Saw “Up” this weekend — if “Where the Wild Things Are” is nearly half as affecting, it’ll be a great year for “audiences of all ages” — and while gorging on reviews thereafter, I noticed the wide variety of reactions to the film’s use of 3-D.
Among the critics who mention it, some found it pleasantly discreet, while some found it simply irrelevant; others said it was distracting because it was irrelevant, and yet others just plain distracting. Many were concerned that the loss of brightness behind 3-D glasses would do more harm to the color palette than the 3-D effects would do good for the film. Several praised the filmmakers for leashing the technology to the filmmaking to the benefit of both, and a few curmudgeonly luddites took the time to note that they had seen the film in 2-D, and that’s as many dimensions as anyone needs, thank you very much.
For my part, I commented to my roommate as we were leaving the theater that it could’ve been 2-D and I barely would’ve noticed (and he agreed), but I don’t think this was entirely fair. Shots from the sky aimed at the ground have never produced such genuine vertigo, and I experienced the impending threat of falling more viscerally during Up than I have during pretty much any live-action film I’ve ever seen where a character hangs by a thread or on a ledge.
Director Pete Docter articulates his approach in this interview with Drew at HitFix, explaining “we tried to look at it almost like a window looking in as opposed to things popping out at you” and agreeing with Drew that this preserves the immersive quality of cinema from which 3-D usually distracts.
While I’m generally a 3-D skeptic (cynic, even), I have to admit that using it as a tool to enhance the depth of the frame, rather than an excuse for gaudy holographic protrusions that break the 4th wall, is clever and creative. And at least in the case of those aerial shots, it showed results. But enough to justify the studios’ major investment in the technology?
In the end, subtle enhancement of composition and mise-en-scene is not the reason 3-D glasses exist. The idea here is a whole new dimension of spectacle, not a debate about whether or not already-great films are made slightly more immersive.
Yet I suspect that even a case where the creative vision is fused to the idea of 3-D spectacle (“Avatar” anyone?) might not justify the technology beyond its time-worn primary use: making vapid films slightly more entertaining. 3-D doesn’t really add to the box office for “Up” so much as “Up” adds to the box office for 3-D; it’s the studio blockbuster remake of “Megashark v. Giant Octopus” that’ll find goofy glasses goose the receipts. That and the megasharks and giant octopi. I’d probably go. Whatever. The point is, quality film-making makes 3-D moot.
And really, isn’t it moot? Isn’t it just a half-assed hologram blocking my view of the screen? Give me an actual hologram and I’ll be impressed, but a performance recorded in hologram isn’t cinema, it’s virtual theater. Cinema is defined by the frame. “Up”appreciates its medium and so its 3-D respects the frame. 3-D that disrespects the frame is as obnoxious as theater actors demanding audience participation (except for those incorrigible Blue Men).
Now sure, I could be eating crow when Cameron brings his baby to market, or when the giant octopi tentacles make me piss my pants in the theater in 2013, but I don’t care. 3-D, you’re looking pretty old for a novelty act. Call me when I can watch theater in the round via holography.