Roger Ebert Hates 3D
In the May 10, 2010 issue of Newsweek, famed movie critic Roger Ebert writes "Why I Hate 3-D (and You Should Too)," giving nine reasons with extended commentary. I don't disagree with everything he says, but "hate" is far too strong a word for me.
1. It's the Waste of a Dimension.
Citing the principle of perspective, Ebert says, "When you look at a 2D movie, it's already in 3D as far as your mind is concerned." That's true to a certain extent, but viewing a 3D movie is a very different experience. Whether or not it's a better experience is highly subjective and depends on how it's done.
He also says, "Adding [a dimension] artificially can make the illusion less convincing." I understand where he's coming from herethe 3D movies I've seen so far rarely let me forget I was watching an artificially created 3D environmentbut I'm never fooled into thinking I see real depth in any 2D movie.
2. It Adds Nothing to the Experience.
Here, Ebert says, "Recall the greatest moviegoing experiences of your lifetime. Did they 'need' 3D? A great film completely engages our imaginations. What would Fargo gain in 3D? Precious? Casablanca?" Of course, 3D technology wasn't availableor at least commercially viablewhen these movies were made, but what if it had been? Would the filmmakers have used it? I don't know.
These movies don't "need" 3D primarily because they were made without it. Also, many people would cite Avatar as one of the greatest moviegoing experiences of their livesI've spoken with severalso it's entirely possible for a 3D movie to completely engage our imagination.
3. It Can Be a Distraction.
As Ebert elaborates, "Some 3D consists of only separating the visual planes, so that some objects float above others, but everything is still in 2D. We notice this. We shouldn't." I agree3D movies often look like stacked 2D planes, much like the flat sets of old live theater. I don't know whether this is a result of inexperienced stereography or an inherent property of the technology.
However, he loses me with his next comment: "In 2D, directors have often used a difference in focus to call attention to the foreground or the background. In 3D, the technology itself seems to suggest that the whole depth of field be in sharp focus. I don't believe this is necessary, and it deprives directors of a tool to guide our focus." There's nothing in the technology that requires an infinite depth of field, and directors are free to change the focus as they wish. I suspect that infinite depth of field is a result of filmmakers' inexperience with 3D.
4. It Can Create Nausea and Headaches.
No argument here. Ebert cites an interview with two ophthalmologists: "As 3D TV sets were being introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, Reuters interviewed two leading ophthalmologists. 'There are a lot of people walking around with very minor eye problemsfor example, a muscle imbalancewhich under normal circumstances the brain deals with naturally,' said Dr. Michael Rosenberg, a professor at Northwestern University. 3-D provides an unfamiliar visual experience, and 'that translates into greater mental effort, making it easier to get a headache.' Dr. Deborah Friedman, a professor of ophthalmology and neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said that in normal vision, each eye sees things at a slightly different angle. 'When that gets processed in the brain, that creates the perception of depth. The illusions that you see in three dimensions in the movies is not calibrated the same way that your eyes and your brain are.' In a just-published article, Consumer Reports says about 15 percent of the moviegoing audience experiences headache and eyestrain during 3D movies."
5. Have You Noticed that 3D Seems a Little Dim?
No question about itthe glasses you must wear to view a 3D movie filter a lot of light from reaching your eyes. The cinema standard is 16 foot-lamberts (fL) coming off the screen with no film in the projector, and Ebert claims that most theaters show 3D movies at 3 to 6fL. I don't know if these numbers are correct, but I wouldn't be surprised
BTW, he makes a mistake in his definition of foot-lamberts. He says, "It's the level of light thrown on the screen from a projector with no film in it." Actually, it's a unit of measure of the luminance emitted or, in this case, reflected from a flat, diffuse surface, such as a screen. The amount of light from a projector is referred to as illuminance, which is the total luminous flux incident on a surface per unit area measured in lux or lumens per square meter.
6. There's Money to be Made in Selling New Digital Projectors.
True, but so what? This has nothing to do with 3D per se. Commercial theaters are making the transition from film to digital projection anyway, and 3D doesn't add much if anything to this cost. On the other hand, if a theater installs a polarized 3D system, it must replace the screen with a polarization-preserving material, a significant expense by itself. This is one reason why Dolby 3D might be a better choice, since it does not require a special screen.
