Roger Ebert Finds 3-D Films Annoying Roger Ebert Finds 3-D Films Annoying
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Roger Ebert Finds 3-D Films Annoying


Hurtling 3-D objects at viewers is not a substitute for quality filmmaking as last week’s weak opening of the 3-D animated pic Fly Me to the Moon proved. Roger Ebert takes the issue one step further and posits on his blog that 3-D technology not only doesn’t add anything to the viewing experience but that it actually detracts from the filmgoer’s enjoyment of movies. He writes:

Ask yourself this question: Have you ever watched a 2-D movie and wished it were in 3-D? Remember that boulder rolling behind Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark?” Better in 3-D? No, it would have been worse. Would have been a tragedy. The 3-D process is like a zombie, a vampire, or a 17-year cicada: seemingly dead, but crawling out alive after a lapse of years. We need a wooden stake.

[Previously on Cartoon Brew: 3-D Animation: Fad or Future?]

(via Kottke)

  • “Have you ever watched a 2-D movie and wished it were in 3-D?”

    I have, yes. I have wished more than once that a superb nature documentary I was watching was filmed in 3-D. And I have also seen a number of superb nature documentaries which did use IMAX 3-D (a favourite is “Into the Deep”). It really does add quite a lot to the experience, particularly if it is a good film.

    Like any technique, it adds more to some films than to others.

    Really, I think that this is no different than the squabbles about synchronized sound and colour. Sure, some movies work better in black and white. Also, the arrival of sound set back the art of explaining visually without words. There was more groundbreaking cinematography in the 1920s than in the 1930s. The arrival of sound was also a huge blow to cinema in one sense, because it meant that a good film from a small country (with a small language) could no longer do well around the world.

    OF COURSE 3D is no substitute for quality film-making. Nor is colour, nor is sound, nor is widescreen. The trouble with 3D is that so many of the studios who use it believe that it is. I think that is why it keeps dying.

  • Oliver

    Just remember that the man pushing 3-D most strongly in Hollywood right now is the same person who insisted that ‘Pocahontas’ was going to earn more than ‘The Lion King’, and be in line for a Best Picture nomination as well!

  • Greg H

    I saw Superman Returns in 3D and in IMAX. It was terrible–I wanted to take my glasses off and watch it normally on the screen, but I couldn’t because the screen was blurry during those scenes.

    Monster House–wanted to take my glasses off during the entire movie. The 3D did nothing for me whatsoever.

    Meet the Robinsons–I thought that one worked pretty well in 3D, but I would have enjoyed it just as much without the 3D. The thing that was REALLY cool was the Donald Duck 2D short at the beginning. It was like watching a ViewMaster come to life–I can’t praise that segment enough.

    I’ve seen Nightmare on Elm Street 6 in 3D (totally sucked), and even Captain EO back in the day.

    Anything where you have to wear 3D glasses in my opinion is just a novelty and it won’t save movie theaters like they think it will. I certainly wouldn’t pay extra to see it in 3D if given a choice. However, I’m waiting for the 3D TV sets that are coming where the image appears in 3D and you don’t even need to wear special glasses. THAT’S where I think the revolution is going to happen.

  • I’ve also seen some movies that I had wished were 3D. Not theatrical releases though. Or direct to video.

    Alright I’ll be honest. It was porn.

  • Susana

    I never really thought about it, but no, I’ve never wished a 2D movie was 3D. I don’t think 3D particularly appeals to me, but I don’t have a strong opinion because I haven’t seen a 3D film in a while! And even then, they were documentaries. The only non-documentary was the Honey, I Shrunk the Audience at Disneyland. I think it was cool to experience, but it seems it *might* be distracting for a film.

    I do agree with where Niffiwan says that nature documentaries are cool that way. I like them both ways, but I remember seeing one about bugs and it was cool! Scary, too, because there was one scene where a spider was coming down on a webstring, and it felt like the spider was right in front of your face!! haha. I think most of the scenes weren’t 3D, and so it was like a fun extra thing to the documentary when they had one.

    I don’t know if this was really 3D, but I remember in a Science museum that I went to, they had this really cool and huge theater. They were playing a nature thing, and it felt like the screen curved and sorta wrapped around the sides a little bit. It felt like we were in the scene, and it was super cool!!

    But I do feel that it would be a little distracting in a regular film, and it might take me away from the movie for a second. Again, haven’t seen an action movie in 3D, so I can’t say much! …But I sure wrote a lot!

  • “Bwana Devil,” “House of Wax?” This creature rears its ugly head every twenty years, it seems.

    Ebert is right. It needs to die again — and it surely will.

  • autisticanimator

    He’s only right if the market for 3D films shrinks considerably to let these other “working-films” back into the fray…

  • Ted

    “Captain EO” shouldn’t have been in out-of-focus 3D. It shouldn’t have been.

