The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'It bashes you over the head': Another critic takes a swipe at 3-D movies

June 8, 2011 |  2:13 pm

Jack_black I'm beginning to think that the real problem with 3-D films is that they just provide us with too much sensory stimuli. When I paid a visit to 3-D evangelist Jeffrey Katzenberg's cozy DreamWorks animation campus recently, I got to see 20 minutes of the studio's upcoming 3-D film, "Puss in Boots." The footage was delightful, loaded with all sorts of inventive visual ideas and infectiously likable characters. But perhaps because there was already so much going on up on the screen, the 3-D felt totally superfluous. I kept wanting to take my glasses off. The 3-D effects felt more like a distraction than an enhancement.   

Clearly I am not alone. Judging from a host of recent news stories, the 3-D bloom is off the rose, with films like "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" and "Kung Fu Panda 2" making significantly less money from their 3-D showings than from regular 2-D. Meanwhile, people who get paid to see movies are also hopping off the bandwagon. The latest critic to take a swipe at 3-D is John Podhoretz, who reviews film for the Weekly Standard. A leading neoconservative, Podhoretz spends much of his time writing about politics. It might be fair to say that we're on opposite sides of the political spectrum,

But when it comes to movies, we often find ourselves in total agreement. And never more so than when it comes to 3-D. As Podhoretz put it in a new essay titled "The Next Big Thing: It's Not 3-D": The problem with 3-D may be rooted in the fact that audiences were spoiled by the splashy 3-D effects of "Avatar," whose creative use of the medium hasn't been duplicated by subsequent releases. He concludes:

The truth is that 3-D can’t save Hollywood, because the technique doesn’t add anything to the moviegoing experience. All movies are 3-D in the sense that we already perceive what we are watching in three dimensions. The rules of perspective, and its effect on our cognitive faculties, have long seen to that. So 3-D doesn’t add; it bashes you over the head. That is the message audiences are delivering. Hollywood, like everyone else, will have to live with shrinking profit margins.

Podhoretz joins an ever-growing assortment of top critics, notably Roger Ebert and the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern, who have found themselves consistently underwhelmed by the whole 3-D gestalt. It can't be a good thing when the people who care the most about movies are the ones who are leading the charge against the medium's most highly touted technological advance. But that's the problem with 3-D. It still looks a lot more like a canny strategy to boost revenue than an actual leap forward in film artistry.

-- Patrick Goldstein 

Photo: Jack Black, left, with German actor Hape Kerkeling at the Berlin premiere of "Kung Fu Panda 2." Credit: Jens Kalaene/European Pressphoto Agency