movie experience is being forced into a specific perspective that takes away from simply sitting back and enjoying what the directors and film industry has created. Superman Returns was an attempt at introducing a 3D part of film but evidently is not the experience that will change the face of movies in the coming future. What will change the face of movies in the coming future has not yet been decided, however it will not be in 3D. The best experiences and most enjoyable movie-watching moments are when you can just sit back and enjoy a movie in the flat representation that we have all come to know and love.

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First off: I think it's very cool that you guys put this together. Second: I'm sorry that I didn't email you that trivia I promised. I had to drive to CT and things got way hectic and it just didn't happen. If there's anything I can do to help you out in the future, let me know. I'd love to help. Third: I did see the 3D Superman (as you know) and I'm not sure it was worth it or not either. The larger picture and enahnced sound of the IMAX were though. I agree that the off and on of the glasses was distracting. Not only does it take you out of the movie experience for a moment (which can be deadly to any film) it also sparks conversation from half the audience. It is very distracting. Also, the glasses themselves are an annoyance. The glasses work using a two polarized lenses at opposite polarities. They also use polarized lenses to make good sunglasses. The 3D glasses are very similar. I feel like I'm putting on sunglasses inside an already dark room. It actually makes it harder to see the film. I do plan on seeing this film at least one more time on a normal screen to see it without the hinderance of the glasses, jut to compare. I'd also like to point out that, for Superman Returns at least, the 3D might not have been as much a marketing tool, as it was an experiment. Bryan Singer and Thomas Sigel originally wanted to shoot this film on IMAX film (65mm shooting stock, 70mm projection stock), but it was very expensive and took longer to get the prints back. They decided on shooting with a new digital motion-picture camera from Panavision, that was capable of reproducing the same quality as the 65mm shooting stock used for IMAX. The camera was so new that they shot their test shots using the prototype (becuase it was the only one in existence at the time) and when prinicple shooting came around, they had more camera, but the intructions had not been written yet and the crew made modifications to the cameras that stayed with the final design of the camera. It can be argued that the 3D for this film came about as an experiment to test the capabilities of the new camera. And to see how audiences reacted to it. However, I believe that in the future, it will be very safe to say that select scenes in 3D is a marketing tool and not an experiment. Was it worth the extra money to see the movie with 4 scenes of 3D? Yes as an experiment, but no as an added story element. Was it worth it for the overall enhanced picture and sound that comes with IMAX and the new camera? Most definatly. The topic of 3D cinema is an interesting one though. I'd like to sit down and have a discussion with you about it at some point, espeically in conjunction with upcoming films. (There are now rumors that the 5th Harry Potter will have selections of 3D.)

Chris Roman on Jul 17, 2006


I saw Superman Returns 3D and would generally agree with you that the 3D was not necessary. I recently saw the RealD version of Monster House. I wasn't looking forward to wearing the glasses for the entire movie, but I quite enjoyed the film and the 3D was just right. The image was very clear throughout and the 3D was just an added bonus that didn't distract from the overall film.

Eddie Hargreaves on Sep 6, 2006


Please have a look at the IMAX 3D film Deep Sea 3D in an IMAX theater before passing final judgement on the IMAX 3D film genre. This is not a DMR film, but rather it was shot 'in the format for the format' in the 3D format on 65mm/15 perf film.

Michele Hall on Nov 18, 2006

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