Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Does 3D add to the movie experience?

Current opinion: 3D doesn't add much to my movie watching experience

I am a fairly frequent movie watcher; both at home and at the theatre. My tastes run the gamut of drama, romantic comedy, adventure, science fiction, documentary, biography, thrillers, animation, and more. My movie-watching experience has improved over the years with higher quality video and audio. Eventually I expect to be watching movies as holograms where the actors and the action are 'in the room' where I can experience the scene by walking in and around the actors and the action.

In the meantime, we are now getting movies in 3D. And I, for one, am underwhelmed.

Like many millions of people, I saw Avatar in 3D. The second time I saw it was in standard format. Did I experience a difference? Not enough to make me recommend the 3D version to any one. I enjoyed the movie just as much while watching the standard version.

So would watching a 3D movie ever 'do it' for me? My 3D experience is limited. Only half of the 3D movies I have seen have been in the theatre. And that seems to be the difference so far.

In the theatre:
  • Monsters vs Aliens
  • Avatar
  • Up

None of these movies benefited from 3D (with one brief exception). They were simply the same movie, with a little more visual depth; but not enough to make a difference. The exception was at the very beginning of Monsters vs Aliens. The opening space shot had everyone (everyone!) in the theatre oohing and aahing. The rest of the film had a few '3D coming-at-you shots' but not enough to keep me from thinking that I would have enjoyed the movie about as well in 2D.

At DisneyWorld in Florida:
  • Honey I Shrunk the Audience
  • Muppet-vision 3D
  • Captain Eo
These movies were made for 3D and really add to the experience. You get a better feel for 'being there'. The is also the fact that the audience experiences physical changes (theatre shaking, spritzes of water to simulate a dog sneezing on you, etc). So it's not truly just the 3D that is different.

At California Academy of Sciences:
  • Bugs!
It was very cool to see bugs, up close and personal, via 3D which added to the experience. I probably would have enjoyed the 2D version (I haven't seen it), but seeing the bugs in 3D gave a more 'immediate' experience. I felt like I could reach out and actually touch them.

So, based on this small sample size, it looks like short-subject experiences trump feature-length films.  Unless I hear an overriding reason to see a specific film in the theatre, I don't plan on seeing any other films in 3D.

But what about sports? Could watching Futbol or Basketball in 3D make you feel like you are sitting right in the stadium? I'll reserve judgement on that. I might not get to watch the 2010 World Cup in 3D (, but maybe I will get to watch some game in the near future and decide if I want to purchase a 3D monitor.

Wikipedia has a long article on 3D Film, the techniques and history, as well as a short paragraph labled 'Criticism' which succintly describes 2D versus 3D.

"Most of the cues required to provide humans with relative depth information are already present in traditional 2D films. For example, closer objects occlude further ones, distant objects are desaturated and hazy relative to near ones, and the brain subconsciously "knows" the distance of many objects when the height is known (e.g. a human figure subtending only a small amount of the screen is more likely to be 2 m tall and far away than 10 cm tall and close)."

There are plenty of people, on both sides of the issue, talking about 3D. Here are a few of them...

And a nice round-up of Pro/Con directors...
Either way, it won't stop studios from making 3D movies 'while the griddle is hot'...
Or even magazines...
Check out the 3D offerings for 2010...

New opinion: (unchanged) 3D doesn't add enough to my movie watching experience

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