Even Roger Ebert Doesn't Like 3D - Take That Hollywood

August 21, 2008
Source: Roger Ebert's Journal

Roger Ebert

I woke up yesterday morning to discover an awe-inspiring blog from the one and only Roger Ebert. For the longest time I've preached about my dislike of 3D and have constantly encountered resistance and seen Hollywood continue to make pointless 3D films like Journey to the Center of the Earth. However, if there's one man who could potentially convince our readers that 3D is worthless, it would be Roger Ebert. He writes an article brilliantly titled D-minus for 3-D and briefly outlines how evolution shows that 3D is not what our eyes were meant to see and explains that it's a blatant mistake to believe that 3D is realistic. I haven't felt this much gratification in a very long time after reading an article written by such a legendary journalist as Roger Ebert. He finally puts some much-needed perspective on this entire 3D trend.

There's really rational no way you can argue with Ebert's criticism of 3D. His first 3D movie was Bwana Devil from 1952 and even 56 years later, he's still not impressed by it. He starts off by shattering the beliefs of realism the most connect with the gimmick of 3D. "There seems to be a belief that 3-D films are not getting their money's worth unless they hurtle objects or body parts at the audience. Every time that happens, it creates a fatal break in the illusion of the film. The idea of a movie, even an animated one, is to convince us, halfway at least, that that we're seeing on the screen is sort of really happening. Images leaping off the screen destroy that illusion." That's not to say that 3D isn't an amusement park gimmick meant to entertain and, well, amuse the audience, but it should stay out of the movie theater.

Ebert goes on to add about realism that "in real life we perceive in three dimensions, yes, but we do not perceive parts of our vision dislodging themselves from the rest and leaping at us." I think what Ebert has done is finally put some perspective on why I don't like 3D beyond my own belief that it's just a cheap trick to sell tickets. His explanations more than prove that it is not realistic human nature, nor the operation of the eye, to see objects "pop out" or "fly at us." It's a misconception that 3D is mimicking how our eyes perceive reality, because our brain interprets dimensions much differently, as he explains.

"But what about rapid movement toward the viewer? Yes, we see a car aiming for us. But it advances by growing larger against its background, not by detaching from it. Nor did we evolve to stand still and regard its advance. To survive, we learned instinctively to turn around, leap aside, run away. We didn't just stand there evolving the ability to enjoy a 3-D movie."

Before anyone gets too angry, let me say that I do think 3D is something that can be enjoyed. I actually enjoyed Beowulf in 3D last year, one of the few movies (if not the only one) that I'm not able to watch in 2D. Even U2 3D I quite enjoyed, but that ties in with the point I'm about to make. To me, and I'm guessing to Ebert as well, 3D is a gimmick and works well for entertainment in certain venues (or with certain mediums). Film, from a technical and critical standpoint, is not one of those mediums that 3D works on. What I mean is that 3D is enjoyable, as the $89 million that Journey 3D made will confirm, but that it's still nothing more than a cheap trick. And I think Ebert also understands that but gives us a more rational explanation as to why it's not realistic, beyond saying that it's just a sales gimmick.

Ebert wraps up his article with a great conclusion. "Ask yourself this question: Have you ever watched a 2-D movie and wished it were in 3-D? Remember that boulder rolling behind Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Better in 3-D? No, it would have been worse. Would have been a tragedy. The 3-D process is like a zombie, a vampire, or a 17-year cicada: seemingly dead, but crawling out alive after a lapse of years. We need a wooden stake." He couldn't have said it any better. I'm glad to find that I'm not the only one who despises this 3D trend. Hollywood's biggest and brightest, including DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg, can continue to say that 3D is the future, but they're wrong. I've said it before and I'll say it again: 3D belongs in amusement parks and not in our movie theaters.

