Sunday, May 09, 2010

Roger Ebert and "Why Avatar Is Bad for the Movies" (Newsweek cover story)

Having read Kalle Kinnunen's blog entry on Roger Ebert's article in Newsweek International (10 May 2010) I bought the issue last night and read it at the Kon Tiki restaurant at Oslo airport. The cover title is "Why Avatar Is Bad for the Movies", and the title of the article itself is "Why I Hate 3-D (and You Should Too)". Already in January Kinnunen had expressed a very similar view, himself.

Ebert has nine arguments:
1. It's the waste of a dimension.
2. It adds nothing to the experience.
3. It can be a distraction.
4. It can create nausea and headaches.
5. Have you noticed that 3-D seems a little dim?
6. There's money to be made in selling new digital projectors.
7. Theatres slap on a surcharge of $5 to $7.50 for 3-D.
8. I cannot imagine a serious drama, such as Up in the Air or The Hurt Locker, on 3-D.
9. Whenever Hollywood has felt threatened, it has turned to technology: sound, color, widescreen, Cinerama, 3-D, stereophonic sound, and now 3-D again.

Personally, I have no strong opinions about 3-D. I found Avatar impressive (Ebert says he loved it). I have been fond of the various historical 3-D solutions, and unlike Ebert, I find Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder stronger in 3-D than in 2-D because it succeeds in achieving a feeling of vertigo in the third dimension completely transforming the atmosphere of the living-room drama. Even the climax with Grace Kelly reaching for the scissors is really enhanced in 3-D. For me 3-D does not feel more realistic. Rather it creates a more dream-like (or nightmarish or hallucinatory) space. The same goes for Avatar: we are invited to a strange virtual space where even the colours are those of a computer.

I believe Dial M for Murder was hardly distributed in 3-D not because the result was unsatisfactory but because the technical arrangement was so difficult (dual print, twin projection, silver screen, etc.). The real progress in digital 3-D is that for the first time we have a practical technical solution that every cinema can adopt. It does have its drawbacks. As Ebert states, the image is not very bright.

There is not one history of the cinema but many histories, and one of them is that of the cinema of attractions, starting with early cinema when moving images themselves were the attraction. The success of Avatar is partly based on the fact that 3-D digital cinema is the latest attraction. Although I'm impressed, myself, I agree with Ebert that I'd prefer quality drama and grown-up stories.

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