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Friday, January 15, 2010


Charity Mikalogue

Almost all of us have heard by now of the terrible earthquake in Haiti and the urgent need for charitable donations. I am therefore proposing the following:

You donate money, and I will write a Mikalogue in your honour. (Or possibly Mika will, depending on your suspension of disbelief.) I'd recommending the charity Medicins San Frontiers / Doctors Without Borders, who are already setting up hospitals and need a lot more money.

So here's how it's going to work. Send me a 'thank you for donating' e-mail that's dated and timed after this post went up (kitwhitfield at hotmail.com) and records a donation of ten pounds or more, and with it a request for a situation or subject you'd like to see Mika deal with. I will, some time later, put up a post identifying the donors, and will then over the next few weeks compose and post the Mikalogues. They will be interspersed with other posts so as not to overdose, but I will get round to all of them eventually.

(Standard legal disclaimer, which is hopefully unnecessary but I've been trained to err on the side of caution: all Mikalogues including any in the future remain entirely my copyright and intellectual property. I retain the sole right to use suggestions as I judge best, and to sell, license, adapt or otherwise use and control any Mikalogues past, present or future unless otherwise stipulated.)

I'm anticipating a manageable number of donations and requests here. If it turns out I get a deluge, I may have to adapt a bit to be practical - combining several people's situations for comic effect, perhaps. We'll see when we get there.

In any case, let's raise some money for Haiti and have some fun at the same time.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


When horror films are sadder than weepies

A while ago my husband rented a horror movie called Hatchet from the library, almost entirely because of its strapline: 'It's not a remake, it's not a sequel, and it's not based on a Japanese one.' Sharing his sense that good copywriting deserved some kind of reward, I settled down with him to watch it.

After about forty-five minutes, I turned to him and said, 'This is making me sad. I don't want to see all these people die. Can we turn it off?'

'Yeah,' he said, 'I think I agree with you.' So we ejected the DVD with most of the characters still surviving, put it back in the box and returned it to the library. I believe everyone dies in the end, but I refused to witness it.

Hatchet is a fairly traditional slasher movie, neither particularly good nor particularly bad, and in itself not necessarily worth making a big fuss over. Its characters were broadly drawn and based on various traditional types, but mostly pretty likeable; while they were the fictional equivalent of skittles, set up to be knocked down, both of us found ourselvess surprisingly reluctant to sit through their various bloody fates.

Which points towards an interesting trend in recent horror films: there's something awfully sad about seeing all those people die.

My husband, for instance, has yet to recover from Wolf Creek, a rather well-scripted gorno in which three extremely nice young travellers meet a terrible fate at the hands of an evil bushranger; the point where the first girl was getting hacked up, he tells me, any sense of horror, fear, shock, dread or any of the other emotions the genre is supposed to evoke were entirely swallowed up in sorrow. Not tragic, cathartic sorrow, but just grisly, miserable unhappiness at seeing such awful things happen to someone.

I don't think this is how horror movies are supposed to make you feel.

Having seen old-time slashers like Halloween and Friday the 13th, they don't have quite the same effect. They, too, involve rather nice people meeting undeservedly ghastly fates, but the effect isn't quite so saddening, for several reasons.

The first has to do with character writing. Partly because of the cheap sound equipment and, shall we say, variable skills of the actors, old-style slasher characters exist in a somewhat dreamlike world. They seem like nice people, but nice people we never get to know that well: there's a kind of distance between them and us. We care for them as disinterested strangers rather than as acquaintances: their personalities are sketched in only roughly, their voices come from far off, and they inhabit the world of nightmare where death is to be expected.

The second has to do with build-up. Old slashers hit the ground running and don't stop to rest: if I remember right, we begin both Halloween and Friday 13th with a killer's-eye view murder. Tension is established quickly with the dispatch of characters we haven't had time to get fond of, and from there, the film stalks. Time without violence isn't hanging-out time, the creation of little story arcs to be cut short unfairly or of hopes and dreams never to be fulfilled: it's time in which death lurks behind every bush, and while the characters may be ignorant enough to be relaxed, we, the audience, are no such thing. Our attention is always forced towards the next outburst of violence: after the horrified start when the bad guy leaps out of the closet there's actually a degree of relief as he plunges his knife home: at least the terrible waiting is temporarily abated. The stretched, nightmarish anticipation of an old slasher pulls us to and fro, making us wait for the next murder almost as tautly as the killer does. Dying characters betray no hopes, because we are never allowed to cherish such illusions: the end is coming and we know it, not just because the poster promised horror but because the film has, and has never promised anything else.

