3D: “Toy Story 3” V “Avatar”

After the release of Cave Of Forgotten Dreams (see below), the recent film on the cave paintings in the south of France, a few commentators remarked on how much more realistic the paintings appeared by being shown in 3D. But the whole point of 3D is to achieve the exact opposite. It’s to make films less realistic, to make them more cinematic.

3D first surfaced in the 50s. The future had arrived in the form of television and, obviously, film was about to be rendered redundant. Hollywood desperately needed something to distinguish cinema from television, and stave of the former’s extinction. So they came up with 3D. But it looked hopeless. So, in order to make films that bit more cinematic, they started shooting them in cinemascope instead, by doubling the size of the film that they used from 35 to 70mm.

But television didn’t bury cinema. On the contrary, it fed into it and made it significantly more robust. On the one hand, there were all those films in Hollywood which, up until then, made money in the cinemas for the 5 to 6 weeks that they were screened there, before spending the rest of their lives gathering expensive dust in the Hollywood Hills. And on the other, there were all those hours of television that cost so much to fill up with fresh content. By paying Hollywood a nominal fee to screen films that they had already made on television, a beautiful synergy was born. Far from killing off Hollywood, television gave it instead a whole new revenue stream.

Then in the 70s, the New Age bogeyman was video which, obviously, was set to kill off both cinema and television. Again, they turned to 3D, and again it wasn’t ready. So this time they made film even more cinematic by drowning it in SOUND, with what would one day become digital Dolby surround sound (Oh, and they invented merchandising.). But, once again, far from killing anything off, video was, together with television, yet another revenue stream for cinema.

Today’s bogeyman is of course the internet. And, third time lucky, 3D is finally here to save the day. Except of course that all the internet is doing is feeding yet further into the ever expanding media universe. So that the same names and faces are appearing across films, ads, books, and television, to be discussed on Facebook, Twitter, radio, newspapers and magazines, before being repackaged for DVD, cable and satellite. It’s the virtuous circle that just keeps on giving.

So when you go to the cinema today, exactly the same thing happens as it did in the 50s or 70s. For the first 6 or 7 minutes, you’re dazzled by the uniquely cinematic experience you get by being deluged by 3D, or cinemascope, or digital Dolby surround sound or, ideally, all three. And then by the eighth minute, you get used to it, and one of two things will happen – and obviously, this is as true for 3D television as it is for cinema. Either, you are drawn into the brilliance of the story you are being told, and you become completely oblivious to whatever it is that you are watching it on. Or, you don’t. And you become so irritated by what you’re being asked to watch that all you notice are the pyrotechnics, as you become increasingly conscious of the filmmaker’s pathetic attempts to distract from their storytelling impotence with the would-be Viagra of special effects.

So where, and on what you watch Toy Story 3 is neither here nor there. So dazzled will you be by its peerless brilliance, that all you will see is the magisterial story it tells and the majestic way that it tells it. Effortlessly intelligent and flawlessly plotted, it combines rye humour with pitch perfect jokes, and is emotionally engaging to, at times, painful perfection. It’s not just one of the best films of the last few years it manages, together with Toy Story 1 and 2, to be both individually brilliant and the most artistically satisfying franchise in the history of film. Quite simply, a masterpiece.

Avatar on the other hand, is its exact opposite. Once you get beyond the 3D, all you’re left with is a monumentally dull, hopelessly leaden, flaccid film of sub-one dimensional characters, that manages to somehow remain screamingly unfunny for its entire duration. How do you make a three hour cartoon without one, single joke? Boring, tedious, and endlessly tiresome, you feel like you’re being hectored and lectured to by a six year old who’s just discovered the internet, but who hasn’t learnt to read properly yet. Or, to put it another way, it’s just another James Cameron film.

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