Friday, December 14, 2007

The Return Of 3D

One of the most memorable moviegoing experiences in my life was seeing my first 3D movie, Jaws 3D. The tagline duly proclaimed: The third dimension is terror! The experience wasn't terror-filled, mainly because it was a terrible movie. But it was awe-inspiring to see, for the first time, things in a movie floating right before your eyes. I still remember trying to dodge the harpoon that was shot right into the camera, and the severed leg that floated down to the bottom of the sea.

As a kid, I was thrilled, despite the uncomfortable cardboard glasses. But that was it. Movies in 3D were just a great novelty back then. The technology came and went, came and went. But now it seems there's a sudden explosion or revival of 3D movies, thanks largely to digital projection. To think at one point, it became sort of a joke to have a movie in 3D because you know it's just not going to be a good movie. But if even The Nightmare Before Christmas has been converted for 3D exhibition, you have to admit something's going down. Read Kristin Thompson's account of watching Nightmare here at the blog she shares with hubby David Bordwell.

Believe it or not, the first patent for a 3D process was filed in the 1890s. The first 3D film was shown in 1915. And in 2005, I saw the second 3D movie in my life. It was an IMAX film called Haunted Castle. I remember that compared to my first experience in the 80s, this time the glasses were plastic and comfortable, and the images were easier on the eyes.

The latest we had was Beowulf in 3D, and it's not the first blockbuster to go 3D, and definitely not the last. We're pretty lucky to have an IMAX cinema in Malaysia, because in Singapore, there are no IMAX cinemas, therefore no 3D screenings.

Some of the upcoming 3D films are Ice Age 3 and Shrek Goes Forth. And the most anticipated is probably James Cameron's sci-fi flick Avatar. Spielberg and Peter Jackson, too, are reportedly working on a 3D trilogy of The Adventures Of Tintin.

But why the sudden interest again in 3D? Some have attributed it to the growing need for movies to be more than what they are, because of the ease of access now to normal 2D movies, especially with downloads. Then there's also the shorter time between a movie's theatrical release and its DVD one. All this makes quite some sense. Read the Times Online article here.

But isn't the advent of digital effects also another factor? Probably an indication of it is how most 3D films are animated features or something like Beowulf (of course, this also has to do with the difficulty of shooting live action in 3D). It's definitely not a matter of 3D making a movie better. Could 3D enhance the experience of watching a Bresson film, or even a Tsai Ming-liang film? I think not.

It's definitely still a novelty to see a movie in 3D, and just a novelty. It's just that effects technology has just made it more fun to see one.

But this quote about Avatar from Cameron in The Hollywood Reporter sure puts a chill in my spine: "We’re going to blow you to the back wall of the theatre in a way you haven’t seen for a long time."

Coming from the guy who's always been at the forefront of movie technology (T2, anyone?), it just not too hard to believe.

Note: See also the interesting exchange between Thompson and Bordwell about 3D here.

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