Tag Archives: film

The Rise and Fall of 3-D

By Marc Williams

I have always loved going to the movies.  Now that my wife and I have a young child at home, we don’t get out as much as we used to, so going to the movies is a particularly special treat. We subscribe to Netflix so we can watch movies at home sometimes but actually going to a movie theatre for the big-screen experience is rare thing these days.

Over the past year or two, most of the movies we’ve seen in the theatre were offered in 3-D. Moviegoers nowadays are often given a choice between traditional 2-D and 3-D–we typically opt for the 2-D experience but we have, of course, occasionally opted for a few 3-D titles.  For example, we saw the final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, in both 2-D and 3-D.

How and why did this trend of 3-D films start?  3-D is not a new idea–filmmakers have been experimenting with the technology for nearly one hundred years and feature films have been offered in 3-D for well over fifty years.  But 3-D has become a craze.  I think it began with Avatar, which was probably the most successful and critically acclaimed 3-D film of all time. Hollywood knows a good money-making machine when they see it, so in the wake of Avatar‘s success, the major studios mobilized and started offering more and more 3-D titles.  Theatre chains have also found a way to cash in on the phenomenon; ticket prices for 3-D films are significantly higher than prices for standard 2-D films.

While I admired Avatar for its technical achievement, I personally have not been able to embrace the 3-D craze. My personal distaste for 3-D primarily stems from the fact that most 3-D films I’ve seen use the 3-D technology as a cheap gimmick, not as a storytelling device. If there is an explosion in a 3-D film, is the story truly enhanced by making the viewers feel as if shrapnel is headed in their direction?  I don’t see much payoff for this use of 3-D, yet this is precisely how most films choose to employ the technology.

Avatar is a different kind of 3-D film for several reasons. First, the lush physical environment is given tremendous depth through the use of 3-D; this is important because the film is about the beauty and fragility of the environment.  In this regard, Avatar does not use 3-D as a cheap gimmick.  In fact, the film was shot in 3-D; it was part of the director’s plan for the film all along.  Most 3-D films today are not shot in 3-D–they are converted to 3-D from a 2-D format.  Disney’s re-release of The Lion King in 3-D is a great example of this; they’re simply capitalizing on the 3-D craze, offering viewers only a slightly different experience from the original 2-D film.  To me, that experience isn’t worth the extra $5.00 the movie theatre wants to charge for a 3-D ticket.

Another issue with 3-D is the amount of light on the screen.  3-D technology depends upon darkening the picture by about 50%.  Film critic Roger Ebert has been particularly critical of 3-D films specifically for this reason–the picture is simply too dark.  I found this to be true in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II when I saw it in 3-D.  Images that are intensely white in the 2-D version (bright light, for instance) lost their luster in the 3-D version, seeming more gray than white.  And given that the 2-D film was already very dark and shadowy, some of the picture was rendered incomprehensibly dark in the 3-D version.  Some of the other technical concerns with 3-D are outlined in this letter to Roger Ebert from Walter Murch, arguably the most distinguished film editor in the industry.

Box office receipts are beginning to show that 3-D is becoming less and less palatable for moviegoers.  This could be a rejection of the extra $5.00 being charged by theatre chains, or perhaps a reaction to dim, dizzying images.  I was surprised to learn, for example, that the 3-D version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II generated only one-third of the revenue generated by the 2-D version of the same film.  Because profits are down, the 3-D craze is likely nearing its end.

The point is that a brilliant and promising technology can die if no one is willing to use it properly.  Director James Cameron made Avatar using processes no one had ever used before in a feature film, so he had to be willing to adjust his typical methods in order to maximize the 3-D technology’s potential. The question all of this raises for me is the employment of new technology in the classroom–especially the online classroom.  Given that the BLS degree program at UNCG is offered online, it seems we instructors and course developers run the risk of adopting technology without really using it to its fullest potential.  Or even misusing it.

I have certainly been guilty of using technology in ways that create a obstacles to learning–how can this be avoided?  Or better yet, how can technology be used to give students and faculty an advantage? In what ways can technology truly enhance the educational experience, especially online?