7. Theaters Slap On a Surcharge of $5 to $7.50 for 3D.
I think this is a bit exaggerated. I don't know about the rest of the country, but at the AMC multiplex near my homewhich has standard film and digital theaters as well as an Imax theateradult 2D tickets go for $12, while 3D in a standard digital theater adds $3 to $5. Tickets for a 2D Imax movie are $17 ($5 extra), while Imax 3D adds $6 to $7 to the base ticket price. Perhaps Ebert is comparing conventional 2D prices with those for Imax 3D, which is unfair in my book.
On the other hand, any surcharge for 3D might not be justified from a cost-of-presentation perspective. As Ebert points out, "When you see a 2D film in a 3D-ready theater, the 3D projectors are also outfitted for 2D films: it uses the same projector but doesn't charge extra. See the Catch-22? Are surcharges here to stay, or will they be dropped after the projectors are paid off? What do you think?" Clearly, theaters want to make a few extra bucks, even if it doesn't cost them any more to outfit a digital theater for 3D.
8. I Cannot Imagine a Serious Drama, such as Up in the Air or The Hurt Locker, in 3D.
Ebert's inability to imagine this doesn't mean that no one can. And in his extended commentary on this point, he writes, "I once said I might become reconciled to 3D if a director like Martin Scorsese ever used the format. I thought I was safe. Then Scorsese announced that his 2011 film The Invention of Hugo Cabret, about an orphan and a robot, will be in 3D. Well, Scorsese knows film, and he has a voluptuous love of its possibilities. I expect he will adapt 3D to his needs. And my hero, Werner Herzog, is using 3D to film prehistoric cave paintings in France, to better show off the concavities of the ancient caves. He told me that nothing will 'approach' the audience, and his film will stay behind the plane of the screen." Granted, these are not serious dramas as far as I can tell, but still, Ebert seems to be backtracking a bit here.
BTW, I applaud Herzog's intention to keep the "depth" behind the plane of the screen, which will enhance the overall sense of 3D realism. I've always thought that putting things in front of the screen makes the image less realistic and more distractingin fact, I believe this is the main reason 3D is so often called "gimmicky." Keeping things on or behind the screen is an example of a more mature and refined approach that can go a long way toward encouraging wider acceptance of 3D.
9. Whenever Hollywood has Felt Threatened, It has Turned to Technology: Sound, Color, Widescreen, Cinerama, 3D, Stereophonic Sound, and now 3D Again.
I'm not at all sure about this. It seems to me that Hollywood exploits new technologies whenever they become available because this advances the art of filmmaking, not necessarily because of any perceived threat. As for 3D appearing twice in this list, the technology wasn't as good in the 1950s as it is today, and the movies were schlocky and full of in-your-face gimmickry, which is why it quickly fizzled.
In his commentary on this point, Ebert says, "In marketing terms, this means offering an experience that can't be had at home. With the advent of Blu-ray discs, HD cable, and home digital projectors, the gap between the theater and home experiences has been narrowed. 3D widened it again. Now 3D TV sets may narrow that gap as well." I've often wondered about this myself3D seems like a good differentiator between commercial and home theaters, yet the studios are as gung ho about bringing 3D to the home as the hardware manufacturers. What's up with that?
He goes on to cite another technology that could offer something not available in the home48fps movies, which are much smoother and more beautiful than 24fps. (I've seen 48fps, and it's truly amazing.) I would add 4K digital capture and projection as something else that can't be had at homeyet. Of course, 4K displays will reach the home market eventually, but not for a few years.
In the end, Ebert says, "I'm not opposed to 3D as an option. I'm opposed to it as a way of life for Hollywood, where it seems to be skewing major studio output away from the kinds of films we think of as Oscar-worthy... The marketing executives are right that audiences will come to see a premium viewing experience they can't get at home. But they're betting on the wrong experience." For me, the jury is still out on that, but I will continue to closely monitor and report on the entire 3D landscape, which will certainly provide interesting fodder for some time to come.