The Totalitarian Nightmare of 3D
I usually watch Hollywood films only on airplanes, where you don’t have to pay, you’re strapped in and can’t escape, and you’re generally susceptible to emotionally exploitative yet absorbing narratives that pass the time quickly. But as I’ve been more or less earthbound lately, I decided to treat my husband to a movie. Now I remember why I don’t go to them anymore. Including one over-roasted cup of coffee and one eight-dollar box of (medium) popcorn topped with rancid butter that later gave me a stomachache, it cost me forty bucks for us to see The Avengers in 3-D. But that’s not what really hurt. I don’t want to talk about how bad the movie was (as a dyed-in-the-wool Buffy fan; I expected a lot more from Joss Whedon), or how ridiculously overrated it was by the contemporary crop of lamestream film critics who are obviously too heavily under the influence of corporate swag and perks to give a reasoned opinion. (Sorry, but calling someone “reindeer games” as an insult just doesn’t cut it. If that’s what passes for good dialogue these days, what’s that stuff Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett were writing?) I don’t even want to talk about how much I loathe the new style of wisecracking billionaire philanthropist superhero who’s supposed to be the savior of the world. (Oddly, the only superhero I liked in The Avengers was Captain America, who at least had the advantage of being good porno fodder, especially considering how lovingly the director featured his ass in each and every scene he appeared in.) What’s really ruining the movies is 3-D. And you can quote me wildly on that.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Luddite. Although a fixation on technology and tech gadgets is arguably distracting the youth of today from developing any sort of articulated disestablishmentarian consciousness and seducing them into some sinister variant of corporate mind meld, I’m still hopeful that this tendency will eventually be overridden by the conscience and individual will of a new generation who will come to realize that technology is merely a means to an end and not an end in itself. But just as all progress isn’t necessarily good, neither are technological advances necessarily always an improvement over outmoded or more “primitive” models. We all know the sound quality of vinyl had a different quality–richer, fuller, warmer–than the compressed digital format of CDs and MP3s, which we merely gave into for its convenience, portability, and marketability. Of course 3-D has been around for quite a while, but the new refinement and ubiquity of the technology is seemingly being presented as the next standard of entertainment, the new normal. At the moment it’s pretty much restricted to action, horror/sci-fi, and animation movies, but the threat of The Great Gatsby 3-D has me a bit worried. As if the prospect of Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby wasn’t frightening enough.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe people want to see Schindler’s List 3-D. (It certainly couldn’t make it any worse.) All I know is, there’s something about the format that is ultimately trivializing, and that makes everything seem like a tacky 3-D postcard of Niagara Falls. My hunch is that it will probably never escape this kitsch quality, even if, as inevitably will happen, the technology is extended to dramatic or “serious” pictures. It will always read as gimmicky and meretricious, even when the awkward sideshow glasses are eliminated from the equation.
But that’s not the only problem. Although 3-D purports to be a more “realistic” depiction of reality, creating the illusion of verisimilitude, it’s actually a less realistic approximation of the way the eye perceives the world than that of the conventional “2-D” screen. Just as black and white movies or photographs can sometimes seem more “real” than color ones, for some reason conventional projection seems to have more fidelity to the real world, and it encourages a kind of democratic participation in the act of watching, allowing the viewers to choose what they want to focus on–a detail in the background, watching the reaction of the character who isn’t speaking, etc. 3-D tends to control and direct the attention of the viewers, to rob them, in a sense, of their free will. (Of course a narrow depth of field in a conventionally projected film can have a similar effect, but it isn’t as relentless and persistent.) I suppose part of the problem with 3-D could be that it’s still a technology in development – it seems a bit dim at times, for example, and objects that are out of focus tend to look like blobs–but I think it goes deeper than that. There’s something ultimately a bit totalitarian about it, a technology that’s designed to manipulate the viewer much more profoundly than the usual emotional manipulation we’re accustomed to–something almost propagandistic. As an extremely expensive and complicated process of filmmaking, it also has the quality of being only available to corporate entities, setting it far above and beyond hoi polloi filmmakers, some of whom may have the impulse to subvert its more nefarious qualities.
Or maybe it’s just a bad idea. It certainly encourages screenwriters to throw in shamelessly unnecessary and flashy visual motifs to justify itself, like those tacky CNN magic touchscreen walls, which have become the 21st Century equivalent to actors unconvincingly pushing clunky knobs and buttons in cheesy 50’s science fiction movies. Both The Avengers and Prometheus in 3-D had far too many of those moments, a fixation of gadgetry that tends to distract from the flow of the narrative. Prometheus wasn’t bad, and it was designed as a more philosophical movie (for an interesting, if supergeeky, discussion and interpretation of it, try here), but it certainly didn’t compare to the adrenalin-pumping, action-heavy, emotional thrill rides of Alien or Aliens, both in 2-D.
Finally, though, there’s something about the 2-D screen, the flat, flickering surface, that encourages you to participate by projecting your subconscious desires onto it–something more like a dream. 3-D seems more like a totalitarian nightmare.
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