Does the success of Gravity mean that 3D cinema might just survive after all?
3D cinema is in trouble: audiences have been turning against it, so rather than being the financial saviour of cinemas it’s now looking like a liability.
One of the harshest critics of 3D has been the Guardian and Radio 5 film critic Mark Kermode. As early as 2010 he wrote:
3D exists not to enhance the cinematic experience, but as a pitiful attempt to head off piracy and force audiences to watch films in overpriced, undermanned multiplexes. It is a con designed entirely to protect the bloated bank balances of buck-hungry Hollywood producers. It is not a creative leap on a par with the advent of colour or sound, as demonstrated by the fact that the so-called “3D revolution” has already faltered on several occasions (the first 3D movie patent was filed in the 1890s and studios pushed the format in the Fifties, Seventies and Eighties to little effect). I know it, you know it, but fewer and fewer people are able to say it thanks to a multimillion dollar campaign which has fostered the lie that only wonky-eyed old farts don’t get 3D. Before you buy into this myth, take a look at what the champions of the format have to say.
Top of the pile is James Cameron who, to give him his due, really seems to believe in 3D. He went to great lengths – and costs – to design and shoot Avatar in 3D and is genuinely passionate about its merits. Yet as anyone who has watched Avatar in both 2D and 3D versions will know, the wow factor of this sci-fi Smurfahontas is more the result of adventurous digital landscaping than any forced stereoscopic illusion.
Plus, thanks to the unavoidable 30% colour loss which comes with 3D (along with the added joys of those damned glasses), the film is just far sharper in 2D. If you don’t believe me, try taking the glasses off in the middle of a 3D screening and see how much brighter the future looks, even when it’s out of focus.
He also points out it tends to miniaturise images such that in Jaws 3D “audiences were threatened not by a Great White but a Gawping Guppy.” And he’s especially scathing of retrofitted 3D “just makes a load of “flat” elements look like they’re floating around on opposing planes of flatness.”
Then this happened:
And he’s right. I found myself flinching and ducking as space shrapnel whooshes past the camera, and the 3D does enhance the scenes of hopping between shuttles and satellites. And I’m not alone in thinking that: Gravity has been one of the hits of the year.
But Kermode is also right to say in his full review that Gravity is probably exceptional: it’s an unusually kinetic story and it being set in space means the light loss is not as obvious as it normally would be.
Still it does demonstrate that in theory there might be a case for 3D after all.