I will not mince words here. During the last three years, Hollywood has developed such a raging hard-on for 3D that the attendance of theatrical exhibitions I used to make a habit of has fallen off to nothing. I hate it. Even when I have a good seat from which I can see anything in the poorly-designed theatres that are the expected norm in some places I will not glorify by naming here, trying to watch such an image is tantamount to pouring salt into the eyes.
Although the writer known as Roger Ebert has written many things that I find profoundly disagreeable, he hits the nail on the head so often about 3D it is remarkable. My favourite example of this is his review of a 2010 production entitled The Nutcracker In 3D. The film itself awkwardly shoves the Nutcracker Prince into a war he conducts against the Holocaust. Yes, you read that right. “Only one thing could have made this film worse,” he opines in his review, “and they haven’t neglected it”. “That would be to present it in 3D”, which they did. That is about the point at which some trendy fukkhead will wail that Ebert is a “haaaaatuuuur” and such. But just as I have written that if we nail the entirety of Autism Speaks to a board and hang them from a wall, we need to replace them with something, so too is the case with whatever the film industry has a hard-on for. If 3D were to stop being used tomorrow, we would need something to replace it with. Ebert‘s proposal is detailed in this entry on his online journal, and it is a good one.
In order to understand this proposal, you need to understand something about Human vision. There are two elements to a predatory animal’s vision, both of which can produce dramatic results when tweaked. One is how sharply the eye sees. Under the best conditions, Humans see sharply enough to clearly read the numbers and letters on a license plate from as much as fifty feet away. But compared to a dog, our ability to discern the difference between one fragment of a second in what we see and the next is somewhat lacking. Our vision updates roughly fifty times a second, quick enough to see a punch if it is thrown clumsily enough, or the viewer knows what to look for. But this rate is very slow compared to some threats we encounter, such as bullets. Even some natural threats such as bears in some circumstances, or every feline we can imagine, move quickly enough that our vision only gives our brain fragments of their movements.
But if there is one thing that anyone can discern after watching your typical action, martial arts, or racing film, it is that the eye of current-generation cameras is far slower than ours. At present, feature films are captured and projected at a rate of twenty-four frames per second. That is, twenty-four complete images are shown to the viewer every second. By comparison, the current consensus seems to be that a Human’s vision updates at a rate equivalent to fifty frames a second. But the important point is in the differences. When there is a difference in the speed and manner in which we see and pictures change, our brain reacts. And it is not necessarily in a positive fashion. In Australia, “special editions” of the Swedish films that make up the so-called Millenium Trilogy suffer from one artefact (that is, a difference in how the picture appeared after post-production was complete and how it appears on the home video) that make them utterly unwatchable. Every second of video in each transfer suffers an effect where each frame appears to consist of the frame itself and half of the one that preceded it. All interlaced video suffers an effect like this, but when you consciously see it, it can give you headaches, make you nauseous, even cause seizures.
Similar problems occur when we are seeing at a rate of fifty frames every second, but the film that we are watching only updates twenty-four times in that period. Bruce Lee was well-aware of this problem, even if he did not understand the technical side of it. He carefully choreographed the fight sequences of his films in order to produce a product that was as exciting to watch as audiences expected. This meant working out how to frame things, the speed to move at, and where to move what to. One interview I read an age ago (I forget who it was with, but it may well have been none other than Bruce Lee‘s daughter, Shannon) offered an interesting tidbit concerning the difference between how people fight in real life and how they fight in films. The trickiest thing about fighting for the camera, the woman in this interview told the interviewer, is knowing where one’s leg finishes in a kick.
