3D cinema is by no means a new phenomenon. It first found fame in the 1950s when pioneering films such as House of Wax used the illusion of depth perception to astound cinemagoers. As 3D experienced a new lease of life in the 1980s, audiences watched in horror as Jaws 3-D hit cinema screens. However these projects had limited success but the recent revival could change that. So what’s all the fuss about?
The 3D technology of today is slightly different to that of the past. Whilst the essential idea, making the picture ‘jump out’ of the screen, remains the same, the techniques are more sophisticated. Audiences 30 years ago would have watched two images coming from two separate projectors (one for each eye). There are several competing projection methods; some rapidly alternate between the two images, whilst others still use a dual-projection system to put both images on the screen at the same time. Either way, the end result is the same; each eye receives an image at a slightly different angle to the other. The glasses act as a filter, allowing each eye to see only one of these images, leaving the brain to do the rest. Yes the ticket prices are substantially higher than for 2D features and the glasses (no matter what they try to tell you) don’t make you look cool, but the experience is out of this world.
Although the experience of watching 3D in IMAX is undeniably powerful it can be a bit of an optical assault. I found that the opening 20 minute sequence of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in 3D was quite enough for me on an IMAX screen (which is just as well because that’s all there was!). However the producers definitely selected the most appropriate scenes to present in 3D; whirling through the streets of London following the death eaters’ destruction of Diagon Alley and the Millennium Bridge was nothing if not impressive.
Of course the biggest buzz of 2009, 3D or otherwise, was for Avatar; 14 years in the making and costing over $200 million to create – only one word can describe Avatar and that word is ‘epic.’ It is easy to immerse yourself in the world of Pandora when it is so perfectly captured for us onscreen. The use of 3D is at times subtle and at others mind-blowing; it can touch us or it can have us clinging to our seats. Avatar was much more than just a gimmick. To those who have claimed that in creating a technical masterpiece Cameron has neglected his craft, I can only say that I disagree emphatically. Whilst Avatar is undoubtedly more impressive in 3D it is truly great entertainment however many dimensions you watch it in.
2010 is set to be a huge year for 3D cinema with Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3. With each passing year the output of 3D films becomes greater and greater. In as little as a decade 3D films could become the standard format. I have mixed feeling about this prospect; granted, there are many films which look amazing in 3D , such as thrillers, but it is unlikely that the average rom-com would greatly benefit from the technology. There is a danger that film makers will rely on the novelty of 3D to the detriment of quality. Whilst new technology can improve our cinematic experiences it can’t, and shouldn’t, be used as the basis for a film. But, if Avatar is anything to go by then we have no need to worry. 3D is back and looks bigger, brighter and better than ever.