17 August 2007

Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow

Darth Maul of Star Wars in anaglyph 3-D
Wax Darth Maul in a 3-D photograph

The title sounds obvious, but what it means is that the marvels of the future that were talked about in the past, should be happening just about now. An excellent example of how that doesn’t necessarily hold true is the assertion of Jaws 3-D director Joe Alves in a 1983 Starburst interview that:
“(…) I can definitely see Superman 4 or the new Star Wars (Return of the Jedi) being made in 3-D. (…) Imagine flying a space ship over the audience’s heads, or having Superman fly out? Actually, the latter would be difficult.”

Besides having a point about Superman flying out of the screen being difficult (he’d look like a miniature Superman and couldn’t fly anywhere off-screen effectively), he missed the mark on his assertion of those two films being shot and released in 3-D. Hollywood lost interest in 3-D film very quickly when the audiences got tired of the onslaught of 3-D movies after just one year of 3-D film exhibition in 1983. 25 mediocre 3-D movies in one year can do that to an audience. With the 1953 boom more than twice that amount were released theatrically: 65 3-D movies within two years alone!

Ironically, Star Wars: a New Hope is right now being dimensionalized for 3-D re-re-re-release next year (with ‘Empire’ and ‘Jedi’ on hold until this proves to be a profitable undertaking) and Superman Returns utilized dimensionalized sections in its IMAX release. Clearly, New Hollywood feels that digital projection is a guarantee for audience acceptance of 3-D, ignoring the possibility of audience exhaustion and bad use of 3-D being a factor in 3-D film’s previous crashes.

Dan Symmes shooting a 3-D film sequence
Dan Symmes shooting with his Dimension-3 Camera Adapter in 1982

In another of yesterday’s articles on 3-D film, written by a fresh-faced Daniel Symmes in 1983’s Cinefantastique, Dan writes:
“(…) Most filmmakers simply don’t understand the possibilities and limitations of the process. (…) Properly used, 3-D is probably one of the last frontiers of magic, but it’s very rarely used properly. Right now, 3-D is thrown at you, poked at you and so sloppily done that it creates eyestrain.”

The assumption Symmes made was that filmmakers would, by now, be using 3-D as an integral part of the story and use it in a proper, educated way. Because 3-D filmmaking was never taught in any film school, though, this never happened and with the disappearance of 3-D off cinema screens for 20 years, the existing knowledge of 3-D filmmaking gained a thick layer of dust. Now, with 3-D’s latest resurgence, directors who get their hands on a 3-D project for the first time and have to use the medium without fully understanding it will indeed run the risk of making terrible mistakes. Because although the concept of 3-D may be easy to grasp, its correct execution is a finely tuned piece of professionalism that cannot be underestimated.

Artwork of Dreamworks' Monsters versus Aliens
Dreamworks' Monsters vs. Aliens

3ality Digital’s Steve Schklair shares this vision with us, telling us:
“One of my biggest concerns is the quality of 3D that reaches the screen during the next two years. This business is now in its infancy and as such is very fragile. Our audience does not know the difference between 3D and good 3D. Someday, after a few really well shot films reach the market, the audience will be able to discern between the two. But for now, the market can ill afford a really bad 3D film in release by novices. This concern is shared by many of us in Hollywood, including Dreamworks and RealD.”

Well said.

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