Now some of our more adamant readers might note that I often state that James Cameron's Avatar may finally be our first look at 3D done well. What I mean is that I think Cameron actually gets this entire notion that Ebert just explained. His 3D camera, which they used on Journey 3D, but not to its advantage, recreates the focal points of our two eyes. To be honest, I don't think any one can actually comprehend the kind of 3D imagery we'll see in December of 2009, but I can use my imagination and I'm excited. I think Cameron is going to be the first filmmaker to actually use 3D as a cinematic storytelling tool and not just a gimmick. Anyway, give Roger Ebert's article a read and critique what he has to say, if you dare.

Find more posts: Discuss, Editorial, Opinions



What's the great discovery?, I think everyone should know that currently is only a gimmick to serve tickets revenue. 3D movies put the film in service of technology and not vice versa. That is the real mistake. That's why so far is only a visual spectacle and not a "cinematic storytelling". I think that's a more simple way to put the whole thing, than the "cheap trick" argument.

MacGyver on Aug 21, 2008


Alex, how can you say that Cameron "actually gets this entire notion that Ebert just explained?" That is not at all true. What Ebert is talking about is the fourth wall. He's talking about losing yourself in a cinematic experience, about how you can get so engrossed in a film that the theater fades away and you forget that you are watching a film altogether. That type of experience is absolutely impossible with 3-D. Every time you watch a 3-D movie you are fully aware of the fact that what you are seeing is not real. It separates you from the emotional impact. And furthermore, Cameron has stated that he will next direct a drama in 3-D just to prove that it can work in all genres. (Something I do not believe.) So even if you are referring more to the technological advancements that Cameron has made to approximate the human eye or whatever, Cameron still does not get Ebert's notion. I personally don't know where I stand yet. Time will tell I suppose.

NicoRain on Aug 21, 2008


3d rocks, he doesn't know shit.

Darunia on Aug 21, 2008


MacGuyver pretty much said what I was going to say. My reaction to the complaints against 3D is "so what?" The point of 3D is to give the audience an experience they can't get anywhere else. They came out with it in the '50's when studios were threatened by television and they're doing it again now that they're being threatened by the internet, video games and superior home theater setups. Nevermind ridiculous ticket and concession prices, idiots on their cellphones and other obstacles - there needs to be a gimmick to draw people into theaters and 3D is it. Does that mean there is such a thing as a GOOD 3D movie? No, but again, it's not about the story or the acting. It's about the experience. Alex - I don't understand how you could be okay with kids movie piffle like Clone Wars and not appreciate 3D for what it is.

Tom Brazelton on Aug 21, 2008


And the point of this article? Even if it's a cheap and gimmicky effect, you can't expect every movie that comes out to be a storytelling masterpiece. I was entertained, and my little cousins that I brought to see Journey had a blast. What is he going to complain about next? That the "stoner comedy" of Pineapple Express is below him and that this movie should not be made?

Samm on Aug 21, 2008


Sound and color were once gimmicks, too. Quick-cut editing and hand-held camerawork were once gimmicks. Any "gimmick" can also be used with a purpose, to further immerse the viewer into a particular world, which is the point of the film medium. Cameron's documentary Aliens of the Deep was visually FANTASTIC (if kind of insubstantial as a documentary), and yes, it was absolutely improved by 3D. To see the shapes and forms moving around in space, to feel like you could touch them… It was wondrous. 3D is not all about "OHMYFUCKINGGOD IT'S COMING RIGHT AT ME" even if that may be how it's being used nine times out of ten. I'm not saying every film has to be 3D. I don't mean filmmakers should go back and MAKE their old 2D films 3D (I'm talking to you, Lucas). It's just another tool in the toolbox. And any real artist will tell you that having one more tool at their disposal is NEVER, EVER bad. You are going to be eating these short-sighted, narrow-minded words inside of a decade, Alex.

Gordon on Aug 21, 2008


Alex, you are such a flip-flopper! Every other article on 3D (EVEN IN THIS ONE) you say you hate it and then you say you enjoy it! Of course at the Oscars you are not going to here them say, "and the award goes to (name movie) IN 3D!!!". 3D is a gimmick and it is a fun one at that if the movie looks entertaining. I don't see the problem with a little ridiculous fun here in there. I'll be one of the firsts in line for FINAL DESTINATION 4 3D. I don't udnerstand your problem with theaters giving away one screen out 24 or what have you to 3D.