In the 2000 documentary Scream And Scream Again, Mark Kermode points out that later 80s slashers put as much emphasis on the slashings as the stalkings; since then the slashings have been ever more graphic and the stalkings have been ever more edged out by something that's neither: time with the characters where death isn't imminent. Even if we know intellectually that they probably won't last the hour, such scenes viscerally feel as if we're in a film where people's lives might actually be going somewhere. It's a sharp slap to be plunged back into the slashings, like being jerked from one kind of film to another. Older slashers don't have this problem: they're almost all stalk, so the shocks are the clean shock of dread fulfilled, not the shock of genre dysmorphia as well.

The third has to do with death scenes. Old-style victims gasp when the knife comes out and scream when the knife goes in, and that's about it. They don't weep, plead, howl and flail and shudder for their lives. The deaths are quick and stylised, and as such generally evoke shock and fear more than anguish. Even the infamous meat-hook scene of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, (you can watch it here; be advised it's one of the most gruelling scenes of one of the most gruelling movies from the heyday of slashers, so don't say I didn't warn you, and if you're at work you might want to consider what your boss would think) features far more screams than sobs. A scream carries less emotional expression than a sob: it's a generalised distress call, carrying and sharp, but whether it conveys fear, pain or simple shock - or even excitement - is hard to determine; it's weeping that's the really harrowing sound. Recent horror movies tend to run a greater gamut of wails, and that takes it out of you.

So recent horror movies, through their greater vocal range, calmer down times, better sound quality and more thoroughly established characters, make me sad. I was discussing this with a friend, and she raised an interesting question: what about films that are supposed to be sad? Do I avoid them?

The answer is no. And curiously, I don't find them as upsetting either. Now, on the face of it this makes little sense. Why should a film that goes all-out to make me sad sadden me less than a film that's just trying to scare me?

The answer, I think, is that weepies, unlike slashers, respect your grief.

We discussed Fried Green Tomatoes, one of her favourites, which kicks off with the sudden and pointless death of the nicest person you could ever hope to meet and goes right on from there. But here's the thing: it doesn't bounce on to the next scene with a shake of its head. It takes his death seriously. He's a terrible loss, and the film explores that - focuses, in fact, around his little sister, unable for years to come to terms with her adored brother's absence, and his girlfriend, left without him to marry a man who beats her. His absence reverberates, paying his presence its due. Other people die and suffer, and the same thing happens: the characters mourn, making space for us to mourn with them, acknowledging that it's right to grieve for death.

Weepies, in fact, are as much about coping with disaster as they are about the occurence of disaster. Death is absorbed and processed; even the concept of weeping at a film suggests that we're being encouraged to some kind of catharsis.

A sad death in horror, on the other hand, happens fast and sudden and that's the end of it. We're given no space to work through the emotions it provokes. If we've been given no space to build up any emotions about the deceased except the expectation of their death then that's fine; the death itself is the moment of catharsis. But if the character has been shown as a real person, there's nowhere for those emotions to go. The result is unsatisfied grief and frustration.

You might argue that showing the victims as real people and emphasising the unfairness of murder is more true to life, less objectifying. But the problem is, a slasher film is inherently objectifying. If the entertainment on offer is watching people die, however naturalistically you portray them, however tenderly you evoke their lives, what are they ultimately except objects to be consumed? They're there to get killed: that's the function they serve in the plot. It's why they're in the story in the first place. Not objectifying slasher characters is like being expected to bond with a jelly bean before you eat it.

Fundamentally I think that the older slasher films are less hypocritical about death and sorrow. The addled teens are there to get it in the neck, and there's no point pretending otherwise; if you wanted to watch a film that cared deeply about its protagonists you're in the wrong auditorium. You don't like Halloween's attitude to violence, they're playing The Deer Hunter down the street; go there. A film that tries to show the humanity of victims and the unfairness of death, but makes no room for grief, gets the worst of both, and ultimately comes across as more callous. It isn't any less callous about the characters - they're just as dead, in fact they may well die harder, and they aren't given any more mourning time - but it's also callous about the audience.

There are times when I get the whiff of a judgmental spirit in some contemporary horror directors, a desire to punish the audience. You want a slasher? Fine, but I'm going to make you like the characters and then kill them horribly. You want a spook house? Fine, but there will be real corpses. Old horror morality was crude and simplistic, mostly a cautionary-tale affair of sex and drugs (though I've argued before that the only-a-virgin-survives convention of old horror may be less a matter of morality and more a matter of identification, and that at least some recent horror films are actually more Puritanical rather than less), but recent slasher films, existing in a brave new world where misogyny is unacceptable and teen sex is perfectly normal, seem to have cast around for someone to disapprove of and settled on their viewers.

