roger ebert

Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic Roger Ebert has been extremely vocal of his dislike of 3D movies. This time he’s even venturing outside his home at the Chicago Sun-Times to write an op-ed piece for Newsweek titled “Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too)”.

Here is an excerpt of the first paragraph:

3-D is a waste of a perfectly good dimension. Hollywood’s current crazy stampede toward it is suicidal. It adds nothing essential to the moviegoing experience. For some, it is an annoying distraction. For others, it creates nausea and headaches. It is driven largely to sell expensive projection equipment and add a $5 to $7.50 surcharge on already expensive movie tickets. Its image is noticeably darker than standard 2-D. It is unsuitable for grown-up films of any seriousness. It limits the freedom of directors to make films as they choose. For moviegoers in the PG-13 and R ranges, it only rarely provides an experience worth paying a premium for.

You can read the rest of the article on Newsweek.com.

While I have much respect for Ebert, and do agree with many of his points, I certainly don’t agree with his conclusion. Reading the comments on /Film, I know I’m probably in the minority (but I think time will tell on this one).

Most of Ebert’s complaints have to do with the current state of the technology, and  how 3D does not benefit the medium of visual storytelling. I think everyone in the tech business agrees that 3D is heading in a glassless/headache-less direction, and will eventually land on a solution which will be no dimmer than the average 35mm presentation.

Ebert argument that serious films can’t benefit from the added dimension is unfounded. He even admits that some of the filmmakers he loves and admires are starting to use the technology:

I once said I might become reconciled to 3-D if a director like Martin Scorsese ever used the format. I thought I was safe. Then Scorsese announced that his 2011 film The Invention of Hugo Cabret, about an orphan and a robot, will be in 3-D. Well, Scorsese knows film, and he has a voluptuous love of its possibilities. I expect he will adapt 3-D to his needs. And my hero, Werner Herzog, is using 3-D to film prehistoric cave paintings in France, to better show off the concavities of the ancient caves. He told me that nothing will “approach” the audience, and his film will stay behind the plane of the screen. In other words, nothing will hurtle at the audience, and 3-D will allow us the illusion of being able to occupy the space with the paintings and look into them, experiencing them as a prehistoric artist standing in the cavern might have.

I think that the best 3D films have been the ones that don’t draw attention to objects flying from the screen, and instead offer a window into a world. I agree with Ebert that filmmakers should not be forced to convert their old films if they don’t want to, and shouldn’t be forced to use the technology if they don’t see fit. But I do see the value of a gimmicky 3D movie every once in a while, and I do think that the Avatar transported me to another world in a way no other film has ever done it. And without 3D, I don’t believe it would have been possible.

The sequence from How To Train Your Dragon, where we get to fly over the water and up above the clouds on top of a dragon, could be labeled as gimmicky, but I would argue differently. Just because it is an experience doesn’t mean it should be relegated to a theme park. I go to the movies to be transported into other worlds, other lives, and experience stories I haven’t yet or never could/will myself. I hope that every movie, 2D or 3D, will provide a visceral experience that comes close to that dragon ride.

Many people used the quip that “They said the same thing about sound and color.” And while I think 3D is a huge innovation for cinema, I don’t think that is an apt comparison. A much better comparison would be surround sound. We hear things from all around us (I suppose you could say “in 3D”), yet when surround sound was introduced some people argued that it wasn’t necessary for all films.

Similarly, Ebert argues that Up in the Air would not be any better in 3D. Up in the Air is, however, shown theatrically and on Blu-ray/DVD in 5.1 surround sound. Is the surround sound necessary? Maybe not. Is it a closer representation of reality? Yes. In effect, does it further immerse us in the story? Certainly more than mono/stereo sound. While I’m not sure every movie needs to be 3D, I think it will become a standard. Just as surround sound has also become a standard. We don’t even think about it anymore. Every movie has a surround sound track.

Next month can we expect an op-ed column from Ebert in the New York Times explaining why Video Games can never be art? Agree or disagree with his opinion, It would be great to see him explain point by point why he believes that to be the case.

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