  • I just realized that maybe Jeffery Katzenburg is pushing 3-D so they can distract people with a gimmick so they forget their watching a movie with a thin plot.

  • Ha! I love that man.

  • 3D needs to die only if filmmakers continue to use it the way the always have.

    3D can stay if people use it as a tool that enhances what is already there: a good story, great acting and skilled direction.

    Stereoscopy isn’t a problem in and of itself. It just needs to be used for good instead of this continuous evil we keep being subjected to.

  • matt

    He’s WRONG! And right. The big reason 3d is still a joke aside from those nature docos is that it’s still treated as a novelty by the very people who do it, and the cinematic language isn’t altered to accommodate both linear storytelling and the changes that the added dimension imposes. Saying the whole thing is bad is just stupid though and myopic. It’s like saying animation is for kids. If you’re uninformed, mostly you’d be right. Which in no way means it has to be that way.

    Stating that it’s just a joke outright is moronic. The structure of a scene needs changing, as does editing. Cutting between long shots and closeups is much more disconcerting if you don’t take into account ‘recovery time’ as is z-axis movement. If you DO take this into account, you change the whole language and begin to find an actual synthesis of the two. It doesn’t HAVE to be ‘comin’ atcha!’.

    Ebert should know more about film than to make a blanket statement like this. What a headline-grabbing, sensationalist bite. Not even going to start on your disingenuous headline there Amid – but why didn’t you write SEE?! In huge letters afterwards? I kid, I kid. ;)

  • Brad

    It’s fun to see it done once in a while for a movie that is otherwise essentially worthless. Its really just a gimmick, so I wonder why they are bringing it back right now when Hollywood is having (I thought) a pretty good year without it.

  • Alberto

    guess he’s not going to like “Coraline.”

  • I am hardly surprised, when I went to go see Chicken Little a few years back I thought I was going to get sea sick. I hate those glasses, its one thing when you are in an IMAX at a museum and you only have to tolerate it for a 30 minute show but if you have to sit through 80 minutes forget it. Its so gimmicky… whatever.

  • Kris

    I did go to see the Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D last year and it was a blast. A lot of fun. I don’t think I’d always want to watch all movies in 3-D because it really can be distracting to have stuff shooting out of the screen at you all the time, but it’s a fun experience a couple times a year. Movies that are steep in special effects look the best.

    I saw Beowulf in 3-D, too. The gimmick DOES improve lower quality movies like Beowulf. I wouldn’t have bothered with it otherwise, but with the glasses on the movie suddenly looked a lot better aesthetically.

  • While I agree that it’s no substitute for good filmmaking, they are not mutually exclusive. I can’t quite see how the boulder scene in Raiders would be worse in three dimensions.

    Being honest, I’m a little stunned it’s taking so long for 3D to become standard. I guess it’s a technology thing – last time I watched something in 3D (can’t even remember what it was), my eyes wanted to explode. I didn’t let them, but still…

  • One reason for pushing 3D is to get the theaters to upgrade to digital projection which will reduce print costs for all movies, 2D or 3D.

    3D probably adds less to the film maker’s arsenal than any other technique, but it is fun sometimes. Polar Express was fun in 3D.

    I saw “Duck Dodgers in the 3rd Dimension” in 3D and was very impressed with that.

    I saw Monster House on DVD and wished I had seen it in 3D.

  • Why would it have been worse? 3D may be a gimmick right now but it may yet prove as immersive as surround sound given enough time to mature.

  • Half

    I think 3D offers many new possibilities for storytelling. If it’s just a gimmick, it fails again. If it unlocks a more visceral emotional connection to the audience, it really will bring back a compelling reason to see it in the theatre. State of mind will be easier to create when an audience can feel a character’s world around them and actually “see” things through that charcters eyes. We could paint a whole world of expression.

    A project like that would need to begin with an emotionally honest story not just some other cynical special fx roadtest. Oh. Yeah. Right. Now, I see the problem.

  • Steve Gattuso

    I’m in that small minority that 3D gives headaches to because of discrepancies between my eyes. Both red/blue and polarized versions do it to me, even if I wear the special optics over my own glasses.

    And is it just me, or do the colors on 3D films look horribly washed out in comparison to their 2D counterparts?

  • tom

    I can’t stand 3D. For all the reasons Ebert cited and more. It’s just a gimmicky, annoying way to watch a movie, and it really just doesn’t work that well either. I can’t wait until Disney and Dreamworks abandon it again. It’s something that appeals to a certain kind of parent and child and they are not looking for quality. They watch movies in the same way that they ride roller coasters- somethin’ ta do. I’d rather invest myself in the story and appreciate the artistry behind it and not be distracted and annoyed by some weak technology they slathered on top of it to sell tickets to people.