Maybe Almost Probably the End of Harry Potter (perhaps)

By Marc Williams

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

The eighth and final installment of the Harry Potter film series is to be released this week, one of the most eagerly anticipated films in years.  It has generated excitement reminiscent of the release of the second generation of Star Wars films.  Indeed, tickets for Friday’s opening began selling out in the U.S. several days ago–a week ahead of the July 15 premiere–making it one of the fastest-selling films ever.

The opening is bittersweet for many fans who would like to see the series continue and at the July 7 London premiere of the final film, author J.K. Rowling left open the possibility of future Potter stories. While her statement doesn’t indicate that more stories are imminent, the possibility is tantalizing for fans.

In the meantime, serious fans await Rowling’s online venture, Pottermore, which won’t be fully available to the public until October but promises some new Potter content that has not been previously available.

Here’s J.K. Rowling on Pottermore:

Fans can also visit Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a very impressive theme park treatment of Rowling’s vision that allows fans to immerse themselves in the world of Potter.

It’s Not Just for Who Anymore?

By Marc Williams

A funny thing happened on the way to my DVR.  I watched the 2011 Tony Awards and enjoyed it.

Here’s a little back story:  my background is in theatre as both an actor and director.  When I was studying theatre as an undergraduate and for a few years after that, I always watched the Tony Awards live and always enjoyed them.  However, the Tony Awards has been holding on by a thread to its relationship with CBS due to historically low ratings.

In order to boost ratings, the American Theatre Wing has spent the past decade trying to validate the Tonys as a major celebrity event.  The Tonys looked to Hollywood, borrowing their celebrities for Broadway’s big night. Whichever Hollywood star happened to be on Broadway that season was begged to attend and present awards at the Tonys.  In 2004, for example, Sean Combs, Renee Zellweger, Nicole Kidman, and Scarlett Johansson presented awards—and their presence was endlessly emphasized by the broadcast.  Theatre icons like Helen Mirren and Joel Grey were virtually ignored.  This, to me, was not a celebration of Broadway but rather a desperate attempt to make Broadway seem relevant to a broad audience.  I understand the desperation.  In my BLS classes, we discuss the role of theatre in a variety of historical eras, including our own.  While students connect intellectually and emotionally to the plays we study, many students have trouble conceptualizing the texts as live performances; and that’s no surprise, really, because many students have never been to the theatre.

The Tony broadcasts of the past decade have literally begged the television audience to visit Broadway, using the glamor of Hollywood to sell its appeal.  These efforts have always seemed disingenuous to me.  Why can’t Broadway showcase its own stars?  If the work is solid and well-executed in the broadcast, surely audiences will want to see it in person. On these grounds, I’ve refused to watch the live broadcasts for the past few years.  I recorded them on my DVR and watched a few days or weeks later, skipping through all the stuff that I knew would annoy me. A few days ago, I watched the 2011 ceremony, which had aired live on June 12.

Host Neil Patrick Harris delivered an opening number that smacked the Tonys back into reality, both acknowledging and poking fun at the theatre’s niche audience.

The opening number even acknowledged that Al Pacino is “too famous” to participate in the song’s gag.  And I can’t imagine previous broadcasts would have mentioned Joe Mantello’s presence in the opening number–it was a joke only theatre fans could love. It was clear that the 2011 ceremony would be different from the recent broadcasts that had so annoyed me—and indeed it was different.  I watched every second of the broadcast, as it celebrated Broadway and avoided phony attempts to legitimize theatre’s place in popular culture.  I even found myself laughing hysterically at what appears to be Broadway’s biggest hit in years, The Book of Mormon (a new musical written by South Park co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone).

I immediately went to my computer to try to score a pair of tickets and plan a trip to New York.  I thought to myself, “yes! This is exactly what a Tony broadcast ought to make us do.”  The Tonys didn’t beg me to come to Broadway; they showed me something that I actually want to see.  I don’t know if next year’s Tony Awards will be as genuine as the 2011 ceremony but I am hopeful.

A side note:  I didn’t score tickets to The Book of Mormon.  The show is nearly sold out for the next six months.