COMIN’ AT YA
3-D MOVIES ARE BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER. OR ARE THEY?
by Alex Bennett
for HUSTLER Magazine – June 2010
Technology has always fascinated me, but no technology has grabbed me more than 3-D.
Our two eyes allow us to see things from two different angles. When our brain puts those two images together, depth is perceived. When creating a 3-D movie, photo or comic book, you need to deliver two slightly different images of the same object to the appropriate eye. This is usually done with special glasses.
Remember the old red-and-green glasses used for comic books and some movies? In that system the red canceled out the red image while enhancing the green, and vice versa. Most 3-D glasses work on that basic concept. Three-dimensional motion pictures have been around since 1890 (in an impractical form), and stereo photography goes back even farther. The first films requiring colored glasses were primarily shorts screened at world fairs and similar attractions—basically for their curiosity value. 3-D feature films didn’t really gain speed until the early 1950s when movie theaters, threatened by the onslaught of television, looked for a way to fight back.
The craze was started by an insignificant independent producer and writer named Arch Oboler. He decided to make a movie, Bwana Devil, utilizing “Natural Vision” 3-D cameras, a system that had been, up until then, unsuccessfully flogged around Hollywood. Natural Vision achieved its effect by using two projectors while the viewer wore Polaroid glasses, which canceled out light waves in two directions. Bwana Devil was a smash, and the stampede, which included 3-D comics and magazines, was on. The movies were not without problems.
First, the incredible depth combined with objects coming out past the edge of the screen caused eyestrain as the viewer constantly changed focus. Next was synchronization. Because two synchronized projectors were needed, if either one went even a frame off, things got weird. God forbid either reel broke during projection. Stitching the film back together so it would retain sync was an arduous task. Worst of all was the lack of thought (and money) that went into making these pictures.
Rather than take great films and make them better, the studios decided to make crap. Most of the early 3-D releases were second tier films. By the time they started producing great titles like Dial M for Murder and Kiss Me Kate, the fad had worn out. Most of those later3-D films were shown flat, and by 1955 3-D had been relegated to the scrap heap of oddities.
A decade or so later a single-strip process was invented whereby both images were incorporated on one roll of film. Consequently, the resolution of a 35mm movie was cut in half, drastically reducing quality. This process was mainly used for hard- and soft-core porn flicks, the most notable being The Stewardesses, one of the highest-grossing sex films of all time. Andy Warhol also dabbled in 3-D, but for the most part 3-D movies were low-budget and cheesy.
In the 1980s IMAX revived 3-D with sensational results, and in the ’90s James Cameron had a camera developed for him that was purely digital. He used it to film Ghosts of the Abyss for IMAX in 3-D. It may have been a test for the best 3-D movie of all time: Cameron’s Avatar. This box office megahit is just one of the many new releases that have nurtured the latest 3-D craze. Most of these new 3-D films have been made as computer-animated features since they are the easiest to convert, having initially been created in a 3-D mode.
One of the biggest problems with the current processes is that the 3-D imagery isn’t nearly as profound as it once was. It doesn’t come out past the screen or go back deep enough because the effects have been watered down to eliminate viewers’ headaches and eyestrain.
At a time when the movie industry has been in a downturn, 3-D has once again come to the rescue. Theaters charge around $4 more for 3-D films, and the cheap bastards don’t even let you keep the glasses. They’re sent back to the manufacturer, which cleans the specs before returning them to the theater.
Hollywood is bullish about its 3-D movies, and even TV manufacturers, especially Sony, are ready to roll out 3-D sets using Polarized glasses. In lockstep, Discovery and ESPN have announced the creation of 3-D channels. Even so, I wonder if3-D will remain a limited-use process relegated to animation and big-budget features. I doubt it would be suited to a film like The Wrestler.
I’ve seen enough cartoons. Bring on 3-D porn!
Alex Bennett is a longtime HUSTLER contributor. The two-time Emmy winner, who broke into broadcasting as a teenager, currently calls Sirius Left 146 his radio home.
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