Jeffrey Katzenberg defends 3-D

DreamWorks honcho responds to criticism

The advent of Digital 3-D has triggered spirited debates in the movie industry. To some advocates, like Jeffrey Katzenberg, the boss of DreamWorks Animation, the new technology will expand the audience and provide an important new economic impetus to the industry. Skeptics feel these projections are over-optimistic and that important obstacles stand in the way.

These negative theories were embraced in a column by Patrick Goldstein that appeared Sept. 16 in the Los Angeles Times. Katzenberg says he asked the Times to publish his reply in full, but that they refused. Because of the importance of this issue, Variety offered to run Katzenberg’s response.

Patrick Goldstein accuses me of being a modern-day Professor Harold Hill, as I trumpet the value of bringing 3-D to the multiplexes of the River Cities of the world. Unfortunately, I believe Mr. Goldstein gives me too much credit — I’m afraid I lack Robert Preston’s charisma, and I certainly don’t have his hair. Nevertheless, I am willing to accept my inner Harold Hill on one condition: that Patrick Goldstein accept his inner Ned Ludd.

For those of you not familiar with Ned, he was the individual after whom the Luddite movement was named in the 19th century. Back then, the Luddites opposed industrialization and the term has come to describe anyone who resists technological change.

Of course, Mr. Goldstein insists he’s “always in favor of embracing new technology.” But he then goes on to proclaim that the arrival of color film represented “a disaster for quality cinema.” Ned would be proud.

Now, Goldstein is condemning 3-D. Of course, he is entitled to his opinions and, to be sure, anytime something transformational comes along, there has always been and should always be a debate about its real value. And Goldstein is right when he says that, as with the transition to color, something may be lost. I just believe that much more will be gained.

My problem isn’t so much with Goldstein’s opinion as with the basis of his opinion.

To put it mildly, this is not the first time I’ve been criticized, and I’m always interested in hearing differing perspectives. But, in this case, it is hard to give Goldstein’s point of view much credence since he is passing judgment on something he’s never even seen.

You see, as the Harold Hill of 3-D, I have been banging the drum about DreamWorks’ entry into this medium and have eagerly welcomed everyone and anyone who’s interested to come over and check out what we’re doing. Curiously, my phone has yet to ring with a call from Patrick Goldstein. He is willing to indict our work (as well as, implicitly, the upcoming 3-D work of such filmmakers as James Cameron, Bob Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson), but he hasn’t bothered to come see it.

Instead, he seems to be basing his views entirely on his odd historical assertion that the arrival of color was “a step backward.” Let me make clear that I am also a big fan of the black-and-white classics that Goldstein mentions and could happily expand on his list. But his thesis that color was the enemy of cinema art is patently absurd. From “The Wizard of Oz” to “Pinocchio” to “Singin’ in the Rain” to “Rear Window” to “The Searchers” to “Black Orpheus” to “Lawrence of Arabia” to Orson Welles’ “The Immortal Ones,” the range of brilliant color films is enormous and, let’s face it, pretty self-evident.

The transition from black-and-white to color did not occur, as Goldstein implies, because of some studio conspiracy. It happened because, quite simply, human beings see in color. This is pretty basic stuff. I mean, would anyone want to see a stage play in black-and-white? By and large, resistance to color filmmaking wasn’t artistic but economic since, for years, the cost of the three-strip Technicolor process was prohibitively high.

Now, digital 3-D has arrived and, I believe, will eventually become the standard because, quite simply, human beings see in 3-D. Again, this is pretty basic stuff. And it’s also pretty breathtaking stuff. Unlike Harold Hill’s imaginary band, digital 3-D is very real, enriching the filmgoing experience in truly phenomenal ways. It provides filmmakers with an entirely new visual vocabulary and it provides filmgoers the chance to finally cross the threshold of the screen and enter other worlds. This is why many of the industry’s greatest directors are currently working on 3-D projects.

Initially, as with color, the economic bar for 3-D is high, so for the foreseeable future many films will continue to be produced in 2-D. But, eventually, I believe that all films will be shot in this remarkable medium.

This is how it is with technology. It moves forward. This is a constant. It is also a constant that there will be those who resist, stubbornly believing old is good and new is bad.

This perverse nostalgia is rather unproductive. Making value judgments about black-and-white vs. color is about as worthwhile an exercise as comparing the Model T to a Prius. They are both outstanding accomplishments.

As we face the future of film, the goal should not be to make derisive comparisons, but to celebrate the ongoing evolution of this art form. The extraordinary thing about movies has always been that the best of them — whether silent, black-and-white, color, 3-D or whatever may be still over the horizon — connect so strongly with so many of us. … Even, were he to return one day, Ned Ludd.