Another interview that I am pretty sure was with Richard Norton was divided into several features. One of these concerned the difference between a real-life street fight and how people fight in most of the films that the market of the time thrived on. In another part of the article about him, he made a comparison of Jackie Chan to more “macho” (my word) actors in the market. I forget who else he mentioned, but he said things like “they’ve seen Van Damme do the splits fifty times” and “they want to be entertained”. Jackie Chan‘s style in his films, Norton tells us, is entertaining because he is only trying to escape, like a speeding bullet going backwards. But even Jackie Chan’s dextrous antics run into noticeable problems when they come up against the limitations of twenty-four frame a second recording. This problem is very clear during the gangland warehouse sequence in Hung fan kui (aka Rumble In The Bronx). In one fight at a pool table, Chan‘s character rapidly moves what I remember as beer bottles from place to place as an enemy attempts to punch him. Chan frequently pauses in different positions during this fight. Of course, it could be argued that these pauses, Chan is just giving the audience’s eyes a rest. But the point is that had this sequence been filmed at forty-eight frames a second, he would have been able to move at least twice as fast, and such pauses would probably have not been necessary.
I know that I sound fanatical about this. I am used to this where subjects I have a great interest in are concerned. But right now, cinematic art is at a crossroads. One path leads down the road of attempting to resurrect yet again one of the failed forms of differentiating cinema from television. This latest 3D fad is just that – a fad. It died after some years when it was introduced for the first time in the 1950s. It was very briefly resurrected for the end of Freddy’s Dead, a film so eager to miss opportunities that a good screenwriter would never leave begging that the 3D actually managed to be one of the few high points. Several years prior to that, though, it was resurrected for Friday The 13th Part III. FT13 3D as I will call it going forward, was, like pretty much all films in 3D, a coat of shiny paint thrown on a shitty story. It does sit in my Blu-ray Disc collection, mainly because of the hilarious disco music theme in the introduction. But what makes it worth mentioning is that prior to an even shittier 3D film’s release, FT13 3D was the highest-grossing 3D film ever made.
Think about that for a second. A record was set in 1982 for the most idiots paying to see a 3D film, and that 3D film was a sequel to Friday The 13th, a film that one critic described the series it started as “the ultimate in recycling”, continuing with, “so much so that after a while you lose track of which sequel you are watching”. FT13 3D is competent in the technical sense, but if you turned the script into a manuscript and sent it to a publisher, it would come back a day later with “PLEASE FEED ME” written on it in big red letters.
That record stood until 2009, when James Cameron saw fit to grace us with a film called Avatar. Red Letter Media and its trademark character has a review of that piece of shit that is more entertaining than the film itself. But rather than talk about that review, I want to offer some thoughts of my own that are reflected partly in it. Let me get this out of the way first. Cameron wants us to revere the so-called Na’vi (pronounced nah-vee, almost like the pronunciation of “Nazi”) as if the sun shines out of their collective assholes. He presents them as this noble savage who live such joyous lives because of how primitive they are. As is said in the Red Letter Media review, Earth has had savages in the past, too, Cameron. They built big temples allegedly out of gold (nobody seems to have seen most of them in hundreds of years). When the Europeans saw those temples for the first time, they were running red with blood. Do you follow me? And if savages are automatically so much nicer and more harmonious, why is it that prior to the Industrial Revolution, Humans did not even live half as long on average as they presently do? Hell, just look at Africa and its more anarchic nations like Somalia. There are your noble savages, Cameron.
And our first introduction to these oh-so-noble savages? Fukk me, Neytiri, you tell a Marine he’s “like a big baby” in a manner that makes me think of an eight-year-old telling another eight-year-old they are a bumhead, and the script you are in expects me to believe he would give a fukk if you live or die from that point going forward. No sale. All through this film, I was waiting for the Human militia to exterminate the Na’vi like cockroaches, because I know that when someone speaks to me in such a manner, that is always what I want to do with them. I want to kill them, kill their mothers, kill their fathers, kill their children, and listen to them scream.
And quite frankly, Cameron, Neytiri’s childishly-voiced statement is exactly what those of us who grew up during the 1980s want to say to you. You are like a big baby who cannot handle natural emotions, or emotional responses to the ideas you put forth that do not match your own. And this is the mind that has sent us hurtling down the path of 3-fukkyou-D?
Give me 48 frames per second any day, please. At least it might mean a few more films made for grown-ups.
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