No film-making tool has attracted the same level of disdain as 3D has over the last few years. Now into its third wave (fourth if you add the brief dalliance in the 20s to the more famous periods of the 50s and 80s), 3D is inspiring film fans and critics to unite in their condemnation. Indeed, so bad has the backlash become that studios have begun to take notice, and many are now starting to avoid using the dreaded words 'in 3D' in their marketing campaigns in a bid to quiet the chorus of groans that emerge whenever those two small words are spotted.
The form's bad rep is hardly surprising and in many ways self-inflicted. Murky post-conversion and dubious price-hikes have bred a distrust among movie fans that hasn't been helped by low quality schlock like Piranha 3DD and notable flops like John Carter. This distrust has told at the box office and as The Guardian notes the medium's share of total ticket sales fell from 24% to 20% in 2011, despite a record 47 3D films hitting UK screens last year. "The reality has set in and the momentum has gone," Alice Enders, who compiled the stats, told the paper. "The recession is a factor and families are pushing back against 3D."
Will fortunes improve in 2012? Certainly the staggering performance of The Avengers will help, but Joss Whedon's superhero epic seems to have succeeded despite 3D, with many fans taking to Twitter to complain of the flat and dark stereoscopic presentation.
Meanwhile, of the films still to come, even heavy-hitters like Ridley Scott and Baz Lurhmann are being greeted with suspicion. Again Twitter has been the platform of choice for dissenters and many have said that they will see Scott's Prometheus in 2D, while others have criticised Lurhmann for his surprising use of 3D in the forthcoming adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
While I too have doubts about 3D, I'm rather disappointed by how closed-minded the reaction to the technology and Scott and Lurhmann's use of it has been. Both have shot their films using 3D cameras, so there'll be no dingy post-conversion, and as two of cinema's great visualists, surely it's worth at least seeing what they can do with 3D before condemning them. In fact, if we are to truly assess the successes or failures of their respective movies, surely seeing them in the form they were intended is not just beneficial, but vital.
Scott and Lurhmann are by no means the only respected film-makers taking to 3D. Last year, Steven Spielberg (The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn), Wim Wenders (Pina) and Werner Herzog (Cave of Forgotten Dreams) tried the technology, while Ang Lee (The Life of Pi) and Jean-Luc Godard (Adieu au Langage) will follow in coming months. Even David Lynch, that most independent of independent directors, has called 3D "cosmic" in its possibilities.
Those possibilities were certainly realised by Martin Scorsese's Hugo. Released at Christmas, the film was a triumph for the medium as the director used 3D not merely to add spectacle (though those dreamy Parisian skyscapes were a sight to behold in three dimensions) but to enhance his themes. By gaining a greater control over each element in the frame, Scorsese visually, as well as emotionally, alienated his hero, making him seen hopelessly lost against his vast 3D surroundings. What suggests that Scott and Lurhmann won't do the same? What suggests that 3D won't be used similarly well further into the future?
The answer is nothing but our own prejudice - and that's something we need to put an end to. As with all films, 3D movies should not be judged on the basis of the medium's reputation or a few fleeting minutes glimpsed in a hyperbolic trailer, but the finished product. Prometheus may still be rubbish and The Great Gatsby may well have us scratching our heads, but the growing contingent of respected directors using 3D suggests that the medium is here to stay. So maybe it's time to stop the grumbling, put those specs on and see what some of cinema's leading lights do with a technology that still has such potential. If nothing else, it'll be a fun ride.
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