Why 3D Can Be Amazing

I'm a huge proponent for 3D.  

I honestly believe in the right hands and if only a few more circumstances happen, as I will lay out below, 3D will be considered just as important for cinema as the advent of color, sound and the anamorphic lens.  However, after seeing the preview for Piranha 3D and seeing the flat framing and composition of these "made-3D-in-post" movies (such as Clash & Alice) this advent will likely fade as just a fad.

I know a movie is not a 3D movie when their glory shot after announcing the movie is in 3D is a bird's eye view of girls on trampolines.  Boobies flying at you isn't 3D.  Maybe hilarious for some and hot for others but we can't argue the merits of 3D with 3D titties.

I am hoping the likes of great filmmaking talents such as the recent announcement that Scorsese will take on a 3D film will shift the balance from the fad realm into the reality.  It is important to me because as a director, 3D gives a whole new dimension to express emotion, tone and story.

The simplest way to describe this is to imagine a world without the anamorphic lens.  Without the 2.35:1 ratio.  Not just your 16:9 at home but true and glorious anamorphic.  Movies like "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Lawrence of Arabia."  Even modern greats like "The Royal Tenenbaums."  These films could not have been told with a 4:3 ratio.  The tone and mood would have been totally shifted.  Could you imagine those vast and lonely desert shots in Lawrence on a old square frame?  You need that panoramic view to experience it the way David Lean intended.  Just as Wells used his 4:3 framing to create and tell Citizen Kane.  Deep focus to draw into the film, down into the frame.  

In this frame of Citizen Kane you can see how Wells used the 4:3 space to tell his story.  What happened in the foreground was in direct opposition to what was going on in the background.  I won't spoil anything here but you can see he told this with the framing and lenses he had available to him.  He chose a deep focus so that you could either choose the foreground or the background. What also is brilliant about this scene is that the editing is created in your head because your eye isn't capable of seeing both at once, instead you have to, in so many words, "rack focus."  And remember - this is deep focus - there is no shallow depth of field.  Wells wants you to know that BOTH things are happening at once.  You choose how to experience it.  There isn't a rack focus to tell you look at this - THEN this.

There also isn't two separate shots: one of the signing of these papers and the other of the kid playing happily in the background.  They are happening simultaneously and in showing them as such it creates a powerful image.  And image, as we all know, is the ONLY reason movies exist.  

One of the greatest problems I have with much of cinema today, even though I can enjoy many films for many reasons, is that the frame and composition has been reduced to a simple master shot with coverage.  There isn't a keen observation on the scene's purpose and how to use the tools before you to unfold that revelation.  

The magic of cinema is gone.

3D, I believe, is both great and terrible.  It is great because it has brought on the magic of cinema again.  People flocked to Avatar not because of its great story or performances, in that department it was rather bland.  It was held up as the number one box office of all time because there was magic in the frame.  3D made people feel they were in Pandora.  I say that 3D is terrible because this a false magic.

I wouldn't propose that Avatar was a great film because of the film itself but it has allowed other filmmakers to utilize a new storytelling technique.  And so far - no one has taken the bait.  We have gotten Alice and Clash but are you like me and have completely forgotten those films?  My friends and I even saw Clash in 2D.

The missing link here is that directors haven't yet chosen the language.  As directors we are like the monks in high towers, dictating the language by which is to become the standard.  Citizen Kane is a great study in the language of filmmaking.  

I would propose that 3D can best be described as a cube and 2D is a canvas.  3D failed in the 50s because the directors of that age believed that 3D was about the gimmick.  Things flying out of the screen.  It works in a setting like a theme park and maybe in some bigger tent pole movies, but 3D would never work for a film like Little Children when you are constantly having, well, 3D titties.  

However, when I have seen the future of 3D is when I started to believe that the wall in front of me, that giant screen was no longer projecting a flat image but it was a window into a world.  That world, like that image of Citizen Kane, is multi-dimensional.  There is a foreground and a background.  We as viewers get to decide on how we view the film.  A choose your own adventure.  

In grade school, after we read a book, we were sometimes asked to make dioramas of a particular scene.  We would then go home and take an old shoebox, prop it on its side and proceed to cut out paper characters of some interesting scene that stood out in the book.

3D can be imagined in the same way.  A 3D box.  One that has its edges.  We as the audience can physically see those edges.  We are only allowed a small window into this world that exists.  Like a theater with an upstage and downstage.  There are dimensions and when we pull back the curtains you are allowed in through that window.  

So, when something pops out of the screen, the illusion is broken when the image falls to the edge of the window.  A water droplet coming at us can only stay within the center of the frame without breaking the 3D illusion.  This is why gimmick 3D won't last - it is so limiting in its framing.  However, once a director imagines the edges of the 3D screen as a window frame and everything beyond it is the cube by which a viewer is experiencing it, we then get a new language to express.

I honestly believe 3D can have the same amazing affect on film the way that anamorphic or color or sound has.  It of course needs to get through its child phase, foolish and naive.  It'll evolve into a rebellious teenager where 3D is the anti-Avatar and soon it will mature into the next great language barrier.  

That, and of course, screens without the need for glasses. 

But, for me - it's an exciting time to be a filmmaker.
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