23 March 2009

Theory: On 3-D

So, I'm not sure about whether or not I've mentioned this fact here before, but I am as a cinephile of a degree keenly interested in the discourse surrounding and, of course, the practice of using 3-D technology in filmmaking - and I have been so for quite some time now, ever since I first saw Alfred Hitchcock's beautiful Dial M for Murder (1954) several years ago and learned thereafter that the film was originally shot in part in 3-D, a technology whose potential the great director Hitchcock saw and effectively used to abolish that fourth wall (i. e., the silver screen) dividing the world of the audience from the world of the characters in the film. That is, in Dial M, Hitchcock took perhaps the most poignant moment in the film (i. e., the attempted-murder scene) and his direction for it, especially to leading actress Grace Kelly (whom he instructed to reach out towards the camera as if in pleading desperation upon being strangled), to effectuate an integration of the audience in the moment and the emotions - in short, in the context - of the stirring events of the film itself. By being so beseeched by the leading actress and murderer's victim, the audience then becomes not only a witness to such nefarious events, but also a participant in them, a bystander yes but an accomplice too, a party conscious of the things that are happening, sought after for their resolution, but all the while resolutely unable to intervene. Being so made cohorts with the deed, the audience finds itself in a position uncommon to the tropes of filmmaking from years before 1954 and, indeed, for many years after it, a position that throughout such times could almost exclusively, only be realized in the similarly constructed world of live theater (in which, it is true, the actors may by virtue of their immediate presences play their characters toward members of the spectating audience and simultaneously those spectating members may feel themselves participants, albeit powerless, in the drama they're watching unfold). Though this claim is of course not to say that there have been no other incidences of intelligent and thought-provocative use of 3-D in film than Hitchcock's use of it in 1954, it is to say that, though there have been nary a few, there have been some, a contestation which the filmmakers and filmreporters working in Hollywood today of late seem by their statements somewhat loathe to acknowledge as they stand in the midst of a industry-consuming climate bandying about 3-d as if it had just been invented - well, they being at least the filmmakers of the animated genre and the filmreporters of the Time, Inc. family, for in their latest respective releases they cooperatively rally for cultural excitement over a resurrection of technology long overdue for that technology's unique aforementioned merits but speciously now effectuated (at best) as a largely transparent attempt on behalf of the industry to keep audiences going to the theaters during a climate predisposed by the internet, HD TVs, other On Demand services, and - last but certainly not least - a profound financial struggle to staying within the comforts of one's own home for 2-D entertainment.

"The world is melting down around us - we're not immune to it," [Jeffrey] Katzenberg[, a studio executive for Dream Works Pictures,] says. [.... Adds] Chuck Viane, president of distribution at Disney - which, like Dream Works, is now making all of its animated movies in 3-D[ -] "You want to be able to hold over what's good and properly seat what's new." [....] "In order to bring people back to the movie theaters, we've got to do something exceptional - we have to raise the bar," Katzenberg says of the strategy behind the 3-D surge, "I really believe this could turn the tide Hollywood's way." [....] "Cinema reaches its visual peak 50 years ago," says [Jon] Landau[, James Cameron's longtime producing partner]. "Nothing has improved since then. But we have a responsibility to continue to provide the communal cinema-going experience." In other words, give it a whole new dimension. (Sperling, "3-D Movie Preview" as printed in Entertainment Weekly, #1040 - March 27, 2009)
And why exactly do we want to turn the tide to this Hollywood's way, this Hollywood that has admittedly been keeping the amazing potential of 3-D technology in their financially tight back-pockets for the past fifty years, only to now resurrect it when the cost of enacting it no longer outweighs the (likely) cost of not enacting it? What do we think of keeping financial strictures on technological advancements in general, simply because the leading institutions in the industries in question would take a slight fiscal hit to make such advancements possible? Well, whatever we think, it seems, we don't have much pull here anyway and, furthermore, it would be as silly as Peter's dismissal of a TV executive's acquiescence to produce Peter's animated show in the manner that Peter himself likes on last night's episode of Family Guy to turn the fruits of 3-D down now, when they've finally been given the all-mighty green light. Still, perhaps such facts are worth noting, if only to keep in our own back-pockets, especially if the 3-D chute should begin popping out flicks as puerile and banal as the 2-D ones that preceded them and it should turn out that all 3-D was ever meant to be is another gimmick to sell-sell-sell in the long line of poor excuses to do so that have preceded it - consult your B-horror-movie archives, guys; it's already been done. Learn from your industry's foibles and mistakes; absorb your past and make it worth our present; or, I promise you, the quick pop of more widely spread 3-D imagery in film will be less constant than my (tangible!) bubblegum's.
Stay tuned here; reviews of 3-D films, like Focus Feature's much so far praised Coraline are to come.

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