Ryan on Aug 21, 2008


people are getting mad at the current state of 3d, what we have now is just the first step toward what will eventually be a new technology. minimally invasive 3d emersion. just like jacking into the matrix with no jack. so poke fun at 3d now but thats a waste of everyones time. ebert was fun to watch in the 80's but when roeper died i stopped watching.

jont on Aug 21, 2008


Roger Ebert is still a great voice in movies . I have to agree with him as Im also not a big fan. To me its just a gimmick that you know is a gimmick when you watch. The process as a whole might have merit, but its not really needed for films with a story worth telling!

entertainmenttodayandbeyond.com on Aug 21, 2008


nice, well-formed, well-written article, alex. back in the day, there was an apocalyptic film i saw as a teen that was done in 3-D. i keep trying to find it with no luck. even then, as a kid, i couldn't get into the whole 3-D thing. in terms of making a film more enjoyable, there just seems to be no point to it. perhaps if they went back to the idea of shocking the hell out of the movie viewer in their seat at key moments, i might go see a film set up so. i mean, with some of the movies out now, getting the hell shocked out of you is about the only worthwhile moment!

Uncle Not Clever on Aug 21, 2008


Ebert makes a good arguement and makes good points, but 3-D is not a gimmick, though that's how it's often presented. It's more like a tool, one that's so far been very badly used and of rudimentary design. Comparitively few films have been made using it, and so it hasn't really had the chance to progress. However, it seems we're heading into a period where genuine advances can be made from film-makers who can approach 3-D with greater thought and a greater level of sophistication regarding its use. I'd hate to see the sort of criticism Ebert dishes out draw a veil over something that hasn't yet reached its potential as a way of mounting a narrative. The audience would surely lose out, and though we'll probably still get childish nonsense like 'Journey...' you can bet Cameron has a lot more than just 'throwing things at the audience' in mind. Give it a chance. It's still early days.

sleepykid on Aug 21, 2008


I think its still going to come down to how good the story is. Looking past the effects, looking past 3D, a movie still needs a great story to be great. I'm not bashing 3D, because yeah, I think its cool, but I wouldn't agree that its the wave of cinema future - hell no. I think its another fun element for movies - more or less where 3D would work well, like African Safari or Space Station Adventure, but I don't think it really has a prominent stage when concerning movie genre's other than kids movies/IMAX/educational BS. OVERALL - 3D IS AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE BUT SHOULD NOT BE HELD AS A PIONEER FOR THE FUTURE OF CINEMA.

Nick Sears on Aug 21, 2008


"Journey to the Center of the Earth" was actually a very fun popcorn flick...and the 3-D made it even better! My kids absolutely loved it. No deeper meaning. No complex plot to follow. Just fun, fun, fun. Nothing wrong with that. But to have a 3-D movie that has some kind of weight or importance is probably a huge mistake. It's more like a roller coaster ride in the theater. And only certain films are going to fit that genre.

Movie Lover on Aug 21, 2008


Alex, I agree with you fully, 3D is just a gimmick and it never actually works, it's like a pop out book. In real life you can see depth in a person's face, in 3D movies all you see are cut outs of people over a background. If they can do 3D in a way where it adds depth to EVERYTHING and they don't throw shit at your face, then I'll be impressed and maybe it might work its way into being the future of movies. But 3D has been around for half a century, and guess what, it's still not really taking hold of the film industry.

Kail on Aug 21, 2008


Roger Ebert is the man.

DCompose on Aug 21, 2008


OK.. have to chime for a short message. 3-D in its current state is to enhance the visual experience with annoying flying objects, i.e. the bloody spears pointing at you in Beowulf. The 'belief' in the true artistery of 3-D is to create an extended depth of field. I truly believe, and if I was not at work, would try to find comments to support this, that the true value of 3D will be realized when this technology is used to create immersive environments with dynamic fields of view far beyond that of standard techniques. I too am annoyed at the crap flying out of the screen, BUT feel that the opportunity for 3D films is huge once properly used and will further the '4th wall' experiences. An immersive environment with dynamic action in both the foreground and background with a true depth perception between the two.

