Spat puts digital revival in the spotlight

Note to James Cameron and Mark Canton: Can’t we all just get along?

This week Hollywood has been treated to the spectacle of “Avatar” auteur Cameron and “Piranha 3Dproducer Canton in a public spat over 3D.

In case you missed it, Cameron, in an interview with Vanity Fair to promote the re-release of “Avatar,” took a swipe at “Piranha 3D,” calling it “exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3-D horror films from the 70s and 80s.”

Canton responded with a rambling, emotional defense of his movie, calling Cameron’s comments “ridiculous, self-serving and insulting” and snarking about Cameron’s ego, “Avatar’s” 3D and its storytelling.

To be sure, “Piranha 3D” and its ilk present a conundrum for 3D proponents. Many behind the digital revival of 3D have long been concerned that low-quality 3D horror movies would taint all stereoscopic filmmaking. It’s as if 3D filmmakers see themselves as an oppressed minority group, attacking anyone who resembles the stereotype because people will think “They’re all like that.”

3D and horror have had a long marriage, but as in many couplings, money — in this case, the 3D upcharge — changes everything. 3D production is expensive, but the premium on 3D tix justifies the cost. If 3D stops commanding a premium, producers may decide 3D isn’t worth it — unless and until 3D TV really catches on and forces more movies to adopt that format.

But isn’t there room for both subtle, arty 3D and gleefully tacky 3D? After all, movies comprise everything from Michael Bay to Lars von Trier to John Waters. Why not both “Avatar” and “Piranha?”

Jack Murray, who produced “My Bloody Valentine 3D,” says “I get what Jim Cameron is saying. We’re charging people more money, so we want to provide them the best experience possible. But I don’t think a well-made genre film hurts the experience.”

Murray would prefer 3D be just a lure to keep audiences in theaters, not an excuse to raise prices. “(The upcharge) is putting more pressure on 3D than maybe it should have to bear.”

Certainly there’s a history of exploitation of any major innovation in moviemaking. Lenny Lipton, who is credited as “Piranha 3D’s” stereoscopic consultant, observes “The same thing happened when digital effects started. There were a bunch of effects movies that were really crappy.”

Before his involvement with “Piranha 3D,” Lipton and his companies invented much of the tech behind the digital 3D revival. He is recognized as an expert on 3D cinema.

He hasn’t seen “Piranha 3D” yet so couldn’t comment on how it looks. But Lipton has plenty of opinions on the production of “Piranha 3D” and the state of 3D in general.

Helmer Alex Aja wanted to shoot “Piranha” on film, in anamorphic widescreen, so stereo conversion was the only option. Lipton arranged tests during pre-production and recommended several conversion vendors, favoring Sony ImageWorks and In-Three.

Did Dimension follow his advice? “No, not at all,” he says. “They were more concerned about money than getting a quality image on the screen.”

“Absolutely beautiful images can be made (with 3D),” says Lipton, “but you have to take it seriously that you have to spend some money on it. It isn’t free.”

The most expensive 3D movie, by all accounts, is “Avatar,” and indeed most 3D experts hailed its technical precision, while noting it was surprisingly mild. Yet Canton jabbed at that pic’s 3D, calling it “inconsistent,” and adding “sometimes I thought it overwhelmed the storytelling.”

Is Canton just being cranky or contrarian? Maybe, but maybe not. The 3D experience varies from person to person and from theater to theater, which is another quality issue facing 3D filmmakers.

“I’ve seen ‘Avatar’ four times,” says Lipton, “with four different projection systems, and it’s looked different every time.”

Bits & Bytes

Maxon’s Cinema 4D Release 12 software is now available … 3ality Digital has introduced the lightweight TS-5 beamspliter 3D camera, designed for tight spaces and wireless operation. … Reliance MediaWorks, the former Lowry Digital, has added on-set consulting to its 3D services offerings, which also include alignment adjustment, image and detail enhancement, and grain and noise management. … LipSync Post in London will provide full post services for John Stockwell’s shark thriller “Dark Tide.” … Digital Jungle Post has lanunced a dedicated musicvideo division. … DLP Cinema is shipping Enhanced 4K chips to licensees Barco, Christie Digital and NEC. DLP Cinema expects 4K projectors to be installed in Q1 of next year. … Invision Inc. has tapped former AOL vice president Kami Ragsdale as chief financial officer. Invision provides ad planning and sales solutions for media companies.

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