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3D: Style over substance?

Is 3D animation the future of film or simply a multi-billion dollar gimmick? (Photo: Caleb Sconosciuto)

Is 3D animation the future of film or simply a multi-billion dollar gimmick? (Photo: Caleb Sconosciuto)

In 2009, 3D films exploded. Coraline, Up and Monsters Vs. Aliens, were just a few of the blockbusters to embrace the medium, and it would take a colder cynic than I to argue that it didn’t enhance the experience. Coraline was creepier, the Up balloons more colourful, in a format which meant you could almost reach into the world you were watching. The downside is that directors have started to create films specifically designed to be as stunning as possible in 3D, with little or no regard to the script or story. The culprit? Avatar.

Avatar has been lauded by a gushing American Film Institute as being “a milepost in the evolution of the art form.” This milepost is that it is an as yet pirate-proof format, meaning a total incline in profit for the AFI (an adult ticket at the Odeon is £8.50 – in 3D, it’s a hefty £9.75). This is of course a good thing – film piracy is never justifiable, and in part responsible for the dependence on cash-cows like 3D. As for the 3D art form, it has in fact been in development since the late 1800s. I’m not saying that the directors of 3D films seventy years ago could have made a more spectacular film than Avatar – just that, today, the greed of directors in their desire to make something look good is all too often combined with a lazy plot and a script you could use as hypnosis therapy.

I, unlike many, sat through Avatar in both 3D and 2D. Brushing aside the fact that watching blue cats has now taken up almost six hours of my life, I made a sad but not entirely unexpected discovery: once the 3D glasses are removed, you’re left with a fairly average film. Of course it looks amazing – with a budget of over two hundred million dollars, you’d hope it would – but James Cameron, director of my all-time favourite film (The Terminator, not Titanic), has become so enamoured with the incredible performance-capture and virtual-camera technology that he has shockingly forgotten to 1) read the script and 2) realise it’s Pocahontas with cats. With lines like “so a week before he was about to ship out a guy with a gun ends his journey… for the paper in his wallet”, supposed to make us empathise with Jake Sully, it’s barely surprising that you find yourself staring at the pretty six-legged horses rather than engaging with the film.

Avatar may be an exception to the rule of other films in 3D – Bolt and Up, both Pixar films, worked in 2D every bit as well as they did in 3D because you’re choked up over the characters and their problems. The 3D was fun, but not a necessity; although it didn’t add anything, it certainly didn’t take anything away. Avatar, however, relied on the format entirely. And although they were the best special effects I have ever seen, I wasn’t moved by any of the performances (computer-generated or live action), and even Sigourney Weaver seemed to deliver her appalling lines with the weary resignation of an actress spoon-feeding an age-old plot to an audience who, let’s face it, are trying to touch ferns in mid-air.

I’m not neophobic, I’m not technophobic, and I’m not one of those ridiculous people who think that Hollywood churns out nothing but crap. If film technology can be developed to the point where it genuinely enhances the entire experience of watching a film, then I’m sold. But if it does it at the expense of the script, then it’s not ready: it’s just film for film’s sake.

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