The James Clayton Column: The future is 3D

James wonders if 3D shouldn't try a bit harder to break away from the realm of kids' movies...

Argh! It's like it's in the room with us!

I’m a bit of a late-comer, but having finally been given a good reason in the form of Coraline, I’ve had my first 3D cinemagoing experience. At long last, I’ve been exposed to the extra dimension, had my supra-visual virginity claimed and belatedly received the baptism in the waters of future blockbuster filmmaking. Things will never look the same again…

Coraline as a film in itself was fantastic, so to see Henry Selick’s adaptation of the Neil Gaiman story sprawl out as an immense eye-popping, immersive piece of moving artwork was a thrilling bonus. Coraline’s descents down whirling holes, the acrobatics of Mr. Bobinsky’s gymnastic mice and Other Father’s glorious technicolour garden are all brought to visceral life thanks to the 3D format. 2D just wouldn’t deliver and, in contrast, the sights would be disappointingly flat. Material as rich and magnificent as this deserves to be fleshed out in three dimensions.

Coraline didn’t just make me smile by successfully marrying RealD with stop-motion in a beautiful union of the best of old special effects and new special effects, but also because it was a 3D film I actually really wanted to see. So far, the full-on three-dimension theatrical release has generally been reserved for computer-generated kid-friendly flicks and concert movies from Disney’s stable of squeaky-clean musical sprogs. You wouldn’t know it looking over the list of movies that have been unleashed on the masses in extra-dimensional format, but there’s a world beyond CGI animation and pop machine product placement targeted at tweenagers. It’s sad to see that the wondrous possibilities of 3D presentation are being wasted.

Such a narrow lineup dents the prestige of 3D presentation by continually associating it with less critically-acclaimed, commonly-derided kids’ movies. The format’s power is also challenged by Disney concert features (such as the newly released Jonas Brothers: Burning Up Concert) that illustrate despite the certain souping-up of visuals, personality-free protagonists remain resolutely one-dimensional. As such, the traditional stop-motion method and macabre plot of Coraline offers something of a break from the dominance of shiny CGI and soulless Disneypop, but as an animated film about a child protagonist exploring a fantasy world, we’re still swimming about in the nebulous waters of ‘family film’.

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By not showing a wide range of movies in multi-dimensional manner, large audiences are missing out on what is truly a terrific experience. When you consider how much more cathartic and sense-shattering watching the most shocking of horror movies, full-throttle action movies and mind-melting arthouse movies would be – though, truthfully, this applies to any film – it’s a tragedy that the 3D treatment has been firmly restricted to such a small range of features.

By all means, animated movies are perfect for putting through the 3D process and I’d be eager to take in such Disney masterworks as The Lion King and Beauty And The Beast upon their boosted-up, big screen re-release. Ultimately though, I’d be even more excited to watch a wider variety of live-action flicks go the full three-dimensions.

If it would be possible to pull them from the archives and polish them up in a fresh RealD cinema exhibition, I’d personally pick the aesthetically-astounding classics of The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, A Clockwork Orange and The Thing as the three flicks to flush out first. To experience the respective expressionist and fish-eye otherworldliness of the former two and get all the gushing body horror and visceral gore of John Carpenter’s masterpiece full-gusto would be spectacular. I want to be engulfed by the images! I want to take in the sinew-splitting transformation scenes and feel the flesh and muscle tissue splashing out of the screen!

Enough ruminating on the past though – what lies before us is an exhilarating future. Unlike other short-lived cinematic experiments such as director William Castle’s ‘Percepto’ electro-jolt chairs (a one-off gimmick to accompany showings of Vincent Price shocker The Tingler), I predict that 3D isn’t going to fade away as a forgotten novelty that seemed pretty nifty at the time. Considering that a great many theatres are equipped and capable of showing RealD releases and that more movies are being made in synch with the technology, the shape of things to come is three-dimensional.

Avatar, James Cameron’s long-awaited sci-fi spectacle coming at the end of 2009, will be the point at which we emphatically arrive in a new cinematic age. Reading of rendered photo-real alien ecosystems captured through stereoscopic fusion cameras, it’s hard to fully comprehend what the technological leaps of Avatar entail, especially as the Aliens director’s epic endeavour has been kept so tightly under wraps. Suffice to say though, it all sounds intriguing and promises to be incredible. The fact that the creative attention of Cameron’s filmmaking colleagues are creatively intrigued with the likes of Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg, to name two, inspired to use the innovative technology to make The Adventures Of Tintin suggests that these advancements aren’t temporal.

Still, as studios and cinemas look to get bums on seats and bring in box-office returns, it’s worth wondering whether 3D being used and abused as more of a short-term strategy whilst the industry works out how to cope with a digital age of pirates, plummeting profit margins and a perilous future. 3D could prove Hollywood’s salvation, revitalising cinema as a whole.

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On the level of the individual viewer, RealD cinema can potentially bring a sense of ‘the event’ back to the moviegoing experience and elevate a theatre excursion out of the mundane. Movies are about escapism – if feeling like you’re being attacked by a sinister 16-foot woman with buttons for eyes provides that disconnect from daily life in a more powerful manner then I say 3D-ify until our eyes fall out. Cinema audiences deserve something spectacular when they take a trip to the flicks and the immense and overwhelming experience of 3D offers that.

In the words of Alex de Large in A Clockwork Orange: “It’s funny how the colours of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.” I can’t wait to viddy the colours and contours of the real world in 3D as standard as film production progresses onward into the future. Open your eyes people and brace your retinas for revelations! This is an exciting time to be going to the cinema.

James’ previous column can be found here.