Avatar was unquestionably a major feat of movie-making. It looked amazing and the 3D effects were stunning. But the trend of 3D movies that had already been mounting and which Avatar cemented means we’re going to start getting overcharged for a lot of subpar 3D (not to mention fake IMAX). Essentially, I feel that 3D rarely enhances the movie-going experience, and at worst rips us off, dulls the color and brightness of the picture, and gives people headaches. As Roger Ebert puts it, “3-D is a distracting, annoying, anti-realistic, juvenile abomination to use as an excuse for higher prices.” I don’t hate 3D, but I think it’s becoming a gimmick that takes away from the craft of making a good film.
Entertainment Weekly’s “3-D Movies: What You Need To Know” explains that most 3D movies coming out this year were not filmed in 3D but are instead being converted after the fact. While Avatar was conceived as a 3D picture from the start, these movies, like Clash of the Titans, were not. It’ll be a few years before new releases come out that were shot in 3D from the start. Movies coming out this year will have had the third dimension added manually by effects companies.
Writing for Nikke Finke’s Deadline, Mike Fleming’s article includes quotes from Michael Bay about how bad the experiments he’s done in 3D conversions look:
“I am trying to be sold, and some companies are still working on the shots I gave them,” Bay said. “Right now, it looks like fake 3D, with layers that are very apparent. You go to the screening room, you are hoping to be thrilled, and you’re thinking, huh, this kind of sucks. People can say whatever they want about my movies, but they are technically precise, and if this isn’t going to be excellent, I don’t want to do it.”
- Hollywood Reporter’s “How ‘Avatar’ changed the rules of deliverables” explains that James Cameron’s team wound up making 100 different versions of the film to make sure that it looked great on different combinations of screen and projector type:
To optimize the experience for different screens sizes, Cameron made the decision to complete the movie in three aspect ratios: Scope (2:39:1), flat (1:85:1) and Imax (1:43:1). “You are not going to see many directors releasing in different aspect ratios, as most pick their canvas and that is their format,” Fox vp postproduction Steve Barnett says.
Adds [Fox Postproduction President Ted] Gagliano: “Jim wanted the biggest image possible. If you had a theater (where the biggest image possible meant using) movable masking that went up for flat, he preferred the theater run flat. If there was a theater that increased the size of the image by opening it side-to-side to accommodate scope, he wanted to run scope.”
In some cases, a single multiplex required different versions for different auditorium configurations.
Creative decisions involving light levels also led to additional versions. 3D projection and glasses cut down the light the viewer sees, so “Avatar” also had separate color grades at different light levels, which are measured in foot lamberts.
“If we had just sent out one version of the movie, it would have been very dark (in the larger theaters),” Barnett says. “We had a very big flow chart with all of the different steps, so we could send the right media to the right theater.”
That Kubrick level of care about the entire work, from pre-production to distribution, is what separates Avatar from the rest of the herd. Many filmmakers are putting that level of effort into their movies and, from what I’ve read, it’s a shame that the 3D trend may be dulling some of that work.