Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Drunk on Foolish Pleasures: 3-D!

I wanted to hate it; honest I did.

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.
Do I look stupid?

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.
In 1982, local Chicago horror movie host Svengoolie presented a screening of Creature in 3-D. Viewers had to stop at their local 7-11 convenience store to pick up a free pair of anaglyph 3-D classes. This was a rip-off, even if it was ostensibly free. First of all, Slurpees are EXPENSIVE. But more importantly, the 3-D effect just did not work on broadcast television. Chicagoans felt robbed, if only of their time. I was surprised that some enterprising shyster did not initiate a class-action lawsuit against Channel 32.

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.


  1. JB - my brother in 3D arms - I had a little exchange with Patrick about this a month or so ago - it got heated, things were said that can't be unsaid and after a 6-minute long alley fight we called an uneasy truce. I truly enjoy 3D and though I often do choose 3D in the theatre, I inevitably appreciate the 3D experience much more on my home setup. I too thought Creature looked AMAZING (I actually thought of you while I watched it - I think about you a lot...) and I'm glad you had the experience because I remember you talking about going into a Best Buy and asking them to play it on one of their TVs for you.

    Sure some stuff is better than others and some stuff is downright pointless - I recently filled in my Avengers Phase I collection with Thor and Captain American in 3D and they're pretty poor. All of the Pixar 3D releases are fantastic, but I think my most impressive experience was with Life of Pi 3D - I really enjoyed the movie (based on a very popular Canadian novel) and the 3D is amazing. For one scene they even letterbox the 16:9 presentation so that some jumping fish truly seem to come out of the picture in front of the black bars - it's a gorgeous movie made all the better in 3D. I'll be sure to check out House of Wax 3D because it sounds pretty cool and for the most part, the 3D movies I have are more about depth than popout effects.

    I don't live for 3D or anything - I certainly don't appreciate it being used as a crutch and/or cashgrab - but I like having the choice and it has the potential to be a lot of fun. Congrats on the new TV and thanks for the opportunity to come out of the shadows and express some of my positive feelings about 3D!

  2. I'm surprised, hombre, that as devoted a cinephile as yourself would go for a TV rather than a projector home setup. Any particular reason? I'm convinced that there's a fundamental physiological difference between watching projected light bounce off a screen into your eyeballs versus a backlit display blasting your peepers head-on. Granted, TVs surely offer more vivid color for your buck, but projectors win the size-of-presentation budget factor.

    Alas, I am neither in a life nor budget place where it makes sense for me to buy a quality projector at this time, when my laptop screen is itself quite nice, but it's one of my life goals. And if the cost of a 3D projector makes sense when said time does come, I'd definitely be interested in giving it a shot. :)

    1. The logistics of my home-- room size, etc…-- make a projector untenable. (tear)

  3. How does one get caught up in said "conspiracy"? People keep wanting money from me for these wonders of technology. .. ;-)

  4. You go, JB. Patrick is a lost cause for 3D (he's cinephile-loving mind simply isn't wired to like or appreciate it) but I'm glad that, at least as an alternative, 3D is worth your attention. I saw "Creature on the Black Lagoon" in 3D at a local NYC theater last year and it was gob-smacking good. I'm a believer in quality 3D, and for this flick even in B&W the 'you are there' effect was outstanding.

    I've had a 58" Vizio since early this year, and early this month my father bought an 80" Vizio from Costco (which I helped him install while visiting his new home during my vacation). For both dad's and my own TV selections 3D quality ranked pretty high, as much as budget (which is why we each went with Vizio... why pay more for 'active' 3D when 'passive' 3D is just as good?).

    The first 3D movie I tested my father's 80" set with (which put the neighbors to sleep but hey, thanks for playing along) is the main one I'd recommend you try your new 3D set with: Wim Wender's 2011 documentary PINA, which Criterion released on 2D/3D combo. Since you liked Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D" this is an even better example of a filmmaker with something to say that deliberately used 3D because it expresses visually something 2D doesn't fully do justice to. Bonus: the making-of documentaries and deleted scenes (an extra hour) are also shown in 3D, and it's not a gimmick; nothing like seeing Wenders & Co. in 3D shooting in 3D (and struggling to learn how to do it right) to appreciate "Pina" even more. God, I love this movie. :-)

    Other personal suggestions (besides "Hugo" and "Avatar"): "Titanic 3D" (the best upconvert of 2D-to-3D I've ever seen; the $10 million budget is all on-screen), "The Adventures of Tin-Tin," the "Toy Story" trilogy, "Paranorman," "Corraline," "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "The Hobbit Part 1," "The Green Lantern" (the 'Science Building' is still dumb as shit, but the 3D effects are decent), "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows 1 & 2," "Puss 'n Boots," "How To Train Your Dragon", etc.

  5. Thanks for the suggestions, J.M.-- now I have something to do over Christmas break!