Positive Cynicism – Sucking in three dimensions

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

In 1953, Bugs Bunny got fired.

The studios were under attack, and the enemy was headed straight for the profit margins. First the Supreme Court had handed them a monopoly-busting order that required studios to give up their theatre chains. Then television had started to grip the nation. Short cartoons were great, and the Bunny was still in demand, but Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner needed more money to make up the bottom line. He put the cartoons on hold because he’d found something better. The wave of the future. And he intended to ride that wave as long as it took to bring back the audience that had become so enamored of this television menace.

That wave? That technological marvel that would destroy the burgeoning popularity of TV forever and send people back in droves to the theaters? 3-D.

Bugs Bunny was back to work in just a couple of months.

Today, the studios are once again under attack. They call it piracy, but the real culprits are high ticket and concession prices, high gas prices, DVD, the Internet and home theaters that offer a better experience than having to drive just to sit in front of five children and a guy who won’t stop coughing while trying to enjoy a movie that’s not worth the mortgage payment you gave up to see it. The studios are desperate to bring people back into the theaters, and so they’ve found the wave of the future … and it’s the same idea from 56 years ago.

It’s 3-D. Again. It’s being touted as something new, but really it’s just the same old magic trick. And it still isn’t worth it.

Let’s just say it bluntly: 3-D sucks. Hard. It messes with your eyes and gives you a headache and makes it impossible to enjoy a movie. Can you enjoy a movie when you can’t even focus properly on the image in front of you? I sure can’t.

There’s actual science behind this. Bear with me.

Our eyes are designed to see in stereo, so everything has depth and clarity and we don’t walk into walls or get eaten by leopards. When an object comes towards us in everyday life – like a football thrown at your face by a cousin who mistakenly thinks it’s hilarious – our eyeballs rotate towards our noses (convergence) and we reflexively squeeze the lenses in our eyes to keep the object in focus (accommodation). Hopefully, convergence and accommodation keep us from getting our noses broken by our idiot cousins so we can do more important things, like chase them down and beat the living hell out of them. This is innate nature; our eyes do it without us having to think about it.

3-D takes that process and monkeys with it.

At a movie, our eyes are focused on the screen. But 3-D stretches the limits of what our eyes and brains can handle by throwing illusions at us. An object appears to pop out of the screen, our eyes converge on it instinctually, but we can’t accommodate. We can’t focus on the object or else the screen behind it blurs and, well, that’s where the headaches, dizziness, nausea and potential eye damage come in. Call me crazy, but I consider a short cartoon a much better added bonus to a movie than the urge to puke.

Studios can claim all they want that the 3-D process has been modified, corrected and re-kajiggered to make it more comfortable to look at – which is a lie, since the process is essentially the same as it was in 1953 – but they’ll never be able to make it so that 3-D doesn’t make us sick. It’s not really designed for anything else.

Except …

Well, except for the real reason behind this studio-concocted fad. The studios are pretending this is a revolution in filmmaking – the wave of the future they were hoping for 56 years ago – but really there’s an ulterior motive. See, studios know that whatever they do, they’re never going to find this great gimmick that will make wave after wave of person run out to experience even the most mediocre Jim Carrey vehicle or Sandra Bullock romantic comedy on the big screen. So they’re looking for ways to save money on distributing movies instead. The 3-D process is really an attempt to convince theaters to convert to digital projectors, which will eliminate a ton of studio costs. No more 35mm prints, no more reels or cans, no more transportation costs, no more storage costs … by Grabthar’s hammer, what a savings.

This fight’s been going on for some time. The studios may save a bunch of money, but the cost to theaters is tremendous. One theater in my town went out of business attempting to make the transition; we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars. The studios need something that digital can do better than 35mm, and that’s apparently the puke-inducing 3-D. The studios claim that digital projection looks better – and I have to admit, it does – but the other hope is that digital distribution will eliminate piracy. Once the changeover happens, 3-D will be a retired antique.

I hope you noticed that the studio arguments I mentioned had everything to do with business practices and protecting the bottom line and nothing to do with the quality of the movies themselves. They can provide all of the fancy add-ons and promise all of the spellbinding illusions you get from a crappy DreamWorks movie (“ooh, a bee that does things bees don’t normally do!”), but it’s all for shit if the story isn’t there. And the studios either don’t know or don’t care that the reason so many people have stopped going to movies is that two fundamentals are missing: good filmmaking and good storytelling. More of that will always get more people into the theater.

3-D and digital projection are just gimmicks, and gimmicks don’t replace the good experience of an engaging story well-told.

Hell, even Bugs Bunny knew that.

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *