The discussion of 3D is a horse that has been flogged to within an inch of its life over the last few years, with powerful film writers such as Roger Ebert being particularly vocal in their resentment of cinema's latest technological development. But with the vast majority of critics uncharacteristically singing from the same hymn sheet, and audiences beginning to turn their back on inflated ticket prices, what do people on the creative side of the film industry think?
Over the last decade, the effect that critics have on whether a film is commercially successful or not has been drastically reduced to a flickering candle on the brink of being extinguished. This is mainly to the delight of the studios, who now no longer have to worry about whether a movie is critically acclaimed, and can now produce garbage like this summer's Pirates and Transformers movies, safe in the knowledge that they will smash all previous box office records despite being universally panned by the film press- so they are not very likely to care about them objecting to 3D. However, the independent movies still very much rely on good write-ups, and, with the rise of film blogs, there is a wealth of opinion available. One thing about critics is that it's very rare that an opinion will be unanimous; aggregator sites like Rotten Tomatoes have made it easy for cinema-goers to get an across-the-board view of how a film has been critically received, and even with the critical smashes, you'll still find the one heartless curmudgeon that will spitefully ensure that a film like Toy Story 3 will remain at 99%.
The varying opinion in film criticism is inherent and positive. It goes without saying that not everyone can agree on everything, a fact that we use to our advantage on our radio show, but amongst the film writers that I know and see on a day-to-day basis, there is one thing that we all tend to agree on: 3D. We've had a few years to mull over the rise of the new medium since James Cameron's Avatar became the fanfare for 3D's latest incarnation, RealD. Although 3D has been around for decades and Avatar was not the first of the digital 3D movies to be released, it was the one that we were being told for years would "change the landscape of modern cinema". So Cameron's movie went on to become the highest grossing film of all time, and the major studios were over the moon.
Over the last year or so, I have seen around 30 films in 3D, and I am yet to meet a critic who doesn't emit an audible sigh when collecting their sterilized pack of flimsy 3D glasses before every press screening. The most positive testimonies from members of the press are down to the fact that you no longer have to sit in a huge queue to reclaim your mobile phone, due to the fact that pirated unrectified images are of little use to even the most persistent of basement-dwellers.
Critics might hate 3D, but studios love it; it's just what they needed when profits were dropping at an alarming rate. It allows them to push up the price of tickets, gives them a new angle to market new releases and puts a stop to "cam" copies (footage of a movie recorded from inside a cinema, usually with the silhouetted head of the person in front obstructing most of the screen) ending up on the internet. Last year's box office takings were up despite the number of people going to the cinema falling. However, statistics for this years blockbusters show that in some cases, such as the latest in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and Kung Fu Panda 2, when people were given the option of seeing the film in 2 or 3 dimensions, the public went for the 2D option almost 70% of the time.
It is also important to note that the last time Hollywood tried to convince the world that the future was in 3D was during the 1950s when many predicted the death of cinema due to the meteoric rise of the home television set. The industry survived, but now the threat is from Internet, and the studios are resorting to the same trick. So the accountants love it, the critics hate it and the audiences seem to be getting wise to it, but what about the people who actually produce the films? They seem to be the most partisan of the lot, so here are some arguments for and against the phenomenon of 3D in quotes from the film community.
Ridley Scott - Director: Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator:
" I'll never work without 3D again, even for small dialogue scenes. I love the process."
Sir David Attenborough - Broadcaster and national treasure:
(On Flying Monsters 3D) " When we first thought of making a film about pterosaurs in 3 dimensions, I thought it would be good but I couldn't have imagined it would be this good!"
Chris Hewett - Film Critic: Empire magazine:
"In 2D, Avatar warrants four stars. However, if you can wrap a pair of 3D glasses round your peepers, this becomes a transcendent, full-on five-star experience that's the closest we'll ever come to setting foot on a strange new world
Ian McKellan - Oscar-nominated actor: Lord of the Rings, Gods and Monsters, The Hobbit
(on Peter Jackson shooting The Hobbit)"His screen showed the familiar 2D image but next to it was a large colour screen in full magical three dimensions courtesy of the spy-glasses that transform the blurred outlines onscreen to the high definition exactitude of the 3D effect."
Christopher Nolan - Director: Inception, The Dark Knight, Memento
"I find the dimness of 3D extremely alienating."
Walter Murch - 3xOscar-winning editor & sound designer: The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, The English Patient
"3D is dark, small, strobey, headache-inducing, alienating and expensive. The question is, how long will it take people to realize and get fed up?"
Nigel Floyd - Film Critic: Time Out, BBC Radio 5 live:
"The problem with 3D is that, if the film isn't constantly poking or throwing stuff out of the screen at me, I just forget that it's in 3D."
Ralph Fiennes - 2xOscar-nominated actor: Schindler's List, Harry Potter, The Constant Gardener:
"I've got no time for it, it's a gimmick."
Roger Deakins - 9xOscar-nominated cinematographer: The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, True Grit:
"You don't need 3D. It's more like an amusement park ride than a story. I like watching films like paintings; I don't want to be inside them, I want to look at them."
On the fence
Stephen Spielberg - 3xOscar-winning Director: Jaws, E.T, Saving Private Ryan:
"Not every movie, in my opinion, should be in 3D. There's a lot of stories I wouldn't shoot in 3D."