Dusty on Aug 21, 2008


I have to comment. I'm very nervous about Cameron's new project, Avatar. He's my idol. He's made some of my favorite and some of the greatest movies ever made. Like Titanic, I'll see Avatar with apprehension. It's possible Ebert is right. Maybe 3D will never work. However, Cameron seems confident in his abilities with his new camera. And if anyone has ever seen T2:3D, you should know that he's NO idiot savant(sp?) with the 3D effect. If he's found a way to tie 3D in with compelling storytelling, that should prove once and for all that Cameron is the master. If he makes the mistake of being over-confident with 3D and the whole "poke-in-the-eye" concept, at the most, he'll ruin Avatar. But I'll bet Cameron has something magical up his sleeve. Ebert will be eating his words. However, I'll still be apprehensive. It's been 10 years since Cameron has written and directed a feature film like Avatar. I worry if maybe the man's lost touch with his audiences... like Chris Carter with the recent X-Files movie. 3D is risky. It has always been just a "gimmick" to so many people. Only a real genius can make something great with it. I'll make one observation. I saw Journey to the Center of The Earth 3D and the people in the film really did not seem like cut-outs as stipulated in the article. Everything in the movie blending with the background really convincingly. However, the director didn't seem to know how to shoot in 3D, nor was the story powerful enough to blow minds.

Luke on Aug 22, 2008


I knew that the biggest reaction to this would be the "so what?" claim, which is why I tried to address it, albeit very briefly, in the article. "Before anyone gets too angry, let me say that I do think 3D is something that can be enjoyed." If you reread that section, I go on to say that essentially my belief is that 3D can be enjoyed, but it belongs in amusement parks, not movie theaters. At this point I've come to accept it as a gimmick but feel like it's starting to deteriorate the theatrical industry (not Hollywood, but the movie theaters) and I think Roger Ebert sees that as well. My biggest problem, which a lot of you seem to be bringing up, is that everyone complains about originality, quality of movies, too many remakes... Well all this kind of crap COMES from acceptance of such gimmicky films like Journey. Tom, I would imagine there is some remote link between Clone Wars "low quality" and 3D in a very vast sense in terms of the moviegoing public being more and more accepting of cheap, low quality gimmicks (and also Lucas losing his touch). But let's not talk about Clone Wars... The last points I've got to reiterate again. First, 3D is a tool, and that's where I think Cameron is going to excel where others have not. Others have not used it as a tool for depth of field or for actual storytelling... Beowulf is the closest to get to this that I've ever seen, but otherwise it's a gimmick. Secondly, yes 3D is fun and entertaining, but my point is that it does not belong in movie theaters. And why is this? Because it's bringing down the quality of our acceptance and very *cheaply* selling the "movie theater" ideal again when it is just an amusement park thing. We are not going to improve the theatrical experience by shilling out more cheap gimmicks for higher cost... That's not going to fix anything!

Alex Billington on Aug 22, 2008


3D doesn't work for me because my right eye has a lower vision level. What pisses me off is the fact that lately, some film developments that have gained my interest, are exclusively 3D projects. Stupid visual crap, Merc.

Merc on Aug 22, 2008


See, here's the problem. Millions of people go every week to see a MOVIE. Roger Ebert is a FILM reviewer. Either that, or it's because Ebert is a cynical old fart.

Brendt on Aug 22, 2008


I'm sorry but Roger Ebert is the last person to convince me to be against stereovision 3D movies (when some people think of 3D movies they think of movies made entirely in CGI). There are times when I liked movies that he didn't like. Not to mention his opinion of video games. Which he has little experience with.. I don't share. So gimmick or not I couldn't care less what he thinks about 3D movies.

