The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The 3-D controversy heats up

September 19, 2008 |  6:10 pm

Katzenbergpic_4 As readers of this blog may have noticed, I weighed in earlier this week on Jeffrey Katzenberg's eye-popping prediction that someday soon we will be watching all movies -- not just his DreamWorks animated films, not just Jim Cameron's long-awaited "Avatar," but presumably even films by Wes Anderson, Adam Sandler and Sidney Lumet -- in glorious 3-D. That might be great news for Katzenberg, who's trying to arm-wrestle theater owners into converting more screens to digital projection before "Monsters vs. Aliens" arrives next spring. And that might be great news for the big studio conglomerates, who'd love to have a new technology that allows them to boost ticket prices and promote something you can only experience -- at least for now -- in theaters, where attendance is inching downward. But do we really want to watch "Burn After Reading" or "Juno" or "The Kite Runner" with 3-D glasses on our head?

I've been getting some thoughtful response, both pro and con, to the post, which I plan to share in the coming days. I'd like to start with an especially impassioned reaction from one of my critics: Jim Miller, a partner in Stereo Pictures, a technology company specializing in 2-D to 3-D conversion of film and animation. For years, Miller was a top Warner Bros. executive who was largely responsible for the studio's deals with Arnon Milchan's Regency, Castle Rock and Village Road Show. It took me a little longer to realize that I knew Jim in a wholly different context -- we're both coaches in the same West L.A. Little League where our boys play baseball in the spring. If Jim were as persuasive on the baseball diamond as he was about 3-D, he might find a few more umpires' calls going his way.

He argues that 3-D is no longer a "House of Wax"-style gimmick, but a technology that offers an extraordinarily immersive audience experience. Here are a few excerpts of what he had to say:

"Patrick, 3-D movies are not our father's 3-D. This is not the gimmicky arrows coming at you head-on, although that can be fun too in the right film. This is simply replicating what you see out of your own eye. Every day. Look at the window. What do you see? 3-D. What today's 3-D is trying to do is mimic that experience for you. The only thing we do in 2-D is watch TV, film, read and look at paintings. Not all art. Just paintings. We can't fix reading or paintings. Not yet. But film and television. Absolutely.

"3-D definitely lends itself to great writing and great acting. Think of watching 'Juno' and feeling like you're sitting in Juno's living room, being part of the experience as they're talking about whether she should keep the baby or not. It gives you a whole new emotional reaction to the film. It's not going to change storytelling -- that stays the same. But it's going to enhance the emotional experience of the story.

"This isn't just going to happen in movie theaters. The technology is coming where you can sit in your living room in front of your TV -- yes, with the 3-D glasses -- and watch the Super Bowl and feel like you're in the game, right on the sidelines next to the first-down markers. Imagine having a 3-D-enabled portable device and being able to watch the Kentucky Derby, as if you were sitting on the rail, with the best seat in the house, watching the entire race on your iPhone.

"What about 'Titanic' or 'Lord of the Rings'? They'd be better pictures in 3-D. Why is James Cameron doing 'Avatar' in 3-D? Because he believes emotionally that 3-D is a better experience. Did Dolby not give us better sound? Did CGI not give us better tools to tell bigger and better stories? Do you really think Robert Downey Jr. would not have been better in a 3-D 'Iron Man?' Don't sell out the geniuses and visionaries that plan and see and imagine film in a different way."

I'm still not convinced, but Jim makes some important points. I'm going to give a 3-D skeptic a chance to respond, but I'd like to hear from some working filmmakers to see what they think could be gained or lost from movies entering the brave new 3-D world.

Photo: Jeffrey Katzenberg by Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

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