Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"3-D, Then and Now"

After fifty years languishing on cinematic junk heap, 3-D movies have returned with a vengeance.

Well why not? They know how to do it, and it’s selling tickets. This year, movie revenues were the highest ever. Not because more people went to the movies. In fact, less people went to the movies. The tally was augmented by jacked-up ticket prices, particularly for 3-D attractions, such as Avatar and Alice In Wonderland.

If they made a movie they could charge a billion dollars a ticket to see, they’d only have to sell four tickets to smash the earlier box office records to smithereens. I think they’re actually working on that.

“We make a movie. Charge a billion dollars a ticket. We’re on ‘Easy Street’.”

“How many tickets are we going to sell at a billion dollars a ticket?”

“We only need four.”

The thing is, I’m of such an advanced age that I witnessed 3-D movies the first time around, back in the fifties. And I’m here to tell you, it’s not the same.

I liked Alice In Wonderland better than I liked Avatar. This preference probably affects my assessment of each movie’s 3-D contribution; I thought Alice In Wonderland’s 3-D was more effective than Avatar’s. The technique seemed a better match for the story.

But that’s not the point. The point is the technology itself. Which is also not the point. The point is selling tickets. And right now, 3-D is rakin’ in the moolah. People seem willing to pay extra to see it. If 3-D’s success continues, pretty soon, it won’t matter what the movie is. We’ll be paying fourteen dollars to watch a guy taking three-dimensional nap.

“He’s rolling over. Ooh, it feels so real!"

To be honest – and I hope it’s not because of my eyes – I really don’t see that much of a difference. Yeah, things float around a little, and everything appears more vivid. Some dust rises off a table and it hovers in the air, and you see the dust. It’s impressive. If you’re a big fan of hovering dust. But it’s hardly breathtaking.

There were moments while watching Avatar when, out of curiosity mixed unequally with boredom, I lifted my 3-D glasses, to see what the movie looked like without them. It looked different. But not that different. I mean, you could still see it.

By contrast, back in the fifties, if you took off up your 3-D glasses, everything looked shadowy and out of focus. I can’t exactly describe it; it was a long time ago and my eye’s mind is losing its memory.

My point is, in the fifties, you could not watch a 3-D movie without the glasses, and today, you can. I mean, you lose some of the depth and the texture. But who goes to the movies for depth and texture?

“How was the movie?”

“Depth and texture were sensational.”

“And the movie?”

“I don’t remember.”

In the fifties, you remembered. Often with re-visiting nightmares.

The fifties was a time when the movie studios were running scared. Television’s popularity was skyrocketing; people could now stay home and be entertained for nothing. (Later, the studios got into the television business themselves, and the threat to their survival was ended. Why they didn’t consider that strategy originally, I have no idea. But there must have been a reason. Studio executives aren’t stupid.)

Back in the fifties, the studios bet on the strategy of offering the audience the type of movie entertainment television couldn’t compete with. Big name stars. Lavish productions. Smell-o-vision.

And 3-D.

I’m not talking about the weak tea that passes for 3-D today. I’m talking about the real 3-D, the 3-D where stuff was continually flying off the screen.

Three Classic Examples:

The House of Wax

My first 3-D experience. The premise? Instead of sculpting wax replicas of people, they murder the actual people and dip them in wax. I don’t know why that was better, but that’s what they did. Then somebody uncovered this grisly enterprise, and all hell broke loose.

In three dimensions.

I remember to this very writing, a guy opening a closet door, and a wax-stiffened corpse falling out

Directly into my lap.

That’s 3-D.


A John Wayne Indian picture. For two hours, I’m dodging arrows and lances headed straight into my unprotected body.

That’s 3-D.

A Movie Whose Name I Can’t Remember

There’s a climactic fight on a rollercoaster, way up high. Some guy, struggling desperately to stay on board, finally loses his grip, plummeting from the rollercoaster,

Directly into my lap.

That’s the 3-D experience I remember. Dodging pointy projectiles, and people, both dead and plummeting, falling

Directly into my lap!

A flying horse? A fluttering, glowing who-knows-what? They’re fine. But I’m not dodging, and nothing’s falling in my lap.

I know old people are always complaining, “It’s not the same.” But I’m telling you something.

When you’re talking about 3-D movies.

It’s not.


It's my mother's birthday today. The first one she isn't around for. I just thought I'd give it a mention, on the outside chance that those folks can read these things.

Happy birthday, Gertie.


Unknown said...

The first time 3D came around, not every theatre could show it,just like today. And smaller towns eventually got the movies, but not the extra dimension. I still remember being in Beaverton, Ontario one summer, and going to the Strand movie house to see Hondo. The big poster outside the theatre proclaimed " John Wayne in HONDO in glorious..." – and here the 3 was crossed out and a 2 put in – "...in glorious 2 Dimension!"
Not a lot of lap dropping in Beaverton.

YEKIMI said...

I remember the first 3-D movie I saw back in 1966. It was called The Bubble. I was almost 9 and it scared the hell out of me and to this day I cannot remember why. I ended up hiding behind the theater seats while my older sister just snickered at me.

Gary said...

Happy Birthday.

PG said...

I seem to recall that the musical 'Kiss Me Kate' was done in 3-D way back then, and during one of the songs, Howard Keel picked up a banana and pointed it right off the screen into my face. I jumped out of my skin.
I agree with you about Avatar....tres borrrrrring in any dimension.