As a follow-up to yesterday’s poll about the fading fortunes of 3D video, it appears that even famed 3D enthusiast James Cameron is now willing to admit that the format has lost some of its luster.
Hardly all that long ago at all, Cameron – whose ‘Avatar‘ was a prime motivator in the modern 3D revival – was so gung-ho on the format that he predicted that 3D would soon supplant 2D the way that color television replaced black & white. He believed that all video media, from feature films to the evening news, would eventually be shot and displayed in 3D.
Does he still expect that to happen? According to an article in Rolling Stone, Cameron recently criticized Hollywood for releasing a glut of 3D movies, and cited both ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Man of Steel’ as blockbusters that shouldn’t have been converted to 3D.
“If you spend $150 million on visual effects, the film is already going to [look] spectacular [and] perfect.”
To be fair to Cameron, in saying this he made a distinction between movies natively photographed in 3D and those converted after-the-fact. This is consistent with the director’s long-standing criticism of post-conversion 3D as an inferior process and a gimmick. He has repeatedly encouraged other directors to integrate 3D into their productions as early as possible.
Ironically, he said this during a talk with fellow filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, whose ‘Gravity‘ was a post-conversion acclaimed for the quality of its 3D.
I might argue that post-conversion 3D has its place, and can be very effective when used properly. Rather than draw a dogmatic line in the sand between native 3D photography and post-conversion, I’d say that the real differentiator is how much or how well the director plans for 3D. Tim Burton shot his ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ in 2D, but had stereographers on set to advise him on how to best frame the action to maximize 3D impact. As Cameron is well aware, 3D requires a different cinematic language than 2D. Stylistic techniques that work (or at least are tolerable) in 2D such as shaky-cam and quick-cut editing don’t work in 3D, which requires a slower tempo and steadier frames so that viewers’ brains can process the 3D effect. Even Michael Bay toned down his typically spastic editing style when he made ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon‘ in 3D. (That film was about half native 3D photography and half post-conversion.)
Unfortunately, far too many movies today have 3D imposed upon them by a mandate from the studio, not by any artistic desire on the part of the filmmakers. As a result, we wind up with 3D movies like ‘Star Trek into Darkness‘, for which director J.J. Abrams clearly gave little to no thought about 3D during production. The movie has far too much shaking camerawork, tight close-ups and rapid-fire editing to work effectively in 3D.
That’s the sort of thing that’s really killing viewer interest in 3D, in my opinion. Box office returns for 3D screenings have steadily fallen over the past couple of years, because 3D just isn’t special or necessary very often anymore. When even James Cameron is forced to admit that Hollywood makes too damn many 3D movies for its own good, Hollywood would be wise to listen.