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?