3D Cinema/Gaming and the Cynical Generation.
Hello, everything sucks generation. You know who you are. Nothing is good enough until you’re alone with yourself, watching that Voltron DVD again. Everything was “fakey” when you were a kid and you hate CGI. Not because it doesn’t look good, but simply because it’s CGI. No matter how it’s perfected, no matter how realistic it is, you hate it and you think it looks “plastic” and “fake”. But you like miniatures, stop-motion and physical makeup effects. In spite of the fact that they mostly look like garbage. You get a certain kind of special joy out of raining on anyone’s enthusiasm over anything. When someone you admired as a kid makes a crappy movie or album, you equate it to the “raping of your childhood”. Nonsense. It’s just a bad movie or album.
If you lived in the late 1920s, you would have called synchronized sound a “fad” or a “gimmick”. If you lived in the early to mid 1900s, you would have called color film a “gimmick” or a “fad”, sure to fade away after the shock value stopped having an effect on audiences.
But you see, this is how the world is viewed and experienced by our senses. The world is in color for most of us, filled with sound and yes.. dimensional as experienced by our TWO eyes. None of these ways of perceiving the world have ever nor will ever be a “fad” or a “gimmick”. Our way of telling stories, like it or not, will always strive to re-create the full experience of perception. Now, 3D films of the past tended to give people headaches and didn’t work very well, consistently. But instead of perfecting the technology over a short period of time as we did with sound and color, the technology was relegated to only genre films and therefore not taken seriously and seen by people all over, even the people creating films, as something that was a fad… something that would fade away. Remember, however, that if this were true we would not be seeing a resurgence on this scale.
But “what about smell-o-vision?”, you may ask. That’s part of our perception of the world, but not everyone wants to experience smells in a movie theater. This is because our sense of smell is not associated with our perception of the world, on a massive scale, on a constant basis. With the exception of those who work at a city dump. Unless you walk around with one eye closed half of the time, 2 eye, dimensional vision IS the way you experience the world around you constantly. You do, however, regularly ignore your sense of smell until it is triggered by an intensity or “peak” odor experience(some pleasant, some not). Even if that intensity is as insignificant as the smell of bread baking in an oven or an incoming rainstorm. (both perhaps insignificant from a certain point of view, but still wonderful) But with stereoscopic vision, the way people with two eyes experience the world, no cue is necessary. No peak experience, no trigger. Dimension is simply there and that is all. We use it to judge the distance of objects. Those objects can be, as an example, a flaming arrow or a window onto a garden during a sunrise. And there lies the key to elevating 3D cinema to the next level.
In the times of the first sound movies, it was still new and each outing into the world of synchronized sound film was a kind of celebration of the technology itself. Why bother with say, a drama featuring people talking to each other, when it can be a MUSICAL? Same with color. Bold, garish color spread across the screens with technicolor. Back then, in the beginnings, it was as if sound and color were characters of the films themselves. The same thing is happening, for the most part, in 3d cinema right now. Pixar’s “UP” was a fairly good example of a film that did not exploit its 3d presentation. Instead, the film is presented as if it were shot in 2D. Rather than having objects fly out of the screen toward the audience, the experience gives the viewer the sense that he or she is looking “into” a world or a real space through a virtual window. In my experience, I was drawn into the story and after a while forgot I was watching a 3D film at all. So, some might say, why bother? Immersion is the real reason for bothering with stereoscopic presentation. The 3D of “UP” appeared to be used in order to enhance the sense of immersion without drawing attention to itself every few moments. Avatar came close to this same effect, but in my opinion less so. There were a handful of “in your face” 3D moments, but for the most part James Cameron seemed to be going for the same immersive rather than flamboyant experience that Pixar appeared to have strived for. It is my hope that we see more of this and less of the more gaudy presentations present in most of the genre films presented in 3D. Of course it can be fun to have things thrown at you in an action, sci-fi or horror film. But the real future destination of 3D presentation, if it hopes to survive and develop over the next few years, is ubiquity and unobtrusive, subdued modesty. 3D will have arrived finally when it’s used for a film that does not need it or would not have any outward, beneficial enhancement from applying the technology. For instance a film like “My Dinner With Andre”. Most would ask “what’s the point of presenting a film like that in 3D”? The point is and would be immersion. The same people who would accuse 3D of being a gimmick will usually be the same people who would oppose its use in a non-gimmicky way. Why? Because their desire is not to see the technology used in a better, less vulgar fashion. Their desire is to see it fail. Pretty bold statement. But considering approximately 5 percent of the population cannot experience the 3D effect because they lack depth perception for various reasons, it’s not really that surprising. Why would they want to pay an extra 3 to 5 dollars to see a film presented with a technology they cannot perceive?
More importantly, and less obviously, is the effect this negativity can have on the development of new technologies. Much like the massive money and research into artificial intelligence was halted by the perception of the public that little to no progress had been made, a similar thing occurred when Virtual Reality advancements in the consumer sphere were virtually abandoned. What we had was an experience that could not be conveyed in words and was represented in the biggest public way by a company that charged too much, delivered too little and never innovated. When thy died, they were used as the singular example that the public simply didn’t “want” VR, was not interested in it and didn’t care if it went away. Except, see, they never got a chance to realize its potential. Having visited one of these mall-based VR centers back when they were still around, I can say that although the graphics were far, far behind even the cheapest home gaming console of the time, it still conveyed a palpable sense of being “in a place”. And then it went away. Cheap, badly designed attempts at what they were “calling” VR such as the “Virtual Boy” by Nintendo (which featured games that looked like Pong and Battlezone) made it even worse for the reputation of VR. It was seen by the general public and in turn by the people who fund the research and development of consumer hardware as CRAP. So the research and development left the consumer sphere and quietly kept developing for military, educational and medical use. Now, with the resurgence of true 3D in the world of film, gaming(in a small, tentative way when it comes to expectations and perceptions) and now home theater, VR has a possible second chance. I’d hate to see this second chance squandered away by a public that is expecting it to fail and jumping on the bandwagon in advance in order to not be wrong. Or wrong again. You see this a lot in tech journalism right now. Some of these guys have been burned in the past for being enthusiastic about 3D and they don’t want to be the one guy everyone laughs at in 5 years because he predicted it’d be the next great thing when in reality it failed miserably. Few of these people will admit it, but this is a huge part of why their opinions vary from unenthusiastic to downright hostile.
So I say to you all, have some guts and get behind this while you can. Because if the perception of 3D shifts in just the right amount, at just the right time, negatively, it’ll go away. Again. Even though it’s nearly perfect this time and could lead to experiences with 3D like you’ve never imagined. New places, new universes, new perceptions. Communities with real depth and new emotional engagements. New treatments for medical conditions such as phobias. A real sense of presence when communicating with people far away. Games that make you feel like you’re in a real place rather than just observing a flat, simulated “video” of a place. People who are physically unable to travel to certain places in the world will be able to virtually, with a sense of actually being there. How about we check our cynicism at the door just this once and take a step into the future with some enthusiasm this time? Just to see how it goes this once. (Antisthenes always seemed like a bit of an ass anyway)
I mean, really. Do you want to have to wait ANOTHER 20 years for VR? I’m sick of waiting.
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dabiri/4430286434/
Not originally written as a response to the WSJ article, which was published today. But I think it works as a bit of a response.