Two is greater than three

(Originally published in The California Aggie)

Every time a movie trailer or poster screams, “In eye-popping 3D!” I die a little inside.

I thought I was the only one. But now, at long last, it seems I’m no longer alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I was spellbound by Avatar when I saw it in IMAX 3-D. It was the most wondrous and totally absorbing moviegoing experience I’d ever had.

But not every 3-D movie is Avatar. Critics and audiences are typically only mildly impressed by most 3-D offerings, and the ridiculously excessive fees tacked onto ticket prices make the studios’ salivating over increased box office grosses that much more off-putting.

In an open letter to film critic Roger Ebert, Oscar-award-winning film editor and sound designer Walter Murch explains that 3-D simply doesn’t have a future in cinema. Thanks to basic biology, we can kiss our hopes of one day viewing the most perfect 3-D image goodbye.

“3-D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another,” Murch writes. “600 million years of evolution has never presented us this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focused and converged at the same point.”

Murch offers an example. Imagine focusing on an object in front of you, like a saltshaker. Your eyes will focus on the saltshaker but everything else in your field of vision will be blurry. If you look at what’s around the saltshaker, the saltshaker will become blurry.

3-D, however, forces you to switch rapidly – too rapidly –between the two planes of focus, and our eyes are simply not built to do this for long periods of time. That’s why many viewers get headaches while watching 3-D movies.

So if you’ve sat through bad 3-D (ahem – Clash of the Titans) under the impression that one day you’ll be rewarded with truly impeccable 3-D, think again – only true holographic images will ever come close to fixing these problems, according to Murch.

Still, there’s that pesky Avatar to contend with. It’s hard to argue with a worldwide gross of $2.8 billion and three Oscars; clearly, headaches didn’t deter the millions of people who saw the film. Yet one year and dozens of 3-D movies later, it’s still the only one that lives up to the hype.

Quite frankly, every 3-D movie that is not as good as, or better than, Avatar is a waste of time and money. If we’re going to put our eyes through hell for two hours, we need to at least send the message to Hollywood that the movie better be damn good. Even James Cameron, the king of 3-D, cautioned studios against choosing quantity over quality when it comes to releasing 3-D movies, in an interview in USA Today.

“If people put bad 3-D in the marketplace they’re going to hold back or even threaten the emerging of 3-D. People will be confused by differences in quality,” he said.

At least some filmmakers seem to be listening. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One was set to be released in 3-D, but the 3-D was called off when it didn’t meet producers’ and the director’s standards.

Thank God. Watching Dobby die in 2-D was hard enough.

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