Fake 3D movies not worth the extra $5

The recent trend of post-converting movies into 3D – a process that involves graphic artists painstakingly going over frames of regular film and drawing out different layers to produce a 3D effect – has so far proven to be nothing more than a Hollywood tactic to boost box-office receipts and fight piracy.

Sailing on the wave of 3D hype inspired by James Cameron’s 2009 hit Avatar, the first film in history to gross more than $2 billion worldwide, studios quickly attempted to cash in on the fad by post-converting movies such as Clash of the Titans and Alice in Wonderland to 3D in early 2010.

Not only do 3D films allow the theatres to raise ticket prices by as much as $5 per person, they also draw movie-goers out who might normally wait to watch the film in DVD or download it for free. At present, 3D TVs are so expensive and impractical that even Cameron opted not to release Avatar in 3D DVD in the initial run.

But studios using post-conversion to cash in on the trend are willfully ignoring the nine years Cameron spent perfecting 3D camera technology for his blue-peopled magnum opus.

The director’s first attempt, on the set of an underwater documentary in 2000, produced the highly unsophisticated technology of duct-taping two cameras together and shooting the film in two layers. But it worked - and Cameron eventually fine-tuned the technology into the stereoscopic camera that is the standard for 3D filming today.

From start to finish, the director knew Avatar would be a 3D film. The visual splendor that followed was the reason for the film’s success – and it has yet to be re-created by ‘fake’ 3D, or post-conversion.

When graphic artists post-convert movies into 3D, they tend to simply separate the film into three layers: foreground, middle-ground and background. The result is a pop-up book effect where 2D characters jump out at the audience against a flat background. In ‘real’ 3D, there are multiple layers at work, so that if a character is walking forward, their front foot will be slightly ahead of their back foot, and so on.

Recent films to use 3D cameras include Step Up 3D and Jackass 3D, and whatever the cultural cache of these films, they were visually innovative and realistic. “Innovative” might mean something different for Jackass than a wholesome movie about kids dancing - but definitely, these movies looked a million times better than any post-converted movie has yet.

One of the reasons studios prefer to simply post-convert is because it is cheaper than filming in 3D. It can also be done quickly, and at the last minute, as in Clash of the Titans and the Last Airbender. Another complaint lodged against 3D filming, by Michael Bay, of all people, is that the heavy, cumbersome cameras are impractical for fast-paced action scenes.

Yet it’s possible that post-conversion could look good, if an adequate amount of time and expertise is put into it. The planned re-releases of Titanic and the original Star Wars trilogy in 3D might prove the possibilities of post-conversion – while simultaneously destroying all remnants of the films’ integrity and contributing to the utter decay of creativity in our culture. (Just saying.)

There is a slate of films set to be released in late 2010 and 2011, either shot in 3D or post-converted, which prove the 3D craze isn’t going away anytime soon. Tron: Legacy was shot in 3D and has the sort of story that warrants a 3D treatment. The final installment of Harry Potter is being post-converted, and the 3D component appears to be a throwaway afterthought that will add nothing to the franchise.

Hollywood has decided that every blockbuster film must be in 3D, and so it was encouraging when Christopher Nolan refused to budge to Warner Brothers when they asked for his third Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, to be in 3D.

“Our ambition for the third movie is to complete a story that has begun. This is not starting over, this not rebooting. We’re finishing something, and keeping a consistency with what’s come before has real value,” Nolan told the L.A. Times.

Nolan’s decision flies in the face of those proclaiming a “new era” of 3D cinema. Many have speculated that technology will ultimately become the standard for all film. But there are still myriad films that don’t warrant 3D treatment – and shouldn’t bend to studio’s wills just because they’ll make an extra couple bucks on the ticket price.

If 3D were to become the norm, it would precipitate a highly conservative age of film. Independent filmmakers don’t have access to state-of-the-art technology, and the 3D craze will only make it harder for them to get their movies shown in theatres.

But it’s difficult to guess the direction that film is going. The first wave of 3D – with its blue-and-red glasses and lame Disneyland rides - enjoyed a brief surge in popularity in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s before fizzling away quickly. If 3D is here to stay this time, hopefully studios will at least put the effort into getting it right.

//Laura Kane, Columnist

Laura Kane is a grammatically reliable UBC-attending contributor to the Courier, who has been watching movies since before George Lucas was ruining them. It’s actually quite possible that she’s seen every movie ever made by a human. All of these things made her the genuinely ideal candidate for a film columnist.

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