Friday, 4 February 2011

The problem with 3d films

It's been a week since I went to see Disney's 50th animated feature Tangled. However, I won't spend this post discussing it (it's a girl's film that seems desperate to make it on to the stage...). This post is about 3d. A media that privileges melons being thrown at the camera rather than any form of character development or inspiring narratives.

True, Tangled did encourage me to get a haircut but, to be fair, I was going to get one anyway - and it had very little to do with the main character's golden locks hitting me in the face every time she twirled around.

But back to 3d. My one and only question - what's the point? What does 3d actually add to the cinema experience. Ignoring the fact that that is two questions I think it adds very little to the cinema experience except to the price. A visit to my local underused, underloved and, at best, rotting Odeon at 2.30pm in the afternoon resulted in me paying £8.60 for a ticket plus £1.00 for the glasses! That's a tenner to go to the cinema in the afternoon - no sweets, drinks, nowt! Of course, you can reuse the glasses next time you go but, at £8.60 a ticket for a matinee performance, I don't think I'll be returning too often.

So other than receiving a fleecing, rarely experienced outside of the west end of London, what do I, the regular cinema goer, get from a 3d film? Very little as far as I can tell. Toy Story 3 - one of my films last year - was not improved in any way by having a toy thrown at the screen every twenty minutes or so (punctuated in this way to remind you it's in 3d). The brilliant story was no better, the characters no more round or developed and, more tellingly, the film loses nothing when shown on one of those old fashioned, rusty and redundant plasma tellys bought way back in 2009...

So who wins with 3d?

I don't think it's the viewer. I continue to find 3d little more than a gimmick, a parlour trick that amuses and pleases a couple of times before the novelty wears off. By and large the majority of 3d tricky does little more than separate the foreground from the background - in much the same way pop up books do. Way to go cutting edge Hollywood.

The filmmaker? Except for James Cameron no one director has made a success out of 3d - and Cameron has only done it once (the success I am talking about here is the box office take - not critical reception). To say James Cameron is a successful 3d filmmaker would be like saying Joe Dolce is a successful recording artist. One hit is a curious wonder not a revolution.

The industry, ah now it becomes interesting. Firstly, you cannot copy/bootleg a 3d film. This makes it very attractive to the studio as films are being 'cammed' and uploaded to the internet on their day of release - the studio believes this hits box office and in turn jeopardises future film production. I don't buy this, there are only two people I hear talking about bootlegging films off the net.

The first is the ardent film fan who really wants to see the new release by a certain filmmaker or actor and is forced to go online to see it because their local cinema is only playing the latest 3d films or something with Seth Rogan in it. These are the same film lovers who will travel 50, 60 miles to watch films - who own the DVDs and blu rays - the very people the industry should be cherishing not threatening with law suits.

The second group are the people who never ever go to the cinema! The people who may go and see the latest Bond film very couple of years but little else. This is hardly taking away from box office receipts if these people never contributed in the first place!

The other important factor to bear in mind about 3d and digital films in general is that they are much cheaper to transport to the cinemas than conventional prints. The cost of shipping 35mm prints around America is between 2 and 3billion dollars every year. This will be cut considerably by the mass uptake of digital projection where shipping hard drives will be a couple of quid rather than the thirty-plus currently charged.

This is before you consider the actual cost of making (striking) the prints. The average price of a conventional 35mm print is about £1000. A digital hard drive version of the same film will cost about £100 and this is before the films are beamed down via satellite like the the one off screenings of opera and gigs that are currently burning up the local multiplex. The other advantage to the film companies of a digital print is that they never wear out - the 100th screening is as bright and clear as the first - something you cannot say about an old print that is scratchy and becomes unwatchable at the reel changes.

So prints are cheaper to make and distribute than ever before and yet I am still charged considerably more to watch a 3d (and by default a digital) film.

This isn't the feel good Hollywood happy ending I paid (over the odds) for.