  • Go Man

    I know for a fact one of the largest UK tv stations is currently pumping loads of money into 3-d glasses nonsense.

    When has 3d cinema ever been popular?

  • Rat

    Dear Editor,

    I have recently visited my local ten-cent motion-picture theatre and have seen the new cinematic offering there, entitled “Fantasia”. I believe it was created by the Hollywood Animation Motion-Picture Director, Mister Walt Disney.

    It is claimed by the publicity exploitation that this motion-picture utilizes multiple audio-speakers in an invention that Mr. Disney has named “Fantasound”. Mr. Disney claims that this new Fantasound process is a technological leap comparable to the advent of the Talkie.

    I beg to differ.

    One only need watch the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” portion to appreciate what a garish, disorienting process this “Fantasound” entails. During the sequence, Mickey Mouse is being swallowed by a magical whirlpool. Not satisfied with the crescendo of music to accompany this action, Mr. Disney pans the music to the left, to the right, to the left, to the right, until the audience is as dizzy as the poor soggy rodent. It is a wholly disorienting cacophony that bears no resemblance to any sound in the natural world, and lampoons Dukas’ composition. I can only imagine the horror that Mr. Stokowski felt at this carnival-ride treatment of his work.

    Readers, ask yourself this question: Have you ever watched a regular talkie and wished it were in “Stereo-Phonia?”

    Would Al Jolson’s rendition of “My Mammy” have been better with Jolson’s voice swirling ’round and ’round the auditorium? No, it would have been worse. Would Mr. Disney’s own Steamboat Willie been better if the theater had been filled with dozens of ear-splitting mouse-squeaks from every direction? Certainly not. Would have been a tragedy.

    This “Fanata-Sound” is nothing but a gimmick. It cannot make the story of a movie one iota better. Better that Mr. Disney get back to making cartoons and leave the gimmick makers for the carnival midways, unless he fancies himself a carny. For mark my words, “Stereo-Phonics” has no future in the movie-house.

    Mr. Roger Ebert, SR

  • Pick a movie theater, yeah? A big one, and sit in the front row at the movie of your choice, so that the screen encompasses your entire peripheral vision. If you can still see the exit signs you aren’t sitting close enough.
    Now, close one eye, again the eye of your choosing. Now keep it that way. Voila. The movie will now become 3D after a couple seconds because your brain has no information besides that on the screen, with which to register or process depth perception.
    Of course your eye will start bleeding after like a minute, but for 30 glorious seconds you’ll have the ride of your afternoon.

  • Stereoscopy is like any other machine – it’s either a benefit or a hazard. If it’s a benefit, it’s not my problem.

  • Deckard

    Hey Drage,

    That’s my line!

  • Memo2Self

    The only 3-D movie I’ve seen recently is “U2 3D” in IMAX, and I’ve gotta tell you, it was one of the great movie theatre experiences of my life. The oversized glasses were comfortable (even over my own glasses), and the 3-D filmmaking was imaginative and breathtaking, not gimmicky at all, and I am so fortunate that I had the chance to see it.

    That said, I am not looking forward to the 3-D-ifying of my beloved Pixar films. Perfection does not need to be re-invented. So there.

  • Ridgecity

    You can judge 3D with movies that suck. I saw the Good, The Bad and The Ugly in 3D when I was a kid as was fucking amazing. I also saw Spy Kids 3D and it sucked.

    You need a good movie to make the effects really fit with the movies, The Lord of The Rings would have been really good with the battle scenes, monsters and gigantic locations.

    Fly Me To The Moon sucks even in trailer form, which is supposed to pull you to see the movie.

  • Fly me to the Moon, and Journey to the Center of the Earth have done a 1-2 punch to the brains of the viewing public. Bad 3D is a disservice to the art form when your trying to convince people that its a viable from of entertainment.

    Fly me to the Moon and Journey 3D are both failures as films first. Not the 3D. The 3D was a failure of the right way to do Stereo. They both failed at failing.

    I’m really looking forward to Coraline.

  • Rat

    “I’m really looking forward to Coraline.”

    Me too! YAY!

  • What’s more is that some places will not even have 3D ready screens. I saw a sign at a nearby theater in suburban Raleigh that said that Center of the Earth was not available in 3D in that theater. The cost of getting more screens to use that technology can be too much for some groups to afford.

    As for the movies themselves the main thing is that if you can get a movie to be in 3D that is actually any good in terms of its substance then it can be warranted.

    This 3D trend is similar to what was used in the 1950s. However, instead of trying to lure people away from television sets they’re trying to lure people from their computers.

  • Whale

    I like digital 3-d as well as 4-d. but only if its done correctly. chicken little was awesome in 3-d

  • matt

    Chicken Little did NOT take 3d into full account in it’s shot structure and progression as I described way back there, there were mostly ‘novelty’ 3d shots.

