Why I Hate 3-D (and You Should Too)

By Ebert, Roger | Newsweek, May 10, 2010 | Go to article overview

Why I Hate 3-D (and You Should Too)


Ebert, Roger, Newsweek


Byline: Roger Ebert

3-D is a waste of a perfectly good dimension. Hollywood's current crazy stampede toward it is suicidal. It adds nothing essential to the moviegoing experience. For some, it is an annoying distraction. For others, it creates nausea and headaches. It is driven largely to sell expensive projection equipment and add a $5 to $7.50 surcharge on already expensive movie tickets. Its image is noticeably darker than standard 2-D. It is unsuitable for grown-up films of any seriousness. It limits the freedom of directors to make films as they choose. For moviegoers in the PG-13 and R ranges, it only rarely provides an experience worth paying a premium for.

That's my position. I know it's heresy to the biz side of show business. After all, 3-D has not only given Hollywood its biggest payday ($2.7 billion and counting for Avatar), but a slew of other hits. The year's top three films--Alice in Wonderland, How to Train Your Dragon, and Clash of the Titans--were all projected in 3-D, and they're only the beginning. The very notion of Jackass in 3-D may induce a wave of hysterical blindness, to avoid seeing Steve-O's you-know-what in that way. But many directors, editors, and cinematographers agree with me about the shortcomings of 3-D. So do many movie lovers--even executives who feel stampeded by another Hollywood infatuation with a technology that was already pointless when their grandfathers played with stereoscopes. The heretics' case, point by point:

1. IT'S THE WASTE OF A DIMENSION. When you look at a 2-D movie, it's already in 3-D as far as your mind is concerned. When you see Lawrence of Arabia growing from a speck as he rides toward you across the desert, are you thinking, "Look how slowly he grows against the horizon"? Our minds use the principle of perspective to provide the third dimension. Adding one artificially can make the illusion less convincing.

2. IT ADDS NOTHING TO THE EXPERIENCE. RECALL the greatest moviegoing experiences of your lifetime. Did they "need" 3-D? A great film completely engages our imaginations. What would Fargo gain in 3-D? Precious? Casablanca?

3. IT CAN BE A DISTRACTION. Some 3-D consists of only separating the visual planes, so that some objects float above others, but everything is still in 2-D. We notice this. We shouldn't. In 2-D, directors have often used a difference in focus to call attention to the foreground or the background. In 3-D the technology itself seems to suggest that the whole depth of field be in sharp focus. I don't believe this is necessary, and it deprives directors of a tool to guide our focus.

4. IT CAN CREATE NAUSEA AND HEADACHES. AS 3-D TV sets were being introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, Reuters interviewed two leading ophthalmologists. "There are a lot of people walking around with very minor eye problems--for example, a muscle imbalance--which under normal circumstances the brain deals with naturally," said Dr. Michael Rosenberg, a professor at Northwestern University. 3-D provides an unfamiliar visual experience, and "that translates into greater mental effort, making it easier to get a headache." Dr. Deborah Friedman, a professor of ophthalmology and neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said that in normal vision, each eye sees things at a slightly different angle. "When that gets processed in the brain, that creates the perception of depth. The illusions that you see in three dimensions in the movies is not calibrated the same way that your eyes and your brain are." In a just-published article, Consumer Reports says about 15 percent of the moviegoing audience experiences headache and eyestrain during 3-D movies.

5. HAVE YOU NOTICED THAT 3-D SEEMS A LITTLE DIM? Lenny Lipton is known as the father of the electronic stereoscopic-display industry. He knows how films made with his systems should look. Current digital projectors, he writes, are "intrinsically inefficient. …

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