Ups and Downs

After all the buzz about Toy Story 3, my expectations were pretty high, and I wasn't disappointed when I saw it in Imax 3D—that is, I wasn't disappointed in the story or the 3D, which was among the best I've ever seen. However, the particular presentation I attended at the AMC Burbank 16 did have some problems.

First of all, the sound system was too damn loud. Even with my custom-made –25dB earplugs, it was still too loud, especially the low frequencies. Unfortunately, I didn't have my SPL meter with me, so I can't document actual sound pressure levels, but it was so loud that my wife left after about 15 minutes, and she was wearing earplugs as well. Of course, Imax promotes its sound system as much as its huge screen, touting something like 11,000 watts of power, but parents are bringing little kids to this movie, and I have no doubt that their hearing is being damaged at these levels.

Then there were the glasses. The last time I saw something in 3D at my local Imax theater, the glasses were very large and quite comfortable. This time, however, they were much smaller, and they exhibited some diffractive artifacts with onscreen highlights being repeated elsewhere in my visual field. My wife's glasses had the same problem, but Tom Norton's didn't. If people are going to spend close to $20 to see Imax 3D—supposedly the ultimate movie-going experience—the theater shouldn't cheap out on the glasses, which need large lenses to increase the immersive effect and should not have optical anomalies.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? As I said at the top, Toy Story 3 is among the best 3D I've ever seen. In fact, I actually forgot I was watching 3D for much of the movie. Pixar was generally conservative in its approach to 3D, which is critical for comfortable viewing. Even so, the 3D added something significant to the experience, drawing me into the toys' world more than 2D would have. And the story and voice acting are superb, though the plot is a bit too drawn out for my taste at times.

Before the movie, the trailers were full of talking-animal, action-adventure, and sci-fi movies, which I believe will comprise the bulk of 3D releases in the next couple of years. I am so looking forward to the new Tron in 3D, though it will undoubtedly have more and longer super-loud parts than Toy Story 3, which is why I will probably see it in a non-Imax venue.

When people ask if 3D will—or even should—be applied to every movie, I say probably not, at least not until filmmakers learn how to use it effectively. Even then, there are plenty of people who object to 3D, especially those who prefer serious dramas, and plenty more who can't even perceive 3D, a condition called monocular vision or stereo blindness. So I'm sure that some movies will continue to be made in 2D for a long time to come.

Is 3D commercial cinema an attempt by the studios to rake in more money at the box office by charging higher ticket prices for it? Yes. Is 3D at home intended to encourage people to buy new TVs and Blu-ray players? Of course. But in my view, 3D also offers something of real value—a more immersive, engaging experience than 2D, at least if it's done well and the screen occupies most of the viewers' visual field. And with professional training programs such as the one offered by Sony, filmmakers will get a lot better at it over the next few years, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

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