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Views | Why 3-D should be more than 3-D

Martin Scorcese made his latest film in 3-D while Christopher Nolan refused to do so. Both deserve our applause

Christopher Nolan refused to make The Dark Knight Rises in 3-D. Martin Scorcese made Hugo in 3-D. Both directors deserve our heartfelt applause.

What I liked most about The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR), the final part of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, had to do with what it was not. It was not in 3-D.

Ever since James Cameron unveiled the new technology in Avatar, 3-D has become the plug-and-play panacea for any Hollywood filmmaker who’s not so sure whether his ideas are good enough. The thinking is: If you appear to be throwing things at the audience and make them duck and weave, that’s an extra 30% added to the box office earnings. And if you have an action thriller, there’s no way you can go wrong.

As a result, we have seen the first of a 3-D Spider-Man series hitting screens barely five years after the earlier trilogy ended. Talk about squeezing every drop of juice out of a franchise at every opportunity! A couple of weeks ago, a few hours after experiencing The Amazing Spider-Man in 3-D, I found Spider-Man 3 playing on some TV channel. I watched for some time, and actually thought the stunts and the special effects were more thrilling than what I had seen earlier in the day in a packed hall, with special glasses on. Maybe I should go get my eyesight or nerves or whatever checked.

photoAnd of course, there was Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, which proved what I had begun to suspect: that if you make a bad movie, it just becomes worse in 3-D. The world loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer because the series never took itself seriously; the very absurdity of the basic proposition—and the obvious fact that Buffy’s creators were cheerfully aware of this—kept audiences entertained for years.

But when you have Abraham Lincoln and slavery and the US Civil War, you have to keep your tongue firmly separated from your cheek. And if you are trying to be seriously metaphorical (slavery as vampirism), then you have to go slow on all those big action sequences with bared fangs and silver-tipped axes, and that won’t do for the younger viewers, will it? So producer Tim Burton and director Timur Bekmambetov glumly fire blunderbuses and have wild horses charging at you. Bekmambetov must be wishing he could go back to his native Russia and meagre budgets, which allowed him to make terrific horror films like Night Watch and Day Watch, which also had enough Big Questions to keep any stoned group of film lovers happily occupied for several nights.

There must have been enormous pressure on Christopher Nolan from Warner Brothers to shoot TDKR in 3-D. But Nolan would not even shoot in digital media, he shot TDKR on good old-fashioned film. And since it had an opening weekend gross of $160 million, the third biggest ever, in spite of some maniac on a shooting spree, it doesn’t look like anyone minded that the Batmobile didn’t look like it was shooting out of the screen and was about to run you over. So much for 3-D. In the hall, I saw a few young girls break into tears at the climax as Batman prepared for his supreme sacrifice for Gotham. I may be wrong, but I doubt whether they would been so emotionally involved with the hero’s fate if they had been subjected to a two-hour 3-D barrage of bullets, explosions and super-villain Bane snarling right in their face.

Is 3-D then just a cheap gimmick and no more? No. Martin Scorcese shows us in Hugo how 3-D and digital colouring can be used to create a truly magical world. In Hugo, Scorcese achieves something extraordinary, which could not have been possible without the latest technology. He uses it to make a magical sensory experience out of a movie that is about the magic of the movies! In the young French orphan Hugo’s wide-eyed fascination with cinema, we can see a child growing up in an Italian neighbourhood in New York, dreaming of escaping into a world where the movies were real, the child who would go on to be one of the great film directors of his generation. Hugo is about the passion for cinema that has been the driving force of Scorcese’s life, and he could never have expressed that passion so enchantingly—and sorry, but I have to use that word again—magically, without 3-D and recent advances in digital film making.

Hugo also has a scene that encapsulates the entire history of the art form as thrilling entertainment. In a late 19th century Paris theatre, the Lumiere brothers exhibit their short film Train Entering A Station. As the locomotive steams in, the audience recoils in terror and some start running for the exit, thinking that the train is going to burst through the screen and mow them down. This scene in Hugo, of course, is shot in 3-D. Which just makes it perfect.

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