This isn't the inevitable consequence of a more liberal view of sex; the cautionary tale is still a functional trope in our swinging era. Though it regrettably succumbs to the traditional need for a last man standing with some rather contrived catastrophes in the last few minutes, I'd point to Donkey Punch as a rather neat little morality play, in which three girls unwisely go to party on a floating yacht crewed by four boys, getting enmeshed in a drama where the roles of lover and killer become interlinked. The gruesome events point clearly to the more sex-positive but unarguable moral: don't have sex with someone you don't trust. Despite a laddish tone Donkey Punch delivers some good practical advice: girls, don't go somewhere isolated with unfamiliar boys only after one thing; boys, don't listen to your bigmouth mate. The consequences of ignoring these rules are grisly yet plausible: the girls find themselves suddenly changed from guests to captives, at the mercy of young men who, it turns out, actually weren't joking when they joked about not respecting women. The boys find themselves rife with internal division, pre-existing rivalries blooming into full-blown enmities and cooler heads overruled by the panic of the selfish. All of this plays out a set of morals as consistent as you could find in any teen magazine's advice page, and until the need for punitive mayhem overturns the logic of the story the deaths are grim but not exactly sad: their appropriateness to the story means that, as with the long stalk of early slashers, the audience is well prepared for them.

It's all these deaths that set out to prove that death is unfair and strikes at random that create that effect of unassuaged grief that has been so putting me off recent horror. Death often does strike by unjust chance, but if that's the point you're going to make you need to show how people deal with that, because creating some sense of continuum is how people respond to unpredictable tragedy, and just as much a part of life as the randomness itself. You want realism, that includes showing grieving. And if your story is about a serial killer, random is exactly what death isn't, especially when you're following the traditional formula of a hermetic circle of victims picked off one at a time. That's a contrived scenario, highly structured, created for a story in which death occurs in a semi-guessable sequence rather than entirely at random. Like cobbling together the high body count of old slashers and the sadness of other styles, cobbling together the Agatha-Christie-like closed cast with the randomness of death in the real world is a patch job, leading to an unsatisfying result.

It's the old problem of adapting something internally consistent: if you adapt only some elements without working through the whole thing, you wind up with something inconsistent. Something has to give, and in my case it's audience enjoyment. Maybe I'm not supposed to enjoy these new horrors, but that comes back to the issue of hypocrisy: if the directors think I deserve to suffer for renting a horror movie, what do they deserve for making it in the first place?

So I'm wondering what's going on, and at this point I move into political speculation. It's been remarked, as I'll discuss in a moment, that horror films very often channel contemporary anxieties and pick up on the political crises of the day. Slashers are a distinctively American form, which, added to America's political dominance, makes American politics the likely epicentre from which horror shocks will reverberate. Is there any connection?

Cited in Wikipedia - that's how erudite I am, aren't you impressed? - the critic Vera Dika argues that the satisfaction of watching a slasher is threefold:

Catharsis—Through a release of fears about bodily injury or from political or social tensions of the day.
Recreation—An intense, thrill seeking, physical experience akin to a roller coaster ride.
Displacement—Audiences sexual desires are displaced onto the characters in the film

Catharsis, I think, doesn't work unless it's been properly built up. A sad event is just sad without the structured inevitability of tragic form. Displacement, too, I think is problematic: the desire to have sex is less of a problem nowadays than it once was, and the masked-boy-penetrates-pretty-girl-with-knife formula is no longer the staple - the genders and styles of killing are far more mixed and matched nowadays than of yore. Recreation, maybe. But what about political and social tensions?

Reading over what I said about Hostel, which was, after all, a Bush-era film, dark thoughts about neocons started roiling in my brain. The documentary American Nightmare discusses the psychological effects of the Vietnam war on the makers of early slasher films, the anger and horror that boiled over into angry, horrified movies. Hostel struck me as something of an Iraq film, but from less sensitive respresentatives of its country. (Standard disclaimer: I'm talking about America's erstwhile leaders, not every American. If every American thought like that we'd still be under the neoconservative heel, perish the thought, plus the early slashers I've been praising are just as American as the more recent crop.) As a story it doesn't work very well, but I started to wonder if that's because it comes out of a worldview that doesn't work either. It doesn't function because it came out of a psychological place that is profoundly dysfunctional: rather than protesting against the nightmares of its nation, it's been contaminated by them.

