Lights out for 3D?

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Over the past few years special effects in the film industry have become more prevalent and impressive than ever. More and more of the effects in films have become computer generated, and scenes that might once have required huge sets and hordes of extras can now be constructed without them. The height of this new wave of technology is the art of 3D cinema, which has become particularly widespread in the last couple of years. Grand as it may be to feel a part of the action from your cinema seat, is 3D film really such a fantastic innovation, or is it merely a gimmick designed to part us from money it does not deserve?

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If a picture tells a thousand words, then a few seconds of film can tell millions. This is particularly effective when those millions of words are flying towards you at high speed, as if they have jumped out of the screen to slap you in the face. The visual arts have certainly come far. Perhaps the most impressive example of 3D film in recent years is the 2009 film Avatar, which amazed audiences with its vivid portrayal of an alien world. Monsters seem to pounce out of the screen and explosions send fragments of dirt hurtling towards the viewers face. The first time I saw this marvel, I was blown away. Effects like this are certainly an exhilarating experience when you’ve never seen them before, but the novelty can soon wear off.

So what does 3D really add to a film besides that first time novelty? Real entertainment value, or simply hollow commercial value? For instance, some films which clearly do not need 3D effects use the device as an extra selling point. Furthermore, it’s also an excuse to sell overpriced 3D glasses at the cinema. Perhaps the most irritating thing of all though is the recent trend of re-releasing classic animated films with added 3D effects. Nostalgia value aside, is this not perhaps a lazy approach to cinema, reusing old stories for fear of taking risks with new ones? This is clearly a technology which can be easily misused as a cheap way of attracting viewers. The danger is that 3D film will become so overused that viewers may become desensitized to its charms, and it will no longer have much impact at all.

However, just because this technology can be misused as a ‘gimmick’, it does not mean that it cannot be a positive thing when used correctly. Looking through the catalogue of recent 3D films, we could broadly separate them into two categories. There are those which have clearly, from the moment of their conception, intended to contain 3D as an important feature which is integral to the overall effect of the story. Then there are those which appear to have had the idea of 3D thrown in as an afterthought, in order to stay competitive and add an easy extra selling point. In the latter, 3D seems irritating and unnecessary.

Just like any special effect enhanced action scenes, 3D effects can be an excellent addition to a film when they are used properly and creatively. Overemphasis on explosions and fight scenes can lead film makers to neglect the things which truly make a story memorable: intriguing characters, twisting plots and clever underlying themes. But when these things are used correctly rather than forced into the viewers face, they can be absolutely breathtaking. This technology should be used to enhance a storyline, not replace it. Three dimensional effects need not mean one-dimensional plots.

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