Tuesday 4 March 2014

2D Cinema vs 3D

The 2D vs 3D debate rumbles on, though the studios seem committed to the new technology.

In the old days of cinema, before polarising glasses, I never used to sit irritated in the dark thinking - this is far too flat for me. Why? Because through the art of the cinematographer, the image projected onto the 2D screen had 3D depth.

It is a trick of the mind and the eye so subtle that I was never even aware of it until I started to make films myself. The subject - the thing on the screen which the film maker wanted to direct my eye to - was in perfect focus. Other things, closer to the camera or further away, were softened. The slightest of out-of-focus blur.

2D seeming 3D in a photographic image
2D seeming 3D in a photographic image

This so closely maps onto the way we experience depth of field in everyday life that in watching a 2D movie, the mind tells us some things are further away and other things closer. A flat screen becomes 3D.

But in the old days those three dimensions were trapped behind the screen. Modern 3D extends out into the space between the screen and the audience. It offers that spooky moment when the Cheshire Cat hovers in the air just in front of you and speaks in Stephen Fry's voice.

The Cheshire Cat - Alice in Wonderland (2010)
The Cheshire Cat - Alice in Wonderland (2010)

For that moment of magic however, a payment is required. A 30% loss in colour. The hassle of having a pair of uncomfortable glasses pressing down on your nose - over your own glasses if you are short sighted like me. And a substantially more expensive cinema ticket.

There is also a strange mismatch between the old and the new systems of indicating depth. The subject is still in focus, the background and foreground are out of focus. But now some of those out of focus things are floating around in the air just in front of you. I find my eye is no longer pulled only to the thing I should be looking at, but jumps between things at different depths. They remain out of focus, which my brain finds hard to accept. The experience is disorientating and mildly unpleasant.

Perhaps we are in an age similar to the end of the silent era, when cinematographers were experimenting with the new technology and hadn't quite got it right. Or perhaps this is an unneeded technology. Time will tell. But for now, given the option, I'll be going for 2D screenings.

And here, for your enjoyment, is Mark Kermode and Simon Miller's revolutionary invention - glasses that allow you to see 3D screenings in spectacular, immersive 2D.


The above article was first printed in August 2010 on my original Author Intrusion blog. It is interesting to note how much has changed and how much has not changed in the intervening years. We still have parallel theatrical releases in 2D and 3D. But I suspect more people now go out of their way to avoid wearing the dreaded glasses. A few films have made a success of 3D - I would say Gravity is a good example. But the art of the 2D cinematographer has not yet been displaced from its position of primacy.

I wonder what the next three and a half years will bring.

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