Originally published in The Badger
Five years after Avatar brought stereoscopy back with a bang, it’s safe to say that that 3D is here to stay. With the notable exception of The Inbetweeners 2 (thank god), the seven highest grossing films at the UK box office all leapt off the screen.
Personally, I was never a fan. The tickets are more expensive, you need to buy a new pair of annoying glasses because you forgot to bring your own and the image is significantly darker. Even worse is, when they make you pay for bad/non-existent 3D. Back in March, I went to see Captain America 2. Five minutes into the film, one of the lenses fell out of my glasses. Since I didn’t want to miss, I stayed and watched the rest without glasses, occasionally holding up the defective lens to my eye. With the exception of a slightly blurry background, there was virtually no difference. If anything, the image was brighter and crisper without glasses.
These issues are merely distractions from what cinema is actually about: emotions and storytelling. I used to say that 3D is merely a gimmick that can be useful for fairground rides and trashy genre films like Drive Angry (an underrated, extremely silly Nic Cage-joint) or Piranha 3DD. Then Martin Scorsese made Hugo and proved me wrong. His film is all about storytelling and the magic of cinema. Using stereoscopy, the latest cinematic innovation, in a film about one of the art form’s pioneers makes perfect sense. Scorsese proved that the technology can have a purpose and enhance a film.
Hugo wasn’t simply the exception to the rule either. Life of Pi and, to a lesser extent, The Great Gatsby, Prometheus, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet all used 3D in an interesting and innovative way. All of those films have one thing in common, and this is no coincidence: their directors are of demonstrable quality and known to be amongst the most visionary in their profession.
That leads us to the best 3D-movie to date: Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. About twelve months ago, audiences were stunned by the incredible visuals, the stunning 13-minute opening shot and the whiteness Clooney’s teeth. It was as if we had stepped into space. Unsurprisingly, the film was a huge hit, grossing $700m and winning seven Oscars.
Next to the big Hollywood blockbusters, there are furthermore several arthouse directors experimenting with the technology. Werner Herzog took his 3D-camera underground for his documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, whereas his fellow German Wim Wenders made the world dance with Pina. On 3 December, Brightonians will furthermore have the chance to see the arguably most radical use of stereoscopy in the form of Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language, which screens as part of the Cine-city film festival. I am not a fan of the film, but I can’t deny its fascinatingly unusual filmmaking techniques.
That said, any claim that 3D is the exclusive future of cinema is erroneous. A look at the current box office charts is enough to prove the opposite. At the time of writing, this year’s big sci-fi epic, Interstellar, has already made £12.13m after 10 days. It was shot in glorious 2D and largely on IMAX, but it isn’t flat, or plain at all. The director, Christopher Nolan of Batman/Inception-fame, is not a fan of the technology. Last year, he told the Telegraph: “Until we get rid of the glasses or until we really massively improve the process, I’m a little weary of it.” Many films simply don’t need stereoscopy to be spectacular, exciting and beautiful.
3D is neither the future nor the death of cinema. Like a camera, special effects or music, it is a tool that in the right set of (passionate) hands, for the right film, can generate great pieces of art and cinematic experiences.