Back in the early 1950s, 3-D was a gimmick employed by Hollywood to lure back into theaters patrons who were abandoning moviegoing in favor of sitting at home in their easy chairs and staring at what then was new and novel: their just-purchased television sets. And these days, in case you haven’t noticed, there has been a resurgence of 3-D in movie theaters.
Granted, it generally is fun to see a film in 3-D. But ultimately, 3-D is little more than a novelty, a visual diversion. If a film works-- if it is genuinely clever, thoughtful, or entertaining-- it will not really be enhanced by 3-D. If a film does not work-- if it is dull, confusing, or whatever-- the 3D addition will be little more than icing on top of a stale, weeks-old birthday cake.
For example, take two very different films that have played in movie houses in 3-D. The first is a film that I often have talked about since its release at the end of last year. It is HUGO, Martin Scorsese’s homage to the early years of the cinema and to film pioneer Georges Melies in particular. While seeing HUGO in 3-D is a visual treat, you still can fully appreciate this stimulating, beautifully made film if you experience it without the 3-D effect. If you did not see HUGO during its theatrical run, it presently is available on DVD. It is not to be missed.
At the other end of the quality scale is a more recent release. That would be PROMETHEUS. The setting of this science fiction tale is outer space, at the tail-end of the 21st century. PROMETHEUS is the name of a scientific exploratory vessel that has set out on a voyage to a distant world to discover the secret of the creation of life. While traveling through space, a half-billion miles away from their home base, the ship and its crew come upon this mysterious world, which they set out to explore. Of course, you know that they will be in for quite a few grim, grisly shocks and surprises.
The first problem I had with PROMETHEUS was the make-up of the ship’s crew. As a group, these so-called scientists seemed awfully clueless. As they conversed and related to each other, in no way did they act like top-tier experts in their field. At one point during the “exploration” of the planet, one of them observes, ever so casually, “This place isn’t what we thought it was.” Oh really. How profound.
Then there was the lack of suspense in PROMETHEUS. Here is a sci-fi thriller that is sorely lacking in thrills and excitement. To sum up, the novelty of watching PROMETHEUS in 3-D quickly wore off and, early on, I found myself constantly glancing at my watch, wondering how much longer the film would last prior to its end-credit roll.
This always is a bad sign.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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