    Not to mention really obvious and awful convergence problems with the rain effects.

    And 4d? The fourth dimension is time. What do you mean?

  • Rat


    4-d is a term used in theme-park attractions that is generally meant to mean 3-D with in-theater effects, like water, smell, motion, etc.

    Chicken Little didn’t have a rain scene. Perhaps you mean the Gymnasium sprinkler scene?

    What did you think of Meet the Robinsons? That had rain scenes, as well as a “depth script” for the entire movie. Sure, they didn’t edit the film to the pace that you would if it was 3-d only, but I think overall there was a concerted effort to underscore emotion, pace and cinematics with the 3d

  • matt

    Hey Rat, thanks for that – I thought 4d was generally accepted as already ‘taken’, but it would probably seem wanky to call it 5d or whatever!

    You’ve put me in a quandary regarding Chicken Litle and Meet the Robinsons. I should go back and look again for accuracy but the only problem there is (aside from not being able to view them in 3d again) that I really didn’t like Robinsons – it looked like they tried to save a clichéd cookie-cutter, tired, by-the-motions etc movie too late in the game and it ended up sort of uneven. Chicken Little actually made me angry with the saccharine pre-calculation, and that’s even before I get into lazy trading on stereotypes and songs most of the young audience has no idea about, that had pretty much nothing to do with advancing the story beside tired “be yourself” malarkey that was redundant in terms of overstatement by the time you even reach that 4th or 5th character. If the joke doesn’t work on both levels, it’s just ego-based indulgence. Sorry, I really hated it.

    So I should check my facts there, you’re absolutely right as I may be confusing one with the other. It wasn’t a matter of the depth as much as the drops being so vertical and skinny they weren’t resolving/synching properly for the 3d to work. Maybe if they’d been ‘fattened up’ a bit. It was just very distracting to me whereas I though technically the other stuff was working.

    I just don’t know if I can put myself through it again…

  • matt

    P.S. Sorry forgot to say yes from memory it did look like there was an effort in Robinsons to pay attention to transitions between jarring 3d close-to wide shots, line of motion through shots and so on. It just seemed like it wasn’t throughout the whole movie or something. Certainly not as simplistic/novelty 3d as Polar Express and even Beowulf, that’s for sure.

  • Rat

    Interesting thoughts, Matt.

    It’s definitely worth doing some tests on rain effects in 3-D. So thanks for that feedback. Your comments have given me some clues that I should look into.

    “It just seemed like it wasn’t throughout the whole movie or something. ”

    I’m not sure if it was apparent to audiences, but there was a specific choice made with Robinsons to “dial back” on the 3-D in some sequences. Specifically in the “present day”, when Lewis’ life is relatively blah and boring. The color-script is desaturated in those sequences, and the depth script is shallow and a tad distant. Then when he goes to the future, we go to full depth. After that, depth is parcelled out according to emotional intensity.

    There are further tricks going on… in some scenes we “float” the edges of the movie-screen so that we can have a closeup that’s “behind” the proscenium, but “in front of” the screen. That way, we can bring a character “close” to the audience, as within a close-up, but still not have the problem of a floating “chopped off” head.

    It’s subtle, but we’re using 3-D as a cinematographic element. We even have shots where the proscenium is angled towards us or away from us in depth to support the perspective of the action. We have shots where this shifts during the length of a shot in order to provide the appropriate depth while maintaining both audience comfort and integrity with the emotional beats of the movie.

    I recommend watching Bolt in 3-D once for the experience, and then again to try and notice what’s being done in 3-D.

    These aren’t trade secrets, they’ve been covered here:

    But it’s another tool we use here, as artists trying to move an audience.

  • matt

    Hi Rat, this thread may be dying, but I wanted to say thanks for your evenhanded and, well, great post.

    I’m afraid that when I said “wasn’t throughout the whole movie” I didn’t articulate very well – I didn’t mean the 3d in general as much as the thoughtful integrated application as opposed to the novelty shot approach. I am aware however of the intent. As I said though one thing that really got in the way for me was the tired clichéd story (and even tired DISNEY clichés).

    One of my (and many others) great frustrations is that Disney films are well-made and the crew do great stuff time and time again, only to be torpedoed by the stories and characterisation (written and directed). I guess the same can be said of many films, as the general level of the craft is at such a level that movies are actually criticised for looking ‘too’ good! When what they’re actually saying is the story and direction weren’t at the same level (how can you actually crit something for looking GOOD?!)

    As far as Bolt goes, of course I’ll give it a chance despite my already-heavy reservations about stunt-casting, recycling Buzz’s story so heavily and so on. I don’t think Amid will give it the same chance though judging from the other thread!;)