Life as it ain't

"I'm not really from outer space. I'm just mentally divergent."

3-D non-cinema

Posted by Ronak M Soni on January 12, 2010

This post originally appeared at PassionforCinema.

the seedsToday, I finally watched Avatar. Much has been said about this movie, and if you’re looking for a conventional review, I recommend this; I will restrict my general remarks to ‘I enjoyed this movie as a good-looking, well-made action movie.’ All I want to talk about is the 3-D.

I think there is something essentially uncinematic about the whole technology. It has something to do with the floating jellyfishish seeds, seeing which in 3-D might be the strongest reason to spend over a hundred bucks to visit the theatre. I noticed, at one point, one of these pop out of existence dangerously close to the centre of my vision. I was wondering why the hell it irked me so much till I got back home, when I finally figured out. The basic reason is: peripheral vision. This is something I’ve noticed to some degree ever since my first 3-D outing Monsters v/s Aliens, which I found entertaining enough but full of disembodied torsos flying around, because all the action happened outside the screen. At the time, I pointed out (in some comments section or the other) that the edge of the screen was always at the depth of the real screen. Now, I think this is close to the truth but subtly off. I thought this problem would be solved by the all the depth on the other side of the screen paradigm of Up when I first heard that that’s how it was. I watched most of it without the glasses; all the important bits were in focus anyway. So, why? It’s, as I’ve already mentioned, peripheral vision. A screen, unlike our vision, is a hard-edged object. Our vision peters out from central to peripheral in a smooth continuum. So, when, the seed passed out of the screen when it was really ‘close’ to me, it was also nearer the centre of my vision than it would be at screen depth. In other words, that seed wouldn’t really have passed out of my vision at that point in time. Now, you might ask, 2-D provides a ‘perfect illusion’ of 3-D, so why does it not irk us in 2-D? Why, in fact, would it look wrong in 2-D if that seed had stayed in the screen? It’s because 2-D provides us the perfect illusion for our area of focus, as our focus is generally on one plane anyway. 3-D takes that (naturally two-dimensional) area of focus and turns it into a three-dimensional panorama. But the three-dimensional panorama is missing that important thing of something (except the glasses) to occupy our peripheral vision, so it can never be quite real. The only way it would be really immersive is if put you in the panorama, but the too much detail on the side will restrict the ability of what you’re watching to be considered a movie rather than a game (and in what form will you be watching the movie).

And that’s not the only problem. The other major problem is the detailing. I’m not talking about the panorama but in the number of planes. Every face, human and humanoid, in Avatar looks like a cardboard cut-out in its 3-D surroundings, because there are too few planes in it compared to the background (I’m not completely sure why this should be so, because we can easily deal with much more depth; my guess is that the recording equipment had its limitations). In Up and Monsters v/s Aliens, everything looked too round, because of insufficient detailing of the planes’ positions (the difference arises in the feature/animation difference).

But, despite all these flaws, and despite the fact that the first one alone convinces me that 3-D is not the future of intelligent cinema, and even despite the fact that a substantial number of the best shots in this movie had me straining to find the third dimension because they looked like they were 2-D, I’d heartily recommend this watch; there’s something to be said for the fact that I never felt the need to take the glasses off.


4 Responses to “3-D non-cinema”

  1. S M Rana said

    I don’t often go to multiplex theaters but this time when I did I found the sheer largeness of the film startling–even the characters about 50% over sized. Not a film one remembers or could bear a second time. But I’m glad I “did” it.

  2. I thought the 3D was great in this film, as it is for IMAX 3D. Still, as I told one of my housemates recently, if 3D is supposed to add more depth to a film than a 2D film can, then it failed, since Sunrise, a silent black-and-white film from 1927, has the most depth of any movie that I’ve seen. I enjoyed watching Avatar in 3D, and I think the 3D added to the experience, but only because we’re dealing with computer generated planes, not sets that cameras can be rolled through to create a sense of space and depth, nor frames (ala Ozu) that cut the background and foreground into multiple spacial areas.

  3. Plum said

    Really interesting points. Do think that maybe the movie maybe seemed 2-D at times because you got really used to watching it in 3-D and your eyes just adjusted?

    Don’t Be a Plum

  4. That’s an interesting point, Plum. However, there is no way I can either confirm or deny it, since I’m taking more and more of a dislike to 3-D with every movie I watch, so it’s unlikely I’ll go out of my way to watch any more 3-D movies.

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