The Habitrail Critic: To 3D or Not To 3D?

I admit it. I’m not especially fond of 3D. I have only seen it used well on a few rare occasions. Otherwise, it tends to do nothing for me, and I’ve been trying lately to figure out exactly why it annoys me so much, even in films that use it well.

I begin to suspect that at least some of what’s bothersome to me about 3D use is that it seems to do the opposite of what it ought to do. Ideally, I think, properly used 3D should enhance the immersive experience of the film. It should serve to involve the audience even more immediately and intensely in the world and action on screen. Instead, it tends to be a sort of jarring distraction. When I’m immersed in a story, perhaps what I really want is fly-on-the-wall immersion, the kind of invisible, nonparticipant involvement that both lets me feel the physical thrill of the scene and prevents me from having to react to it in ways that remove me from the experience. I can’t enjoy the scene if I’m defending myself from flying objects, now, can I?

It also occurs to me (or it did, in a conversation with a student this afternoon) that toward the end of the kind of immersion I have in mind, good sound (especially well-mixed, well-balanced surround) and smart editing will always accomplish more than gimmicky 3D visuals ever could. Two examples come immediately to mind on this score: the absolutely brilliant sound work on that harrowing Normandy beach bit of Saving Private Ryan and the splendid editing and sound in the amazing descent scene from The Man From Snowy River (also an awesome example of stunt riding by lead actor Tom Burlinson, guided by the incredible Charlie Lovick). In both cases, the immersive effect comes from timing and sound/visual placement, and would (I think) suffer rather than be improved by 3D.

Note the shot arrangement as well as the use of the score (including careful silences). On the massive IMAX screen, this sort of thing might be overkill, but on a standard widescreen projection of the kind in use when the film was made (1982?), it’s brilliant.
The really interesting question, perhaps, is HOW sound can have this power.

About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. Otherwise, I labor to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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