Has it really come to this? I read in Variety, the film industry journal, that ‘Mark Thomas of Elsinore Films is producing a 3-D musical Hamlet targeting the Harry Potter and High School Musical market’. I am not concerned for Hamlet, which has been kneaded into so many preposterous shapes and survived. What horrifies me is the prospect of seeing the film in 3-D. Variety helpfully explains: ‘Hamlet lends itself to a 3-D treatment. The producers hope to include a ghost that hovers in front of the audience’s eyes, cannon fire that flies into the auditorium and a sword fight that appears to happen all around viewers.’ Yes, and no doubt Yorick’s skull thrust into our faces.
The 3-D process is an abomination that has died many deaths. It failed in the 1950s as a novelty, and again in the 1970s as a device to breathe new life into exhausted franchises. It even fizzled as a promising innovation in porno. Somehow, audiences didn’t find it erotic to witness the legs of The Stewardesses extending above them as they zeroed in on the money shot.
Simply put, has anyone ever attended a 2-D movie and thought, ‘If only it were in 3-D’? I doubt it, because 2-D creates a perfectly effective illusion of depth and dimension. When I see Lawrence growing from a dot far across the desert sands, it never occurs to me that I’m watching a 2-D image. When I watch 3-D, however, I’m constantly reminded that it’s in 3-D. Objects approach and recede alarmingly, drawing you out of the actual film.
Animators are among the worst perpetrators. They seem obsessed with a 3-D bungee effect, in which characters such as the Kung Fu Panda spring from far below into the near-foreground, their faces frenzied, and then fall back to earth like Wile E. Coyote. It crystallises much that is wrong with the process. The planes of a 3-D picture are rarely rendered into a seamless progression from foreground to background, as in 2-D, but call attention to themselves. Characters seem more concerned to demonstrate their dimensions than their personalities. And, by its nature, the entire 3-D image must be in focus at all times, depriving cinematographers of the use of focal planes. The process is an annoyance and a distraction.