Consider Hostel's plot. Our heroes bumble off abroad, stomping around and doing whatever they please, blithely unaware of any reason why the world might be more than their playground; foreignness seizes upon them with a horrifying and, to them, inexplicable violence (the film itself seems to feel unable to explain the hostel; it just is), and suddenly bad things are happening for no apparent reason.

I commented in my earlier post that the hero has to escape by a really remarkable cascade of deus ex machina devices largely because the film hasn't bothered to establish him as possessing any survival qualities other than his extroversion and his nationality (of the other two victims, one is extroverted but foreign, the other American but introverted, so only Paxton, the survivor, has the magic combination), but if we consider it as a political film, perhaps that's part of the point. If Hostel portrays anything political, it can only be the entitled bewilderment that Bush and his ilk seemed to feel at not being universally loved and deferred to, and the fact that the film had to muddle through an escape is part of that: if Paxton had been required to have anything other than his American frat-boy energy to merit survival, that would have interferred with the entitlement. The whole point is that he shouldn't have had to be anything other than an American jock; Hostel isn't exactly clear on how this is going to save him, but it feels that it ought to somehow. It just wades in and assumes things will probably work out. The plot makes no sense because it's the child of a worldview that feels under no obligation to see sense.

And the randomness of who survives and why is by no means exclusive to Hostel. Cause and effect tend to come uncoupled in recent horror: there's a bloodbath, but no one can explain what comes from where. There's a kind of confused aggression about such films, a desire to see torture done and to feel oneself the victim at the same time (it wouldn't be the first time America's films dealt with its sins by switching sides; consider Rambo), a fear that the world is a bad place where unaccountable things happen to you the moment you step outside your safe space coupled with a surprising uninterest in why that might be - the villains become more and more motiveless, lacking even the demonic sexual twist of the slashers' early monsters - and an undirected punitiveness, judgementalism flapping loose and logic mishmashed, that might well be Bush's legacy. Honi soit qui mal y pense, we're having violence and never mind processing the consequences.

A side-note: Not all the recent sad slashers may have this sense of entitlement - non-American ones are sometimes equally dislocated, as with Wolf Creek - but the sense of dislocation persists. Given that they're equally Bush-era, I think some of them might speak less of brashly misdirected aggression and more of confused despair: cause and effect slip their moorings because Bush created a world where meaningless violence carried on whatever anybody said about it. Some slashers seem contaminated by Bushism and some disoriented by it, but they all speak of a world where fairness is completely inconceivable.

This is pure speculation on my part; if there's anything in it we should expect to see some refreshing new departures in horror as the presidency of Obama starts to sink in. If Clinton's 90s gave us the performance-artist serial killer and the knowing self-parody, which is to say an era in which sophistication and smarts were riding high, and Bush gave us gruesome deaths, confused hypocrisy and a resolute rejection of thought, I'd like to see what's coming next. I'm certainly tired of this fashion; it's long overstayed its welcome.

Monday, January 04, 2010


Why I can't be having with 3D

So, happy new year one and all, and welcome to a new decade. The noughties were the decade that published my books so I can't be entirely ungrateful, but as they were also the decade that gave us celebrity reality TV and George W. Bush, I for one am happy to see the back of them and here's hoping for better in the whatever-they're-going-to-be-calleds.

Which brings me tangentially to a subject I've been thinking about for a while: the new technology supposedly sweeping our cinemas - or rather, the phenomenon that attempts to sweep our cinemas every other decade or so then goes away for a while when people decide it really isn't worth wearing those stupid-looking glasses: to wit, 3D cinema.

3-D technology may be new, but the concept isn't. My big brother cherished for months his souvenir glasses on which he proudly inscribed 'I have been through Jaws 3D'; this, if Wikipedia informs me right about release dates, was in 1983, which would make him about nine years old, an age where little boys can reasonably be expected to be excited about the prospect of seeing severed limbs and big teeth in multiple dimensions - and even more, as his note on the glasses showed, to be excited about the boasting rights of having seen them afterwards. Little boys love to feel brave and to have trophies that prove their courage, and the three-dimensional shocks of the shark served my brother's purpose admirably.

