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My perspective may be skewed
3D movies kind of suck 
30th-May-2014 07:55 pm
have a cigar

Originally Posted at Mr. Topp and the Big Bad Blog.

Earlier this week, I actually got to go to the movies. It’s a rare occurrence, given the presence of a small child in my household. And – in an even less frequent twist – it was not rated G. Or U, as they say here in the United Kingdom.

No, the movie was X-Men: Days of Future Past. It featured violence, naked-Jennifer-Lawrence-in-blue-paint, and perhaps even a swear word somewhere along the line.

It was also in 3D.

Believe it or not, this was my first 3D movie.*

Yes, more than ten years since James Cameron re-introduced 3D to mainstream releases with Ghosts of the Abyss, and five years since Avatar somehow ensured that every big budget movie had a 3D version, no matter how unnecessary, I have only just now donned the glasses in a darkened theatre.


It sucked.

First impressions: godawful

As with any movie you see in the theatres, an hour of advertisements had to be endured before the movie you paid too much money for could be revealed on the screen. These started as standard, two dimensional advertisements. And then, the message:

Put your 3D glasses on now.

We did.

And then we were brutalised by the most horribly rendered 3D graphics ever revealed on screen. It was sickening.

I mean, literally sickening.

It was like a lesson in what happens when 3D is done wrong … our brains were not equipped to cope with the visual signals they were receiving. Everybody in the theatre took off their glasses and/or looked away from the screen. It was … wow.

Second impressions: hey!

The remaining 3D ads were neither hideous nor wonderful. They were just ads.

And then the movie began.

X-Men: Days of Future Past put some effort into the 3D version of their title sequence. It was clearly specifically designed with 3D in mind, and the graphic artists they employed were good. They knew their 3D stuff, and took us on a bit of a ride.

It was kind of awesome, and showed what 3D is capable of.

On the other hand, a title sequence is not a movie. When it came to the movie itself …

General impression: it adds nothing

For the most part, 3D did nothing for most of the scenes. It didn’t interfere with the storytelling on the screen, but it failed to enhance it, either. The best that could be said is that it usually faded into the background.

When it was noticed (in a good way), it always seemed gimmicky. The best 3D was when it just was. Which isn’t much of an argument for it.

Less favourable impression: it’s not quite right yet

While the 3D effects usually went unnoticed (at least, after I stopped gawking around trying to see the 3D), this wasn’t always the case. There were the green screen scenes.

Usually, to spot a green screen scene, I have to remove myself from the movie, and think instead about the process by which the scene I’m watchin might be created. I think about a particular scene, wonder how they did that, and conclude: “that had to have been a green screen.”

Not in 3D.

In 3D, green screens were obvious. They are also used more often than I would have thought. In 3D, they were incredibly obvious.

I suppose that I can’t be sure that I noticed all the green screen scenes, but I would bet that I’d have to guess based on the probability of the foreground and background coexisting in a single shot, rather than just trusting my eyes.

3D is a lot younger than 2D effects. It’s visible.

Problematic impression: it takes you out of the film

X-Men: Days of Future Past takes place (mostly) in the 1970s.

The filmmakers use a variety of techniques to make it feel like these bits of the movie are representing America 40 years ago. One of them is to switch over to “archival television footage”.

In 3D.

Yeah, that doesn’t work.

Least favourable impression: destroying cinematography

The thing that struck me the most about watching the movie was the cinematography. It didn’t know what the hell to do.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is being shown in theatres in 3D, worldwide.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is being shown in theatres in 2D, worldwide.
X-Men: Days of Future Past will go on to be sold on Blu-Ray, to be streamed on Netflix, to be shown on network television during primetime. To be shown on Film4 at 11pm on a Wednesday.

The majority of the viewings of the film will be in two dimensions. Even most die-hard 3D lovers, if they really like this movie, will see it more often in two dimensions than three.

So it needs to be shot to be consumed in 2D.

But movies these days — at least, special-effects ladened superhero movies — are judged primarily on initial release, and primarily on the 3D initial release.

So it needs to be shot to be consumed in 3D.

What was most clear during the movie is that a good 3D shot and a good 2D shot look very, very different. And so the movie seemed content with making sure that every shot was neither a bad 3D shot, nor a bad 2D shot. Most scenes have purposeful depth — to make it clear that this is 3D. But they don’t try to do anything with it, because then the scene wouldn’t work in 2D.

And so it goes.

Trying to satisfy two methods of shooting ruins the cinematography. Or so it would seem.

Final verdicts

There are three final verdicts from the Big Bad Blog on 3D films:

  1. The glasses suck. Yes, I’m the kind of person who has to try on 50 pairs of glasses before maybe choosing frames. Your mileage may vary. But trust me, they suck.
  2. The technology is too young. In X-Men, at least, the best you can say is that they didn’t ruin the movie. And you can’t get a much bigger budget to pull this stuff off than X-Men had.
  3. Truly artistic movies will struggle being both 2D and 3D. They are simply different mediums; so long as a movie is expected to have appeal on both 2D & 3D screens, the possibility of having truly great shots would seem to be limited.

In conclusion, 3D should go away. It’s not awful enough to make me say “no” to a group of friends going to a movie, but my first experience has me thinking that I won’t be seeking it out, either.


* You shouldn’t believe this. It’s not my first 3D movie. I’ve seen “movies” in 3D that exist specifically to show off 3D (and have no story), and also 3D movies in the old red/blue glasses style. But it was my first real 3D movie using current technology.

6th-Jun-2014 04:20 pm (UTC)
I don't like it much either. The action scenes are the worst -- whenever anything's moving too fast, it's like the frame rate is choppy. Not fun, rarely is it well-used.
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