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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