Being six at the time and not invited to that birthday party, I never saw Jaws 3D in the cinema, a fact that caused me no sorrow, but among my favourite toys was my red plastic View Master (a toy probably familiar to many growing up in the eighties), which true to the era included a set of ET stills I could examine in three glowing dimensions through the lenses. I personally preferred my nature photography disks in which I could see foxes in their fields and a particularly fine shot of a mouse on a cornstalk silhouetted against the moon, but the fact remained that three dimensional cinema of some kind was available to children in my generation. It was around for a while, then more or less passed quietly away.

Nor was it the first outing; over the Christmas period the 1953 film Kiss Me Kate was on television where, in deference to the 3D it was shot in, characters had a rather disconcerting habit of chucking things at the camera which didn't sit very well with the restrictions of 2D - a point worth bearing in mind for later.

None of which proves very much except that 3D is an idea that seems to crop up at regular intervals, and has yet to actually take hold.

I'm inclined to doubt that it ever will. I'm certainly inclined to hope it never will.

A few months ago I went on an excursion to see Up at the London Imax, one of the biggest 3D screens. While the movie itself was a laugh-and-cry marvel of storytelling, it was also my first encounter with 3D on its current cycle, and I would very much have preferred, it transpired, to be watching in 2D.

Part of the reasons for this were technical: on a big screen, you need to be positioned exactly right for the 3D to work, and from where we were sitting the images kept drifting in and out of alignment. Paying full concentration to the film became somewhat difficult when I had to divert attention into trying to keep my eyes straight or searching the screen for the magic point from which all might coalesce.

That might be a problem that better seating or a smaller screen would resolve, but I don't think it's negligible. Inclusivity is a real issue, and if I was having problems it seems like a serious one because I have, with my glasses on, perfectly good eyesight. That's far from universal. I'm informed that a lazy eye, a pretty common thing to have, makes it almost impossible to keep the images clear. I watched as an adult; those enormous glasses handed out looked pretty hard to wear on a child-sized face. None of these problems seems small. If you're going to all the extra trouble of adding a third dimension and paying over the odds for it, it seems a fundamental requirement that it should actually work, and work for everybody who paid for their tickets.

Even if it could be made to work - and it seems vulnerable to all kinds of failures - there still remains the real problem, which in my opinion is this: it really doesn't seem worth it.

3D isn't actually a three-dimensional image. What you see, for those of you who haven't been to such a screening, is a series of two-dimensional planes layered one in front of the other rather like a toy theatre. Depth is managed crudely: there appear to be spaces between each layer, but perspective, curvature, connection between foreground and background, are flattened out. Rather than leading to the background, the foreground just sort of floats in front of it. An image coming straight at you can be dramatic because the screen can manage direct forward motion fine, but there's a limited amount of that you can do in the middle of telling a story, and for the most part things just sort of hover around.

This leads to the sense that we may indeed be watching a technological marvel, but that we'd be watching something more immersive if we only had two dimensions to cope with. Part of this is just the marvellousness itself: I actually found myself distracted from the story. Cinema is a big, boisterous, overwhelming form and always has been, but 3D ramps that up: unlike looking at a picture, you're looking at something that you'd never, ever see in the ordinary world, a fantastical optical illusion, one that aims squarely for the 'Oooohh!' part of the brain. Which is fine in its way, but sometimes 'Oooohh!' is not the emotion the movie is trying to evoke. Up! had moments of grand spectacle, but it also had small, domestic moments, moments of pathos and tender mundanity - that was the whole point of the story, really, that the everyday ordinary stuff is actually the most important part of your life - and that's hard to square with the sense of big, overwhelming spectacle. Possibly this might change if we became used to 3D, but I'm not so sure: like I said, 3D is never going to look entirely mundane because it's an optical illusion we need special glasses to perceive. We don't live in a world that will let us get used to that: I think it's always going to feel slightly surreal. If you want a big visual splash that's great, but cinema isn't just a visual medium, and with the visuals distracting from the dialogue and the music the other elements are overbalanced and the gentler downstrokes of narrative (and where would we be without them?) are going to struggle.

More than that, I really don't think we need technology to get a 3D experience, because here's the thing: two dimensions is all we ever see anyway.

The human eye is, like a movie screen, relatively flat. Close one of them and everything flattens out: we don't actually see in three dimensions. What we have instead of 3D eyes are sophisticated brains that are extremely good at intuiting the presence of a third dimension based on the appearance of the visible two.

Which is why, if you show us a flat image like a photograph, our eyes will immediately clock it as possessing depth, even if we know perfectly well it has no such thing. That's what our eyes do; it's what they're evolved to do. When an ability is crucial to your species's survival the species tends to become rather good at it, and there are few things less beneficial to your survival than continually walking into trees you thought were further away and off the edges of cliffs onto ground you didn't realise was a thousand feet below you. If we couldn't 'see' a third dimension out of two we'd all be strawberry jam smeared over the pages of history.

