I saw the Avatar movie twice over the holiday period, both times in 3D. Visually it is a glorious feast for the senses, but in terms of story it was Dances with Wolves (or Pocahontas), and fairly ordinary. The acting was actually of quite a high level for a Hollywood action sci-fi film, with newcomer Sam Worthington holding his own alongside veteran actress Sigourney Weaver.
The slightly wacky eco theme sits curiously well with me as the bizarre ecological situation on Pandora is really unable to be compared with Earth – and in fact given the apparent lack of sensitivity of Earth’s creatures to each other we might even find that a Pandoran viewpoint would be that Earth’s deadness existed even before humanity killed it (as Sam’s character alludes).
From a spiritual viewpoint I find it interesting that people are seeking the one great truth, and grasping at the apparent holiness of the eco-green movement as the way forward. The hypocrisy of that movement is that it places ecology before humanity, whilst claiming that it is more humane to live that way – the millions of people who have suffered starvation because of the rush to make biofuel out of food crops are testimony to the illogic. Some of the greatest green leaders are in fact quite open about believing that we need less people on the Earth (perhaps if we need to kill ourselves off they could go first?).
Anyway, that wasn’t what this post was supposed to be about. In fact the thing that prompted me to write something tonight about Avatar was its use of 3D. A lot has been said about this being the first real mainstream movie use of the 3D effect. There were certainly scenes where the 3D was particularly noticeable (in the holographic displays in the command centre and in the ash flakes falling from the sky). There were also scenes where it was probably used, but it was less obvious (like the flying scenes). Seeing the movie again in 2D would probably be the only way I could truly tell where it was most used.
It was the less subtle times when it was used that bothered me as it jolted me out of my suspension of disbelief and reminded me where I really was. In my mind this is the paradox of 3D effects. As long as the 3D effect is simply adding depth to the screen you run the risk of a few things happening:
- Reminding the audience that they’re really in a cinema (or at home now that 3D TVs have launched).
This happened to me when the ash flakes fell and it felt like something fell in front of my eyes in the cinema and blocked my vision, which was annoying.
- Allowing the director to force a focal plane on the audience.
In some scenes, particularly the command centre, I wanted to focus on the cool background items but found them deliberately out of focus because of the 3D effect. This is less obvious in 2D movies and it feels more natural looking at the background items.
- Bringing the audience into the scene.
This seems like it should be a good thing, but as long as we can’t change the point of view it can be frustrating to feel like you’re cemented to one part of a scene, especially one that may challenge your phobias or perceptions (the character may want to peek over the edge of a 500m drop, that doesn’t mean I want to).
An obvious future step is for filmmakers to try to give audiences the ability to change their point of view (POV) in each scene in the movie, and then to even attempt to give them the POV of the main character. This is the ultimate merging of first-person shooter games with the movie format.
Playing with POV can lead to some insidious issues, such as the problems created when the main character and the main viewpoint are one and the same. In this case you are given some uncomfortable issues to deal with if the main character lies or is misdirected as the audience must be likewise affected. Physical comedy becomes much harder to represent when the body of the main character is invisible – and worse the audience may be left feeling the physical discomfort of the performer rather than the humour of his actions (although some new, more subtle, comedic routines might be discovered that make use of this fact).
So if 3D filmmakers avoid the issues of POV by taking the more traditional ‘limited godhood’ viewpoint then the issue becomes how to cope with audiences that will manipulate the POV for their own purposes (I can already see websites springing up with screenshots of actors from compromising/embarrassing angles). Perhaps some angles would be marked off-limits and unavailable, guarding film crews and actors alike – or post-production would become super-intensive and designed to limit the effect of compromising viewpoints.
Of course the technology to capture 3D is a long way from allowing us to capture all of a scene in real-life cameras, but that wouldn’t stop the type of CGI scenes that Jim Cameron has pulled off in Avatar – which then brings back the existence of compromising angles.
I think the first-person POV will be experimented with, but in movies like Doom that was generally regarded as an annoying gimmick (remember The Rock?), and I can’t see it taking off in 3D either, except perhaps in the horror or X-rated movie genres. In fact there might be a place for it in romantic movies – after all it would feel great to be seduced by a famous actor/actress, right? Perhaps not, but I’m sure someone will try it.
In fact, before POV becomes changeable it would be nice to see the plane of focus being variable. If we could choose what was in and out of focus then that would make it a much more natural experience and add variety to movies that you might watch time and time again.
Other areas are likely to prosper once we get 3D TVs into our living rooms. For one thing sport offers a tremendous area of innovation as promoters look for ways to bring the audience onto the sporting field. However the costs of creating 3D cameras might be prohibitive in a fast-moving and unpredictable domain like sports (although table tennis, darts and snooker might be easy ones to make 3D). The thrill of being in the midst of a sporting occasion would mare it an obvious choice for pay TV, and this alone might make it the starting point.
Gaming is the most fertile ground for 3D TVs. Technological breakthroughs like Microsoft’s Project Natal enhancement to the XBox will also offer an amazing degree of interaction with a 3D image – with the potential of games taking advantage of your 3D TV and the Natal interface to offer truly immersive experiences. In fact that might be the greatest use of a 3D movie in providing rich, immersive ready for 3D worlds for game designers to then populate with challenges and learning experiences for novice and experienced games alike.