Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a big proponent of 3-D cinema. Well, Daniel Engber at Slate has written an article criticizing even recent advances of the technology that for the first time has given me pause.
He starts by arguing that even though 3-D technology has improved and there are far fewer complaints of eye soreness than its earlier iterations, there is an inherent issue with viewing 3-D on a flat screen:
Something different happens when you're viewing three-dimensional motion projected onto a flat surface. When a helicopter flies off the screen in Monsters vs. Aliens, our eyeballs rotate inward to follow it, as they would in the real world. Reflexively, our eyes want to make a corresponding change in shape, to shift their plane of focus. If that happened, though, we'd be focusing our eyes somewhere in front of the screen, and the movie itself (which is, after all, projected on the screen) would go a little blurry. So we end up making one eye movement but not the other; the illusion forces our eyes to converge without accommodating.
That movement sustained through an entire feature, he argues, causes eyestrain.
He also makes a point about people who have depth perception disabilities, which I first thought about seriously when I asked a small group of people to see Coraline 3D with me and two of them admitted not being able to fully process 3-D effects.
Five percent to 8 percent of the population is stereoblind and can't convert binocular disparity into depth information. That means they can't appreciate any of the 3-D effects in a RealD or Imax movie. An additional 20 to 30 percent of the population suffers from a lesser form of the deficit, which could diminish the experience of 3-D effects or make them especially uncomfortable to watch.
Certainly it was an issue for the colorblind when color film came about, but they could still watch the movie. But those incapable of viewing 3-D film experience unpleasant effects such as double vision.
And then there's the issue of permanent consequences if we start watching more and more things in 3-D:
[A]udience-members may experience very mild, short-term vision impairment after a movie ends. I won't pretend there's any hard evidence that these transient effects could develop into permanent problems. But if 3-D becomes as widespread as some in the industry claim—every movie in three dimensions, for example, and television programs, too—we'll no doubt have plenty of data...
All good points, although I have to admit that I haven't experienced much unpleasantness myself when seeing movies projected in RealD.
Maybe we'll never get to the point where everything is in 3-D, although I wonder if there are eye issues with holographs. Yet, I still consider myself a 3-D optimist, and I suspect that once the marketing hype of James Cameron's Avater picks up, which should begin fairly soon once a trailer comes out, we're going to see a lot more journalism about the viability of 3-D as a ubiquitous cinematic technology.
James Cameron has finally settled on Avatar as his first post-Titanic feature-length film, and shooting will begin this April. From the New York Times:
The film, with a budget of close to $200 million, is an original science fiction story that will be shown in 3D in conventional theaters. The story pits a human army against an alien army on a distant planet, using live actors and digital technology to make a large cast of virtual creatures who convey emotion as authentically as humans.We shall see... in two years. (3) #1/8/2007