Wednesday, 16 July 2008

3D - The creature that wouldn't die

Journey to the Center (sic) of the Earth is in cinemas now. In a (very) limited number of those it can be viewed in the wonder of stereoscopic 3D. The new system is called RealD and this is the first film using the system to be released in the UK.

3D is a gimmick that first showed up with the hysterical reaction that the film studios had to the possibilities of television. How were they to fight the menace of the box in the corner that could entertain people without all that effort of getting out of the chair, travelling miles in the car, queueing for tickets and having someone coming out of the previous showing spoiling it all by saying 'isn't it a shame she dies at the end?'

Back then the studios tried everything; making screens bigger, making films bigger, making popcorn buckets bigger. There was a plethora of ideas to set cinema apart from the upstart cathode ray tube. My favourite remains smellovision, but along with that scratch'n'sniff sensation there was 3D.

3D came and went. Then, in the early 80s it came and went again. And now it's back again with the advent of RealD and we're told that it never looked better.

The thing about 3D was never that the technology was a problem. Sure you had to wear those bloody silly glasses, but that was all part of the fun. The problem has always been in the films that it was used in. They were only rarely any good and almost never were able to resist the impulse to throw stuff at the audience.

Two of the best 3D movies ever made were It Came From Outer Space and The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Both of these were exploitation sci fi movies and both were shot in 3D, but neither of them got hung up on the medium and just used it to tell compelling stories. Sadly, this is not the common experience. Even the latest 3D extravaganza hasn't learned the lesson and insists on having Brendan Fraser's spit, dinosaur snot and who knows what else being hurled at the undeserving audience.

If 3D is ever to get out of the shadow of its gimmicky legacy and become a legitimate tool of filmmaking then this kind of juvenility will have to be disposed of. If it can't then RealD will go the way of many other such systems before it.

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