Format is here to stay so embrace it

They say 3D causes headaches. Well, I’ve got a big one — not from watching 3D, but from listening to people talk about it.

I hear some bits of conventional wisdom again and again, even though they’re unsupportable with facts. I think people repeat them hoping to look thoughtful, reasonable and smart. Instead they end up making themselves look uninformed.

So here are two cliches to avoid if you want to really sound smart about 3D:

  • “History says 3D is a fad. It’ll fade soon when the novelty wears off.” History actually says the opposite.

    First, if this 3D wave were following the pattern of past 3D booms and busts, it should be petering out by now. Instead, it’s still gaining momentum.

    Here’s the real lesson of history: 3D is here to stay. Why? Because the movie business always, without exception, makes sure its visuals are everything television is and then some. And TV is going 3D.

    In the early 1950s, TV showed up offering small, squarish, black-and-white pictures, so movies went widescreen — and tried 3D, which eventually proved too technologically daunting for the time. Black-and-white movies declined as color TV became more common. In 1968, when the networks went all-color, so did movies.

    History says unless home 3D flat-out fails (possible but unlikely), most movies will simply have to be in 3D. If 3D video becomes ubiquitous, virtually all movies will have to be 3D.

    Which brings us to:

  • “Not all movies should be in 3D.” Some people say this because they have an agenda, like Imax Filmed Entertainment chairman-president Greg Foster, who said it last week at the 3D Next confab. Imax once had a near-monopoly on 3D movies, and its execs have argued 3D should remain an exclusive format. They’d benefit disproportionately if Imax were the only place to see 3D, but at least Foster has a logical reason to say it, even if it’s just corporate self-interest.

Mostly, though, this matches Galbraith’s definition of conventional wisdom: an idea esteemed for its acceptability. People use it to distance themselves from 3D crackpots. You know, like Jeffrey Katzenberg and James Cameron.

To all those who say this, I ask: If not all movies should be in 3D, then what movies, exactly, should not be in 3D?

The fashionable answer seems to be “intimate dramas.” Alongside Foster at 3D Next, Focus Features VP Ben Urquhart casually said he didn’t think “Lost in Translation” would benefit from 3D. But as one 3D pro later said to me: “A movie about two people trapped in a confined space who then go out into a wider world? Of course it would benefit from 3D.”

What actual evidence is there 3D is bad for dramas? I’ve seen ’50s-era 3D dramas “Dial M for Murder” and “Man in the Dark” projected in two-strip stereo and they certainly weren’t hurt by it. And in all my years of theater-going, seeing everything from “King Lear” to “Fool for Love,” no usher has ever handed me an eye patch. Stage dramas aren’t better when the view looks flatter. On the contrary, in small theaters where dramas often play, the audience is close to the stage, where their natural stereo vision is strongest.

Movies are only “right” or “wrong” for 3D if you think of 3D as an unnecessary add-on. Which it is — just like sound, color and widescreen.

I love B&W silents like “The General,” but I’m glad “The Wizard of Oz” used Technicolor, “Casablanca” was a talkie and “Lawrence of Arabia” was in widescreen — and that I saw “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Avatar” in 3D.

Okay, I feel better now. Thanks for letting me vent.

What’s that? You don’t want to make your movies in 3D?

Sorry, but that’s your headache.

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Bits & Bytes: The Motion Picture Academy is in the midst of a three-part series of educational events on 3D. Tuesday, June 29, a panel explains Photographed 3D (live action and stop-motion) at the Acad’s Linwood Dunn theater in Hollywood. July 6 at the Goldwyn Theater the Acad screens “U2 3D” with a discussion to follow … The Hollywood Post Alliance has extended its submission deadline for the Engineering Excellence Award to July 19 … SMPTE’s conference on 3D Acquisition, Conversion, Transmission and Display is coming up July 13-14 at the Marriott Marquis in Gotham. It’s SMPTE’s first gathering of its kind. But 3D buffs will have to choose between that and the National Stereoscopic Assn.’s 36th annual convention, in Huron, Ohio, July 14-15. … Christie’s Series 2 digital cinema projectors have passed all tests to be certified fully DCI-compliant. CineCert is the DCI’s testing body. Christie also recently surpassed 12,000 installed digital projectors worldwide.

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