Smoke Tetsu on Aug 24, 2008


It's a pretty slippery slope to introduce an idea like "3D is not the way we see." Humans have come to appreciate 2D imaging, despite the fact that monoscopic images are a mere approximation of what we see with binocular vision. Pretty silly to me to venture down that argument path as monoscopic images are not what our brains are supposed to see. Roger Ebert would have had a more sound or compelling set of arguments, had he left the science claims out. New and really good 3D is a matter of "you don't know what you don't know, until you see it." Most people who have argued against 3D as being capable of being immersive and yet serve the story, probably haven't seen a good 3D presentation. After seeing a 10 minute version of 2D to 3D converted King Kong (P. Jackson's version) done by In-Three, Inc., I am more than convinced that the studios and top Hollywood creatives are correct, "good 3D content is too compelling to avoid." This includes both stereo capture and properly converted products. Starting with movies that are heavy in CGI, 100% animated, or well done conversions are a really great way to start off, as there is plenty to learn about 3D content creation as both CGI and 2D to 3D conversion has the potential for visual package perfection (you at least don't want the visuals to be a distraction because they are uncomfortable or wrong). 3D is no more a gimmick than color was or large format is, or any of the other dozens of advancements in our ability to make the visual engagement more compelling. It needs to be mastered and will be. If you don't want to pay the money to be amongst the first decade of 3D viewing ("the test group") as 3D is being perfected, than don't buy the tickets. It is simply not necessary to evangelize against it. Larry Pace

Larry on Aug 25, 2008


Why get so worked up? It's just a gimmick, like surround sound, and it happens to be very fun and effective when used on movies like Monster House. "Journey To The Center of the Earth" was a giant piece of poop and should have never existed, proving that movies shouldn't be made just to exist in 3D. However, computer-animated movies, which exist in 3D by their nature, have no reason not to release 3D versions, and honestly, seeing them in 3D makes them more fun. So, who really gives a shit? 3D is never going to become the traditional way of watching movies, and - as it has been since the beginning - 3D movies will either be incredibly cheesy, forgettable films designed for 3D, OR computer-animated productions which can just as easily port over to 3D and in many cases actually benefit from it. The future Citizen Kanes of the film world were never threatened by this technology, so why complain? It's fun sometimes.

Your mom on Dec 7, 2008


Does it not somewhat undermine your argument when in one paragraph you agree with Ebert's view that 3D should be killed off, yet in the next you say you're excited about what's in store for us 3D wise? You say you despise 3D yet can't watch Beowulf in 2D? That seems a bit odd to me. I'm sorry but I maintain that 3D really does immerse you in the film, and how offended can you really be by a few 3D movies? If you hate the idea that much, just go and see the 2D version.

Chris on Feb 18, 2009


I find the whole 3d critisims funny. 2ders(people that like 2d) complain how they hate 3d and decided to go to the 3d showing and how they wished they had went with their instincts and not gone to the 3d movie cause 3d was just plain aweful the last time they went to one. Well I have an idea. If you don't like the 3d version and know this before going, then just don't go. Go to the 2d version. Now isn't that simple. Now we 3ders can finally see some movies in our format but 2ders don't want us to see movies the way we want. They all have to be in 2d format, not both. Well thank you all for being so generous. I see people in the movie industry saying how they would like there to be more options for movie viewing to fit in with what people want, I think that is nice, but I guess you all think we should only watch movies in the format you all like, 2d. Well again, thank you very much.

Tony Robertson on Feb 22, 2009


Honestly I hate 3D movies, and nowhere can you find the 2D version, i have wanted to go to Avatar and now Alice in wonderland but can't because 3D movies give me serious migraine's. I would like to be able to enjoy movies at the theater and see how it was meant to be seen, instead of waiting to see it on DVD.

Rachel on Mar 5, 2010


Don't let the past 3D experiences prevent you from trying the new 3D experience. You sound seriously wounded! Invest the effort and you will see that, current 3D is nothing like the past. See the movie in 2D if you need to, its a great story.

larry on Mar 5, 2010

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