Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Drunk on Foolish Pleasures: 3-D!
Recently, circumstances have conspired to give me the ability to watch movies in 3-D on my home television. I know it is only a gimmick, but what can I say? The heart wants what it wants.
I have now lived through two of the three 3-D crazes that have swept movie land; the first I only avoided by having not been born yet. In the 1950s, panicked studios introduced 3-D and a plethora of other gimmicks (Smell-O-Vision, anyone?) to fight against the rising popularity of television. The idea was to give audience members something they could not get at home: widescreen, color, stereophonic sound, and dishes. Yes, some enterprising theater owners even held “Dish Nights,” where buying tickets would, week by week, provide the patron with a full complement of attractive servingware. The ‘80s welcomed a “new wave” (‘80s joke!) of 3-D movies, because a whole new generation of moviegoers had never seen it and were ready to be duped. Plus, the ‘80s were constantly celebrating/copying the ‘50s; there is a reason that Back to the Future was made in the ‘80s. Even our President in the ‘80s was straight out of the ‘50s.
I remember attending a screening of Comin’ At Ya! in 3-D on the day it opened in 1981. First I got a headache. Then I threw up. After a string of stinky pictures like Parasite and Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, 3-D faded away again.
And then came the 21st century and the blue, blue magic of Avatar. And positively everything had to be in 3-D.
CAVEAT: I hate theatrical 3-D. I never choose it on purpose. The weekend that The Avengers came out, I was stuck in Muncie, Indiana and all the 2-D screenings were sold out. I reluctantly ponied up for Shades-O-Vision because I wanted to see the movie so damn badly. The experience lived up to Muncie’s reputation for fun. (It was not fun.)
It even bothers me that so many IMAX movies are also in 3-D (in this case the “D” stands for “Double Upcharge!”) I love the massive screen and massive sound of IMAX, but the glasses have always bothered me—perhaps because I wear prescription glasses to begin with, so those damn 3-D glasses find me wearing a pair on top of a pair like a six-eyed spider. The picture onscreen is too dark in 3-D. After about a half an hour, my old, 2-D human eyes simply stop registering the 3-D effect. 3-D almost always gives me a headache; I am convinced I am not alone in this.
So WHY did I set up the 3-D at home? Truth: Because it bothered me to think that I could not have it. It is not that I even wanted it, really; it just galled me that I couldn’t. What I am saying is that the sole reason for the existence of a 3-D television in my home is my frightening sense of Must Watch All The Movies entitlement.
I was so happy when this very website/podcast/blog/cult of the damned unveiled its recent redesign because that famous background picture of the movie audience watching with the 3-D glasses is so spot on: we are a mass joined together by our communal need. We crave the company of those who will not deem it communal foolishness.
AN ANNOYING TECHNICAL PAUSE: Perhaps my distrust, disgust, and annoyance date back to the old debate about anaglyph (i.e., “green/red” 3-D) versus polarized. Perhaps the problem was that I had so often seen theatrical 3-D done wrong—those lousy two-color glasses that plague inferior 3-D screenings. When first introduced in the ‘50s, 3-D was shown with polarized glasses and a two-print/two-projector setup in the booth. Polarized glasses meant the film could be in color (Kiss Me Kate, Dial M for Murder, and Bwana Devil were all in color) and the dual interlocked projectors made for plenty of brightness up on the screen. Dual-color anaglyph 3-D has none of that. It is shit.
The Music Box Theatre (the happiest place on Earth) once screened House of Wax in polarized 3-D as part of the Chicago Film Festival. I took some students to that screening. Until recently, that was the best 3-D I had ever seen. Using that original two-projector system, the 3-D effect was startlingly lifelike and impressive. Twice during the screening, I ducked.
But this was so far from the norm. I think back to all of the lousy 3-D screenings of Creature From The Black Lagoon I had suffered through in my life. The film club at my high school showed it in the auditorium as a fundraiser my sophomore year in anaglyph 3-D. To use the vernacular of the time, it sucked nards.
A few years ago, Rusty Nails included an anaglyph screening of Creature at the Massacre. That version looked okay. Not spectacular—just okay. More recently, the Patio Theater hosted a screening with star Julie Adams in attendance. That was the worst I had ever seen the film look, possibly even worse than that botched ‘80s television broadcast; the film looked like it had been made in a new process called Glaucoma-Vision. I wound up watching a blurry, double-vision screen with my glasses off!
Which takes us to my recent living-room screening. Yes, I chose the new 3-D Blu-ray of the Creature to test my new home system. How did it look? (Drum roll) Ladies and gentlemen… the envelope, please.
The film looked extraordinary. The 3-D was deep, convincing, and in razor-sharp focus. It was the single best-looking screening of this film that I had ever seen—bar none—and this is one of my very favorite films, so I have seen it literally oxteen times. Like Universal’s recent restoration of the 1931 Dracula for Blu-ray, which looked so revitalized that it prompted some critics to reappraise the film after eighty years, my home screening of Creature From The Black Lagoon was revelatory. It is amazing that Universal only included the 3-D version of the film as an afterthought; it’s a bonus feature on the already-packed-with-extras Blu-ray disc. Classy.
Sorry, naysayers. I cannot hate this.
I quickly screened portions of the only other 3-D Blu-Ray I own: House of Wax. Halfway through the film, a carnival barker is shown with two paddleballs, winging the little white balls into the audience. The effect was breathtaking. I ducked.
I cannot hate this.
WARNING: Don’t watch 3-D movies at home while eating dinner. Trust me.
I want to test it with a more modern 3-D film like Hugo or Avatar because I have noticed that shot-on-digital movies look stunning on the 4K monitor. My most recent 2-D “test disc” is This Is The End; Patrick has suggested I check out certain sequences in Skyfall. I am also dying (no pun intended) to screen the new 3-D disc of Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder.
Gentle readers, I need your support. Don’t hate me for the love that dare not speak its name. Is there anyone else out there who has been tempted by the 3-D “devil screen?” Anyone who has succumbed to the siren song of sultry, sumptuous home 3-D? Give me your screening suggestions, your sob stories, your kittenish infatuation with this yarn ball of new technology. Please – just spare me your repudiation or reproach. I’m in too deep for that now, baby.
I’m in too deep.