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Reevaluating the Worth of 3-D in Film

So I absolutely detest 3-D in movies. Really, I do. I’ve cursed James Cameron’s very existence ever since Avatar heralded the single most horrific onslaught of gimmick-infested marketing Hollywood has ever managed to produce. I knew cinema was headed into a dark place when it took Screen Gems exactly 11 seconds to spew out a trailer for Resident Evil: Afterlife in 3-D in the wake of Avatar’s financial success. Just about every summer blockbuster since then attempted to induce 3-D related migraines in audiences all over the world, hoping to capitalize on a trend that quickly crossed over from the silver screen and into local Best Buys where sales associates tried their damnedest to get buyers to drop over two-grand on a television set that could only be watched for fifteen minutes at a time lest the viewer spontaneously acquire some form of a neurological disorder. Hell, even Nintendo tried to score with the 3DS handheld system, and that had to come with its own warning labels. Honestly, do you know anyone who bothers to play with the 3-D settings turned on anymore?

I could probably write a dissertation about the marketing behind this decade’s 3-D trend and how it has brought us a step closer to killing cinema all together, but that’s only a part of the reason why I hate it. My beef with the technology stems more from the cheap and lazy conversions than with the overall trend itself. Just about everyone knows of the two kinds of 3-D films: there’s the Avatar kind, in which stereoscopic cameras are used to film the scenes directly, creating crisp and highly immersive images… and then there’s what I like to affectionately call Dollar Store 3-D, in which 2-D film is digitally converted into 3-D format. More often than not the conversion results in a loss of quality when the process is rushed. You may have already experienced films where the background was really blurry, or have had to sit through nauseating effects with fast and erratic motion.

The first film I ever saw with a shoddy conversion was Marvel Studios’ Thor. While it wasn’t exactly the cheapest Marvel could have managed, it was still pretty unbearable. Something about the way the camera pan-zoomed across that first shot of Asgard while forcing my eyes to focus on numerous buildings that were somehow flat and 3-dimensional at the same time made me never want to endure 3-D ever again.

Actually, it was with a little motion picture called Pacific Rim.

Before Guillermo Del Toro’s latest, I’d managed to avoid most 3-D releases save for some notable exceptions which I found the visual effect to be tolerable. Both The Avengers and The Hobbit were among them, but I could still do without the 3-D. The effect didn’t change the viewing experience for me one way or the other. Like any fiscally-minded movie-goer might conclude, I never felt 3-D was worth the extra investment at the box office.

Property of Warner Bros. Pictures

However, Pacific Rim is the first movie in which I would insist anyone interested in seeing it to absolutely spend the extra money to watch the 3-D show. I saw it in both 3-D and 2-D, and I have to admit that the 2-D is just not the same experience. Pacific Rim was immersive on a level I’d never seen in film before. There were scenes that were so visceral in their execution that I could actually feel the fear young Mako exuded as she ran for her life through an ash-strewn Tokyo. A lot of 3-D films simply aim to have something pop out of the screen at you, but in Pacific Rim you can tell that Del Toro meticulously planned each scene to have an intended reaction from the audience based on what was visually presented. I literally felt as if I were standing in the water with the Jaegers when the camera was expertly positioned as though it were floating on the surface. This was a film where the 3-D was actually essential to the story telling, a device I never expected Hollywood to execute in my wildest dreams.

Has this changed my almost universal taste for 3-D? Well, I can say for certain that there’s a lot to appreciate when you have a director who aims to innovate with the technology rather than to simply use it as a tool for cheap thrills and gimmicks. Here’s hoping that more filmmakers take a page from Mr. Del Toro’s techniques. I’d get on board with 3D forever if this is how it’s going to be done from now on.

Actually, on that note, can we just get Guillermo del Toro to direct all the movies?

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