Why we are forced to watch films in 3D

Puss in Boots is a bad film. On most days I wouldn't have minded its pathetic jokes. But the film, which released recently, can only be viewed in 3D. So I paid twice the money to wear glasses with dodgy hygiene, get a headache, a pain on the bridge of the nose, watery eyes and nausea -- all because Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks decided to exhibit it in 3D. 

Why are millions of filmgoers like me forced to watch a film that uses a technology that makes the actual picture dark and unfathomable, cuts one off from one's co-watchers and generally spoils the film watching experience? What if we wanted to to watch it in 2D so badly that we were willing to pay the price of a 3D ticket? Would that help studios ensure that 2D versions are available at convenient locations, times and in a language of our choice. 

Hidden dimension: In India, ticket prices increase by 50-100 per 
cent for a 3D release. Not making a 2D version easily accessible is one 
of the ploys studios and theatres use to ensure that you opt for a 3D 
version and end up paying more

The cost of 3D technology is high. So it justifies an increase of anything between $5-8 in ticket prices in the US. That is about double the regular ticket price. This is true for India too, where ticket prices go up by 50-100 per cent for a 3D release. Not making a 2D version easily accessible is one of the ploys studios and theatres use to ensure that you opt for a 3D version and end up paying more.

When James Cameron's Avatar was due for release in 3D in 2009, a huge push for digitisation happened across the world. The number of digital screens more than doubled between 2009 and 2010. Its success made everyone think that 3D was the reason for its $1.9-odd billion taking at the global box office. These days every studio is trying to cram several 3D releases into its pipeline in the hope of making money; the audience be damned. 

There are enough supporters of the technology who ask Luddites like me to step out of the way. Their contention is that just like sound or colour, 3D will become an intrinsic part of filmmaking and we'd better get used to it. It is the future. To them I have just two things to say.

One, it has been the future for more than 50 years. But we still haven't managed to get the technology right. The whole definition of 3D, beyond saying three-dimensional, will make your eyes glaze over. So no point getting into how it is about 'enhancing the illusion of depth perception'. There was no reason for its birth in the 1950s and there is no particular reason for its continued existence. It is cumbersome, difficult to shoot in, expensive to convert and a pain to watch in. For those of you really interested just type 'why 3D sucks' on Google and watch the fun. 

This is not just about the glasses. There is talk of 3D without glasses. But, and this brings me to point number two, most film makers and studios do not use their judgement on what script does or doesn't work in 3D. Kung Fu Panda 2 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2 did not work in 3D. Yet I was forced to watch them in 3D, because the 2D shows were either in Hindi or at inconvenient times or venues. 

Avatar and Tintin lend themselves to 3D. Incidentally they would have worked beautifully even without 3D. However forcing it on films, such as Clash of the Titans or Don2, simply because ticket prices are higher, is likely to have the opposite effect. It will put people off. They will wait then for the satellite TV or DVD release. Like one Oscar winning film editor says, a well-told story is an 'immersive' experience in any case. No technology on earth can substitute that. 

Vanita Kohli-Khandekar is a media specialist and author.

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