Is the future 3D?

Will all films be 3D in future? And what does that mean for the UAE film industry, which is barely off the starting blocks?

Tim Burton
Tim Burton
James Cameron
James Cameron
Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese
Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland
Clash of the Titans
Clash of the Titans

Last week, we looked at why cinema is undergoing an all-new 3D revolution (new and improved technology and getting bums back on seats – and at a hiked up price – essentially), and whether Dubai can cope with audiences’ demand for it (not at the moment, and not without some major investment). But we have some more questions, such as...

Will all films be 3D in future?
3D’s various detractors are all giddily clamouring to declare the bottom has fallen out of the gold rush already. But there’s little evidence of this, as a quick glance at the box office charts in the heart of modern-day moviemaking, the US, will attest. No less than seven of the 10 highest earners of 2010 so far are 3D films, with three of them holding the top spots, and the production of 3D films shows no signs of abating. ‘We are currently releasing 15 films in 3D annually, and I expect this to double in 2011,’ says Cameron Mitchell, general manager of CineStar Middle East.

That’s not to say there’s no danger to 3D’s survival. The quality of the effects is the selling point, and the hurry to release films in 3D means that many projects are adding the effects in post-production as an afterthought, a process that some critics are calling ‘faux 3D’. This is true of Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans, both of which were disappointing: the former for its lacklustre rendering, and the latter for being almost unwatchable, the effects more dizzying than delighting. If this continues, it’s possible that cinemagoers will tire of subpar 3D and revert to cheaper 2D screenings.

However, if more filmmakers take the James Cameron approach, there’s little reason 3D should die off. Cameron conceived of Avatar as a 3D film from the off, even inventing a new camera to ensure the effects would be unlike anything we had seen. And it worked – no film has created such an immersive visual experience before or since. The thrill of being absorbed into the alien world of Pandora delivered the fattest pay cheque Hollywood has ever received, at more than $US2bn and counting.

So far, 3D is being applied to specific genre films, namely action, horror (such as The Final Destination) and animated family films. Many argue other genres of film don’t need to be released in 3D, because it wouldn’t add anything. Emirati filmmaker Nayla al Khaja, who has made acclaimed short films such as Arabana and a feature-length documentary about the Al Habtoor polo team, tells us: ‘I can’t imagine watching a drama like Dragonflies in the Garden in 3D. It would distract from the acting.’ CineStar Middle East’s Mitchell decides: ‘Dramas and comedies don’t need to be filmed in 3D, and we expect there will always be demand for 2D content.’

But there’s another argument, asking whether the invention of colour film really added anything to comedies or dramas. You could watch Dragonflies in the Garden in black and white and not lose the story. But when the technology is there, filmmakers tend to use it. Tim Smythe, a UAE-based producer who worked on Syriana and The Kingdom, says: ‘It’s just the nature of technology. I was saying to my wife the other day that I’m not sure my grandchildren will even know what a 2D movie is.’

And it seems 3D is about to receive some much-needed credibility: Martin Scorsese has announced his next film, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, will be 3D. Seeing what a critically-acclaimed director can do with the medium could be a game-changer.

There’s already evidence that 3D can be used subtly; Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich told Time Out London recently: ‘Things popping out of the screen call attention to the artifice of what you’re doing, so I use 3D as more of a window into a world behind the screen.’ Unkrich’s approach champions the audience’s immersion in the film’s world, as with Avatar; if we are to feel as immersed in every film as we did in Cameron’s opus, it could seriously change the way we watch movies forever.

So the answer to the question? Very probably, but only if the effects are up to standard. As Al Khaja reveals: ‘Last year at the Tribeca Film Festival a lot of producers were discussing how, if you’re smart, it’s important not to forget about 3D, because it really is the future.’

What does 3D mean for the UAE film industry?
3D might well be the future, but it is just that – an era that is not now, and will not be for a while. This might buy some time for the UAE film industry, which has only produced one feature, City of Life, to date. Smythe, who also worked on City of Life, argues: ‘It’s more important for the industry here to start making films than to be worrying about whether they’re 3D or not.’ He adds that 3D movie-making here is not impossible (the UAE already produced a short film in 3D for the opening of the metro), but not easy, either.

‘To make a full-blown 3D feature we would need to bring in expertise [from outside the country] and more cameras,’ Smythe explains. ‘To make even a normal film we need to bring in expertise, because we’re not self-sustained yet.’ He describes how, to shoot a film in 3D, a crew would need new (and expensive) digital cameras, and more than you would use on an ordinary shoot. ‘You have two cameras filming the same image at the same time to create the 3D effect,’ he says. ‘So it is more expensive, as is the post-production.’ But again, this is something that will change over time. As new technology develops, it will become cheaper. ‘In the next few years it’ll be cheaper than filming with 35mm film,’ Smythe predicts.

So, 3D is something UAE filmmakers need to think about, but they should master the 2D film first. ‘I think it’s good to try the traditional way first because that’s where you really learn,’ says Al Khaja. ‘We should focus on story and acting because that’s always going to be king.’ For now.

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