The New Wave of 3-D Movies


When did 3-D movies make the leap from being a gimmick to revive tired sequels to the price gouging experience it is now? In my own movie memory, Hollywood created 3-D when they knew a franchise had lost its audience, and the only answer was to produce such a garishly cheesy sequel that fans wouldn’t have a choice but to check it out.

Take, for example, “Jaws,” indisputably one of the best movies to come out of 1970s Hollywood. That elusive shark monster, those musical notes whose recollection sent a generation of children scrambling out of lakes and bathtubs in irrational fear, that tagline that has spawned a lifetime of metaphors for anyone who ever needs a bigger anything. “Jaws” is flawless, and should have been sacrilege to tamper with.

But then someone decided to create a forced storyline in which a rogue shark terrorizes families at a marine-life waterpark. They threw in 3-D, which distracted viewers from the absurd plot, and “Jaws 3-D” was born. How could fans not go and watch their favorite predator charge out of the sea and straight into the audience before chomping on water skiers and SeaWorld park employees? When “the third dimension is terror,” as advertised in the movie trailer, you better believe fans will remain loyal to the beast.

And not that anyone could ever get tired of watching Jason hack apart sex-crazed youths, but I think “Friday the 13th Part 3” in 3-D may have been the push he needed to win some tired fans back to watch him therapeutically work through his mommy issues in 11 or 12 more sequels. (Best tagline ever: “Jason: you can’t fight him, you can’t stop him, and now you can’t even keep him on the screen.”)

There was none of that charging off the screen effect last weekend when I went to see “Life of Pi.” I loved the movie for many reasons, but the 3-D seemed to do little more than add 40 percent to the ticket price and leave me with a headache from wearing those dorky glasses for two hours and six minutes—plus the 20 minutes of 3-D movie previews. Even though the depth added some additional texture to the scenery, like the visual effects in “Avatar,” there didn’t seem to be a strong point to be made with it. The visual pleasure of watching the movie came from the cinematography, not the added third dimension.

I’m not the only one in opposition to this newish surge. Roger Ebert, the film critique guru, wrote that 3-D adds nothing to a film, and in fact may even be more distracting than stimulating. He also pointed out something that I already knew from recent experience: 3-D movies can cause nausea and headaches due to the “unfamiliar visual experience.”

The technology has been upgraded since the old days of 3-D, and James Cameron set a new standard with “Avatar,” but the added dimension sometimes just looks like the movie is trying too hard. F. Scott Fitzgerald will be rolling in his grave this summer when “The Great Gatsby” debuts as a 3-D summer blockbuster. Did he imagine, as he wrote his Great American Novel, that we would be tromping into theaters, munching on popcorn and wearing undignified dark glasses as we watch Jay Gatsby’s life unravel?  I don’t think he’d be pleased.

3-D movies shouldn’t be abolished altogether. A Rolling Stone article said that Hollywood will keep them coming in order to lure viewers away from watching on their smartphones and iPads. But I think it should stay true to its roots. Keep it for the really big action movies so that Shia LaBeouf or an ax murderer or whoever can leap out at the audience and make everyone collectively gasp, the way 3-D was meant to.