The growing pervasiveness of 3-D in films has created rivaling views on the technique's value. While an increasing amount of audiences, filmmakers and studios are embracing 3-D, the format has not been welcomed by everyone.
Major motion pictures began venturing into 3-D filmmaking during the 1950s. Since then, 3-D films have come and gone from mainstream cinema, making multiple resurgences before its most recent revival during the past few years.
In order to fully comprehend the 3-D debate, the two primary methods of making these films must be distinguished. The first, and more desirable, technique is to shoot the entire film using 3-D cameras, as was done with James Cameron's "Avatar." This approach creates a more effective illusion of depth perception, yet still has its drawbacks. Aside from the excessive costs, this 3-D equipment is quite cumbersome, restricting filmmakers' ability to move the camera as liberally as they are accustomed to.
Then there is the post-conversion process of 3-D filmmaking. This is when a movie is not filmed in 3-D, but converted to the format during postproduction. Post-conversion films have received the brunt of the 3-D backlash. The method has been criticized for its inferior quality and is widely regarded as a purely profit-seeking strategy employed by studio executives. 2010's "Clash of the Titans" is widely cited as the embodiment of this monetary motivation for 3-D post-conversion. Warner Bros.' decision to convert the film came very late in the post-production process, resulting in one of the poorest 3-D movies to grace the silver screen in quite some time. However, "Clash of the Titans" still managed impressive numbers at the box office, due in large part to the inflated cost of 3-D movie tickets attributed to glasses fees.
James Cameron addressed the post-conversion process while discussing the success of "Avatar."
"Now, you've got people quickly converting movies from 2-D to 3-D, which is not what we did," Cameron said. "They're expecting the same result, when in fact they will probably work against the adoption of 3-D because they'll be putting out an inferior product."
Regardless of the filmmaking method, there are issues surrounding 3-D movies in all its forms that have received much attention. Among these concerns are the severe loss of brightness and muting of colors, along with frequent cases of headaches and motion sickness due to the overwhelming perceptual demands of viewing a film in 3-D.
Walter Murch, an American film editor and sound designer, described this issue in great detail.
"The biggest problem with 3-D is the ‘convergence/focus' issue," Murch explained. "The audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen — say it is 80 feet away. But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3-D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. They (viewers) are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for. This is a deep problem, which no amount of technical tweaking can fix."
Dr. Wheeler Winston Dixon, an English professor at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, offered insight into the financial factors that studios consider when deciding to make a 3-D movie.
"In the 1950s, when television first threatened theater attendance, the studios introduced 3-D movies to provide a spectacle that couldn't be seen anywhere else," Dixon said. "A similar shift is occurring today. There are now more ways than ever to access entertainment (via cell phones, streaming devices, home theaters, etc.). Therefore, the studios are using 3-D as the ‘wow' factor to draw in audiences."
Another English professor at UNL, Dr. Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, shared her views on the issue.
"I think the problem is that studios are not run by visionaries anymore," Foster said. "They are run by corporate types that only view film through the prism of money, and that is a very sad thing."
Hollywood's thirst for the third dimension is unlikely to diminish in the next few years; since six of 2010's top 10 grossing movies were released in 3-D. As the great filmmaker Orson Welles once said, "The best thing commercially, which is the worst artistically, by and large is the most successful."