It’s sometime in the earlyish 1980s, on the edge of a place called Immingham in north-east Lincolnshire, pretty much on the edge of civilisation. It’s a Sunday afternoon and ITV (it has to be ITV as I remember an ad break before and during the film), and there’s this weird looking film on TV. It’s weird. There’s some sort of ghost to the image. It wasn’t unusual for our TV reception to have ‘ghosts’, but these were strange, coloured ghosts. I was told by my mum that it was in 3D.
Not that I understood. This had no impact on me. It’s not that I was too young to understand. It’s just no-one in my family actually understood why the film on the TV just looked so… weird. In those days we didn’t have access to the internet or vast amounts of literature that explained everything. And neither did anyone else. It was just an event, for the family – albeit based around a pretty shit film.
I remember the red and blue glasses attached to the front of that week’s TV Times though, and they hung around for a couple of months (or sprung up again a couple of months later), mainly round the release of Jaws 3 on video (another shit film). Maybe my favourite comic Battle Action Force also had a one-off 3D issue (Zzap! 64 did about four years later, but that’s way later), and a pair might have dropped out of a box of Shreddies (not as memorable as the Octopussy being on the Shredded Wheat box). But most of the time they didn’t really work. (Unless I’ve get really screwy eyes that aren’t compatible with the technology.) Either way, it was all just a bit of fun. Nothing too serious.
Then a couple of years ago 3D started to rear its head again, this time at cinemas. Maybe it had been there all the time and I just hadn’t noticed. But this time it was starting to feature on campaigns for films, like the Polar Express and Monster House (both cynically family market affairs where groups of at least three people of more go to showings). A leading head at the marketing agency I worked at at the time declared that “3D is a fad, it won’t last”. As a lover of the traditional cinema going experience I wanted to agree, but I feared that he was wrong.
We’re a society that has become too accustomed to films and their structural mechanics. When we watch an expensive summer blockbuster – and its action sequences – now, most of us are so underwhelmed. We have seen it all before. 99.9% of the time the thrill is immensely reduced by the fact we know THE HERO WILL SURVIVE.
Hollywood would embrace this 3D technology somehow, and make wearing special glasses in cinema screen their DVD/Blue-Ray: the opportunity to capture the public’s interest with an ‘upgrade’ to the established traditional cinema viewing experience while cashing in at the same time. And this was the cue for studios to start throwing in the obligatory and obvious 3D shot. Look! It’s coming out of the screeeEEEENNN AT US! Yawn.
Avatar, a film that suited the degradation of the cinema screen image to mask its computer generated origins that are so obvious on a home television screen, has made sure 3D isn’t going away. The fact it stormed past $1billion isn’t because it is a great film, it is because it was pushed an experience (which the advertising stated) that you had to pay an extra premium for (which the advertising didn’t state). You put on the glasses, you entered the world, you tried to forget that it was just pretty and not particularly engaging. Avatar pushes technical boundaries? Maybe, but it was still a shit film wrapped in an innovative method of production design and set building.
This highlights my main fear though. Hollywood has a good knack for knocking out average films – movies for the masses – and 3D is providing the perfect mask for this time honoured tradition to continue. There are any number of recent examples that back up the argument, most prominent in my mind is the unholy mess that was Clash of the Titans. The decision to add 3D to the film seems to have arrived late on in the film’s production, and there’s nothing in the film’s shooting that suggests it needed to be 3D. It’s just 3D for the sake of it, for the sake of making a few more dollars. Does promoting the film as being in 3D suggest straight away to people that this is film is going to be so thrilling?
Here we are, nearly 20 years on from that day in my lounge in Immingham, when the family sat curiously to try out this crappy movie that wouldn’t have got an airing if it wasn’t for the 3D element. The glasses, the one pair of glasses we shared between us, “having a go” each, were free with the TV Times. And we turned the film off after 15 minutes it was that rubbish. Are you likely to walk out of the cinema having paid £10 each to get in?