You hear lots of complaints about 3-D these days: it’s headache-inducing, it’s muddy, it’s dark, it’s not worth the mark-up, etc… and those are all true, but they’ve been discussed in depth elsewhere. I’d like to talk about the fundamental misconception behind the whole idea.
It’s easy to dislike 3-D, because it simply doesn’t work. But I’m a true stick-in-the-mud: I don’t even like Surround Sound. Surround Sound, unlike 3-D, works just fine. It’s unobtrusive and does exactly what it’s supposed to do. But it represents a failure to understand the way we process movies.
Most people, when they go to the movies, don’t want to think about the abstract nature of moviegoing. Movie theorists, however, love to ponder questions like these: What is the relationship of the viewer to the character? The character acts as our figurative “point of view”, leading us through the story, but when the camera actually takes on their literal POV (in movies like Lady in the Lake), the identification process fails. For some reason we identify with a character’s “point of view” far more when we look at that person than we do when we look through that character’s eyes.
“So what,” you say. You just want to go to the movies, you don’t want to think about theory! Well, neither do I! But processes like 3-D and Surround Sound force us to think about the position of the camera, short-circuiting our ability to identify with the protagonist and killing the magic of the movies. They call attention to the disconnect between our figurative point of view and the camera’s literal point of view.This is most obvious to me in shots like this one from Confession of a Dangerous Mind. Drew Barrymore is listening to sounds made by Sam Rockwell on the other side of the door. The sound mixer puts all the sound on the left, so that we in the audience are hearing it only through our left ear. But Barrymore, facing the door, is going to hear the sound equally in both ears. When we hear it differently than she would, we’re suddenly reminded that we are not the character.
3-D also privileges the point of view of the cameraman, not the character, which forces the viewer to think about which is which, if only on a subconscious level. It may not instantly ruin your movie-going experience, but it is going to cause cognitive dissonance, and that dissonance is going to subtly poison your enjoyment.
But wait, it gets worse: such gimmicks also deny the nature of art! Come back tomorrow...