Which is why, when I look at a cinema screen, the thought, 'My goodness, how flat this looks' never passes through my mind. It doesn't look flat. It looks not unlike the world does: two dimension that my brain automatically cooks into three, maybe not quite as fully as with reality but fully enough that it passes without question.

Seeing it in 3D, on the other hand, calls attention to the limitations of the medium. If my brain is assembling a sense of depth it does a deceptively good job; creating a third dimension without distracting me is part of its vocation. If it couldn't do it while all my conscious thought was focused on other things, my ancestors would have been too busy going 'Ooohh!' to notice the approaching tiger: brain-created 3D is both convincing and ignorable in a way that works perfectly for storytelling. If, on the other hand, the cinema screen is waving a set of layers at me, the whole thing looks less three-dimensional, not more, because my brain can't put them together. It's an entertaining spectacle when it works, and would lend itself well to scenes especially shot to show off the device - there was a trailer for the latest Christmas Carol, for instance, featuring a series of icicles that 'you' smack into one after another, and even to someone as curmudgeonly about 3D as me it was quite impressive. But the trouble is, that's not storytelling, which is what most films do. It's what happens in the moments when you're racing from one part of the story to the next. It's narrative bridging rather than narrative. If the audience is going to follow what's going on between the characters, you need a fair proportion of shots where the camera is taking a fairly steady view of what's happening side-to-side instead of back-to-front, which is where 3D is at its weakest. Movies generally view things from the side, because that's the easiest way to see what's happening, but from the side is the shot most vulnerable to the toy-theatre effect. Spectacle can support storytelling, of course, but in the case of 3D, the spectacle is at its most dramatic when it's doing things that make little room for the plot.

Which puts another problem in front of us: unless we all go over to all-3D, and I really hope we don't, the requirements of 3D are going to fight the requirements of 2D. If you watch the Christmas Carol trailer, you'll see an example of a film that's working hard to take advantage of what 3D does best, and what 3D does best is have things looming towards you or racing away. The result is many, many shots where things are flying at full speed to or fro; it's probably fun in 3D, but in 2D it starts to get a bit obtrusive. That was a problem in Kiss Me Kate: the flying objects continually being tossed camerawards looked, on a television screen, messy and ill-judged rather than astounding and impressive. Contrariwise, what 2D does well is vistas, horizons, composition on the horizontal, and in 3D that looks kind of boring.

The two different methods, in short, require different kinds of shot to look nice - and since they both fall into the same art form, that's a problem. It's as if you had to write a book for two different audiences, one that wanted to read the page from left to right and the other from right to left. It would be a clever writer indeed who could reconcile the wishes of those two audiences, and any work they could produce under those demands would no doubt be very impressive - but it would be a kind of formal experiment, a work produced to meet a difficult set of constraints, and things like emotion, drama and expression tend to struggle under such formal conditions. Call me cynical, but a book where every line had to be a palindrome would probably not be the most moving story in the world.

3D versus 2D is nothing like as extreme a conflict, of course, but it faces the same basic problem: if you're going to make a work of art that works as both, it will be so difficult that other priorities - priorities that are probably, at the end of the day, more important - will be jostling for space. The simplest solution would be to have some scenes that worked best in 3D and some in 2D, but that means everyone who watches it in any form is going to have to absorb some bad shots, which hardly seems a good idea. My hat goes off to any director or cinematographer who can put together a film composed of shots that work perfectly in both forms, but I fear my money isn't on their likelihood of success.

It's for this reason, I suspect, that 3D tends not to last each time someone tries it. It puts a whole load of extra pressures on the cinematography that make it really hard to avoid bad shots one way or another, and the result at the end is a spectacle that's impressive as a novelty but doesn't add to the storytelling, looks flatter than 2D and is harder on the audience members with bad seats or eye problems. Faced with all that, a director may just throw up their hands and say, 'You know what people always go and see and have done for the past century? Good 2D films.'

Which is what I myself would prefer. Maybe someday 3D technology might improve to the point where it looks like more than a series of overlaid slides, but I don't think we're at that place yet, or anywhere near. I know we're living in the future and all, but some of our inventions are still a bit ropey, and till they're better I'd rather watch 2D movies that aren't ashamed of leaving the work of finding that always-illusionary third dimension to the device that does it best: the viewer's brain.


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