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How I Learned to Love 3D… I Think


‘Why do you hate it?’, a friend of mine asked a couple days ago.

‘Hate what?’

‘3D.’ She looked almost personally offended. ‘What’s wrong with it?’

Before I type my answer to her question, you have to understand that I’m part of a dwindling minority. We, the stubborn few purists, content to live our cinematic experiences without the crutch of a Z-axis. As the third dimension further pushes its way into every corner of entertainment, we find ourselves with fewer and fewer allies; my once similarly-embittered friends trickle into an IMAX screening of the current animated blockbuster, only to emerge all smiles – brainwashed into the cult of 3D.

And the circle of skeptics ever shrinks. But 3D is a gimmick, isn’t it?

Now, this skepticism on my part is nothing new – 3D and I have been squatting on opposite sides of the room, brooding and glaring at each other, for as long as I can remember. Being of the typical tech geek demographic, I’m obviously not old enough to have lived through the 3D theater booms of the 50’s and 70’s respectively (no offense, you geezers), but in terms of proving itself as more than a gimmick, 3D hasn’t exactly been a champion from the 80’s onward, either, and I’ve had reasons for feeling the way I do about the technology.

Yeah, 3D is a gimmick.

My first 3D experience was probably very similar to all of yours – through the little cardboard reels of the Mattel View-Master. One of the oldest stereoscopic devices, the View-Master throws a different version of a photographic plate into each eye, creating faux 3D. As if I just explained that. I’ll have more faith from here on out. Really. Regardless, a View-Master is an engaging example of 3D until, what, like 5 years old? My He-Man reels have been collecting dust for 18 years, easily.

3D is a gimmick.

My next significant run-in with emerging 3D technology was the summer of 1996, with Nintendo’s now-mythic Virtual Boy console. I was excited. It’s like a whole 3D world, man. A whole world. For your FACE. Gnarly.

Have any of you actually ever operated a Virtual Boy? It was only on store shelves for five months, so there’s a good chance you haven’t. It wasn’t exactly ‘a world for your face’, I’ll tell you that. A complete step down from the View-Master, it died quietly after 14 released titles.

3D is a gimmick.

After the VB, I felt betrayed by depth. With 3D comfortably taking a back seat to things like Matrixian ‘bullet-time’ and high-contrast, blue-filtered action movies, the public seemed to lose interest in entertainment’s push to bring the third dimension out of theme parks and into the mainstream, and similarly, I quietly continued my education, training to become an illustrator – ironically, a two-dimensional medium.

movieposterWith a very clear realization that I might be mistaken, from my perspective, the man responsible for 3D’s permanent return to cinemas – albeit peripherally at first – is digital film darling Robert Rodriguez, with his steaming pile of crap 2003 film Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over. Now, there’s something I want to point out about Spy Kids 3-D. No, it isn’t Khan dressed as Mega Man. It’s the ‘3-D’. 3-D, as opposed to 3D. The hyphen, an artifact of 3D’s ultra cheesy drive-in roots. Did Rodriguez do this knowingly? Being one half of Grindhouse, the answer is a resounding ‘perhaps’.

3D is so a gimmick…

Nevertheless, 3D never went away after Game Over. Sticking to children like polio, 3D began taking root with the younger crowd, fiendishly rubbing its palms together and cackling softly as it planned its takeover of the minds and hearts of the public at large.

Now at this point, people like me were happy to let 3D have its little freak party over at the loser’s table. IMAX screens would typically play some brutally awful kid’s film presented in traditional blue-and-red stereoscopy, and hell – we didn’t even sweat when the industry started pumping money into it, upgrading to polarized lenses as standard and remaking classic animated films as 3D presentations. We just laughed – those execs obviously didn’t know what they’re doing. In fact, the coup was a fairly silent, natural transition.

3D is a gimmick… right? …right?

Fast forward to 2009. Myself and the remaining 2D purists (you know, like Michael Bay) are trapped like a group of zombie apocalypse survivors stranded in an infected mall. 3D is everywhere, and quite certainly a mainstream cinematic format, and for all our wisdom we refused to see it coming. What fools were we.

Still a modern-3D virgin, I was invited to see Pixar’s Up in ‘glorious’ 3D. With no one left to turn to for moral support against the medium, I reluctantly tagged along, and after an eon of fiddling with the glasses, trying in vain to fit them over my own, the film began – and when it wasn’t raping my eyes with its thoroughly overproduced 3D effect, I didn’t notice the effect was there at all. Bitterly yet triumphantly, I declared everything I’d claimed to be true.

3D is totally a gimmick. Booyah.

But what now? I still hated 3D, and it was still quickly encroaching upon every last bastion of the entertainment sector. Mobile devices were being considered. Videogames, too. James Cameron’s Fern Gully Avatar’s release was certainly the last nail in the coffin for 2D’s dominion (yeah, I saw it. In 3D, too. No comment). I guess people like me would have to learn to live in an entertainment world goverened by a cheesy special effect.

The last few months, leading up to now, were a boycott of all things 3D. I promised not to ever spend another dollar on the technology, lest I further support the monster. At this point, my hatred was undying. When news of 3DTV trickled down through the blogosphere, I facepalmed and knew then that nothing would ever be sacred (not that TV is sacred, especially after Modern Family’s iPad ad).

Then, a couple days ago, I was walking with my friend through Best Buy, when we came across a 3DTV display model. It was a Samsung or something, and it was playing Monsters vs. Aliens. The glasses were sitting there on the little podium, unused, and she suggested we check it out. So we walked over, me vocally addressing my dislike of the third dimension all the while.

And then I put the glasses on.

There was a tiny diorama…inside the television.  Gone was the uncomfortable, cheesy, even painful effect of the cinema – here it was replaced with a subtle, modest, and sensible alternative: to recede into space, rather than extrude from it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was brilliant. Well, I mean, like, I could believe my eyes, they were just totally tripping out, man. I could feel my bubble of disdain buckling. Good luck selling me glasses for 300 bucks, Samsung, but this is still really, really nice.

After a few seconds of standing there, staring dumbfoundedly at a giant woman destroying a bridge or something in three wonderful dimensions, my friend turned to me.

‘Why do you hate it?’ she asked.

‘Hate what?’

‘3D, what’s wrong with it?’

‘I don’t know anymore,’ I answered.

  1. HHMMMMMmmm….. I’m am also in denial over this turn in history towards 3D cinema…
    and the more I read that conversation between you and that woman, the more I wanna run over to the nearest Best Buy and see this for myself…..

  2. If you find yourself walking by, I suggest you check it out. Or don’t, if you want to be The Last Unicorn of 3D skeptics. But I can already feel the dark side pulling. It may be too late for me.

  3. I also have a problem with today’s 3d stuff – nobody’s managed to convince me that it’s the 3d we should be getting excited about (you know! When we were kids!! :)) Jeez, man, this stuff requires you to actually WEAR something to see it!! That’s not cool, that’s just… well, OK, another small step. For me, 3d will not arrive until we can sit and watch it in the living room, from any angle, WITHOUT a silly pair of expensive glasses. 😀

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