The Great 3-D Debate

Wong Kar-wai Should Make a 3-D Movie
E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Aug. 27 2010 3:38 PM

The Great 3-D Debate



I'm touched by your hopefulness for the future of 3-D, and your pre-emptive nostalgia for all that it could have been. Maybe you should be the one entrusted with saving the medium.

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

My own favorite 3-D memory would have to include—in addition to the moments in the aforementioned Inferno when Robert Ryan's figure stands out like a tiny wax doll against the infinitely receding Mojave Desert—that early scene in Avatar when Sam Worthington, in his newly assumed avatar form, explores the alien forest. Hundreds of tiny white seedpods drift around him, simultaneously extending deep into the background and flying off the screen into the audience. The depth effect created by those receding planes of floating fluff didn't just look cool; it made the screen seem like a different kind of space, one we could enter into ourselves. Surely that meets your criteria for "moving and weird and lovely"?

I don't quite get what you mean by "diaphanous objects constructed entirely from depth cues," but I know that having read that phrase I'm now dying to see some. Likewise for "stereoscopic glitter effects." What about a concert film or stage show rendered in 3-D, as a way of recreating the excitement and "live-ness" of a performance on the proscenium stage? It's somehow touching to imagine this technological innovation used not just to advance the art of cinema, but to take us back to a time before its invention.


As for my dream 3-D director, my first thoughts go to those filmmakers who specialize in big, bold compositions and ravishing visuals. Wong Kar-wai's painterly tableaux or Guillermo del Toro's fantastical bestiaries would lend themselves well to 3-D treatment. The Coen brothers, those diabolical masters of perspective, could no doubt lead viewers down some dizzying rabbit holes. And it's not only for Cameron-tweaking purposes that I wonder what would happen if the Avatar maestro's ex, Kathryn Bigelow, took us on a 3-D version of one of her patented adrenaline rides.

There are also more subdued directors whose imaginations might take the format to unexpected places. Richard Linklater, always fascinated with dreamscapes and eager to try formal experiments, could no doubt pull off something worthwhile. So could the contemplative nature philosopher Terrence Malick, who already shoots landscapes you feel you could disappear into. The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami makes simple but brilliant use of the geography of the rectangular screen; though it would never occur to this modest, lo-fi filmmaker to pick up a 3-D camera, he'd no doubt find amazing things to do with it if he did. Or what about Wes Anderson, who's often criticized for his repeated use of the same flat composition, with figures lined up in the foreground like cutout paper dolls? If he found a way to move the camera into and around those perfectly arranged dollhouses, maybe he could reinvigorate 3-D the way he did stop-motion animation in Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Of course, the purely fun, gimmicky use of 3-D has its place as well—what more natural evolution for the Jackass franchise than to shove Johnny Knoxville's gleeful obnoxiousness even further into our faces, as will happen this fall with Jackass 3-D? But one future that's no fun at all to imagine is the one you describe in your last post—3-D as a consumer "extra," an optional cupholder on the luxury SUVs that are summer blockbusters. I agree that Toy Story 3 made some artful use of the format–although, like Up, it would still have been an outstanding movie without it. But there were just as many movies this year that were actively harmed by the presence of 3-D—instead of handing the audience stereoscopic glasses before the murky, headache-inducing Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans, the ushers might as well have detached our retinas.

I'll leave the last word to you, Dan. What would you do with that unlimited-budget grant to any living filmmaker? And since the current fad, if moribund, is still alive, which of the upcoming 3D movies—to name a few, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Tron Legacy, Steven Spielberg's Adventures of Tintin—strike you as the most and the least dreadworthy?

In your face,

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