Academic journal article CineAction

Reading Parallax: 3D Meaning Construction in the Hole

Academic journal article CineAction

Reading Parallax: 3D Meaning Construction in the Hole

Article excerpt

In 'The Aesthetics of Emergence', William Paul holds that "negative parallax"--moving diegetic objects out from behind the screen and into the audience space--can distract audiences because "breaking out of a frame calls attention to the frame that is being violated." (1) Scott Higgins' recent '3D in Depth: Coraline, Hugo, and a Sustainable Aesthetic' argues that while the "overt and protrusive 3D" of exploitation horror films like My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009) and Piranha 3D (2010) demonstrates that such genres offer "greater diegetic lassitude", "quality film must not smell of the fairground." (2) (This poses a potential problem for 'quality' cinema: for Paul, "if 3-D has never left the fairground, then the fairground never quite left 3-D." (3)) For Higgins, "a restrained, depth-oriented aesthetic has developed as a more respectable and sustainable option." The "animated family film", trading as it does "in broad and self-conscious humor and strongly sympathetic characters", suggests to Higgins "a safe arena" for the process: "ambitious filmmakers can test the process's spectacular and narrative potentials without fear of driving away high-minded adults." (4)

For Higgins, the stop-motion animation Coraline (2009) is a film that benefits from "the aesthetic roominess of the animated family film". He praises its "flamboyant depth effects" for remaining "anchored to character experience" (5): in the film's 'real world' diegesis, which the titular protagonist finds cloying, the inter-ocular distance, or loD (which accounts for the amount of stereoscopic depth in any given shot and is subject to the distance between the two camera lenses) is kept disproportionately minimal and constricting, at odds with the more extreme loD used to represent the fantastical "Other World." As Higgins puts it, "3D volume and depth, controlled by varying the loD during shooting, was thus functionalised in parallel to well-established expressive registers like lighting and colour." (6) For Higgins, negative parallax is mostly deployed in order to emphasise "a plunging trajectory into the screen, inverting the more routine gimmick of protrusion." (7) He cites the example a button falls which begins emergent but falls back into the depths of positive parallax.

The Hole (2009), however, demonstrates that pronounced negative parallax can be read as an "expressive register" in its own right and as a way of contributing to meaning construction. There may, admittedly, be a certain "aesthetic roominess" involved: though live-action, it is still, like Coraline, a family horror film, with many special effects and fantastical situations. Its director, Joe Dante, chose The Hole as his next project because the script's "emphasis on characters really stuck out" for him: "It's [...] psychological, and L.] more attuned to the idea of doing some spatial relationship kind of things in 3D." (8) The Hole, then, is, like Coraline, a text that uses 3D in a manner "anchored to character experience." (9) Putting to one side questions of distraction, this piece will explore a key sequence in the film in order to demonstrate that negative parallax can in fact contribute to meaning construction, expressively extending the diegesis outwards rather than simply chucking objects out of it. The stereoscopic area in front of the screen--which Paul's work suggests can be termed "the platea" (10)--can be used as a structuring element, working alongside and in conjunction with the space behind it--for Paul, the locus (11)--to nuance and accentuate the representation of a character's journey towards adulthood.

The film's narrative is as follows: Dane Thompson is a surly teenager who moves from New York to a quiet suburban town with his mother, Susan, and his younger brother, Lucas. Dane only spends time with Lucas grudgingly, resentful of his mother's requests for him to, quite literally, "play ball" with him. Dane, Lucas, and their next door neighbour Julie discover a seemingly-bottomless hole covered by a trapdoor in the Thompsons' basement. …

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