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Is 3D the new normal?

I’ve seen two films recently in 3D, FRIGHT NIGHT and SPY KIDS, two very solid, genre films. A kid’s movie with bright colors, bubble gum complexions and gee-whiz humor, and a horror film with dark interiors and tired tropes of let-the-camera-follow-the-guy-who’s-about-to-be-jumped. And then it struck me. It happened when I laid eyes on Toni Collette, who plays a suburban mom in FRIGHT NIGHT, which is not her usual indie fare. I suddenly got very scared: will independent films soon be in 3D? What the hell will THAT look like? The LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE van hurtling towards you? Robert Duvall reaching for your head to bless you, APOSTLE-style? The SIDEWAYS spit bucket in your face?

Luckily, indie budgets may not allow for this development anytime soon. Why lucky? Because regular old dialogue scenes in 3D are incredibly ugly. Perhaps my eye is simply not accustomed to the look, but can anyone say cardboard cut outs? The actors have been carved from their backgrounds, making them pop slightly, but also flattening them significantly. So what? Well, it looks awful. And it seems like a locked-down shot is the only option to make this effect work, contributing even more to its stale quality. Not a great fit for more artistic approaches. But with 3D televisions and phones on the rise, is this technology inevitable for all films? So far any chatter on the internet has to do with the price of cameras coming down to accommodate indie filmmakers. But how can we stop it? I sound like all the people who were trying to block the flood waters of HD from poisoning the well of pristine, beloved 35mm film stock. And look what that got me: more HD.

This conversation has been alive in another iteration on the internet via a letter that editor Walter Murch wrote to 3D-hater Roger Ebert. These two want to convince us that it’s the science of the brain and perception that makes adding another dimension to movies a bad idea. And here’s Daniel Engber’s rebuttal and defense of 3D, or the potential for 3D cinema, in Slate magazine.

–AH