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Problems With Modern 3D Film Formats: Issues Surrounding 3D in Cinema

women gasping while wearing 3d film glasses

3D film has experienced a recent revival, but reduced picture quality and ineffective use of the technique puts the format’s future into question.

The 3D film has experienced a revival of late. In the last few years, many films have been released in various 3D formats, from documentaries to animated films to science fiction. The majority of these films, at least in terms of their 3D aspects, were well received by both audiences and critics. However, there has been a recent backlash against the use of 3D technology in films. Opponents of the technique have expressed concern about degrading picture quality, lack of effective use of 3D, and the general future of 3D films in relation to cinema as a whole.

3D Films Underwent Revivals Due to Prevalent Problems With the Medium

creature from the black lagoon movie poster

In addressing these problems, it may be useful to give a brief outline of the history of 3D films. The first attempts at creating three-dimensional films were carried out in the early twentieth century. Primarily a way of cashing in on the growing popularity of the cinema, the concept was abandoned when the technology proved too cumbersome and expensive. It was not until the early 1950s, with the advent of dual-strip projection, that 3D films became commercially viable. A string of notable 3D films were released throughout the 1950s, including House of Wax, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dial M for Murder.

Three-dimensional films eventually went into decline when problems with the synchronization of the dual-strip prints became evident. Audiences had to wait until the 1960s and ‘70s for single-strip formats to be developed. In the 1980s, 3D films experienced a revival, but the technique was confined to B movies and horror sequels, such as Amityville 3D, Friday the 13th Part III and Jaws 3D. Three-dimensional films again went out of fashion until the early part of this decade, when a number of more advanced stereoscopic techniques were developed. Over the past few years these technologies have been applied to a vast array of films. Most of these have been animated family films, but there have been some exceptions, notably the horror My Bloody Valentine and James Cameron’s Avatar.

Reduced Picture Quality and Gimmicks Puts Future 3D Cinema in Jeopardy

As history indicates, 3D films have always been a commercial entity. With rare exceptions (such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder and more recent critically acclaimed works like Disney/Pixar’s Up), 3D films have remained B movies, cheap genre films with little to no artistic merit. Even more expensive animated films received little more than lukewarm critical reception in the early 2000s.

Part of the reason behind this is the various problems with modern 3D formats. Current techniques like RealD and XPanD feature reduced picture quality, meaning that, while less immersive, 2D equivalents will appear sharper. The main criticism leveled against 3D films, however, is the ineffective use of the technique. Other than gimmicky scenes in which objects are thrust at the audience, 3D will have little real impact on a film. This was a complaint many critics aimed at My Bloody Valentine. While 3D worked well in more intense scenes, the majority of the film was based around dialogue, where 3D played no part.

This Raises the Question: Does 3D Have a Place in Narrative Cinema?

After a decade of prominent 3D releases, the answer would seem to be no. If one compares the 2D release of a film with the 3D release, it quickly becomes apparent that the extra dimension adds nothing to the narrative, and given the reduced picture quality, does little to enhance the artistry.

The future of 3D cinema is unclear. Although the technology has advanced a great degree since its “golden age” in the 1950s, modern formats still have their problems. Even if the issues with picture quality were to be solved, it remains the case that 3D is not being used effectively. Until filmmakers can use 3D film in such a way that it does not hinder narratives through the use of gimmicks, it may be that the technology will suffer another decline, and may even be abandoned altogether.