Friday, April 1

Spectacle, 3D, Immersion: Misplaced Arguments

Anyone who has brought up the topic of 3D's revival in modern cinema knows how I feel about it.  I hate it.  I feel like an aging curmudgeon in these arguments, like Roger Ebert furiously tweeting about the (literal) headaches of 3D glasses and the slight downtick in visual clarity that the technology requires.  This is all true, of course.  3D is, indeed, a step backwards for cinematic viewing rather than a step forward, in many respects.  But I don't want to talk about the technology here, I'd rather talk about some of the assumptions people make when discussing 3D as it pertains to cinema as well as to videogaming.

How could 3D get any cooler?! Oh yeah, bulky headphones.

There seems to be a general argument behind 3D proponents that it offers more immersion.  By creating a 3D film, you, the spectator, are actually getting closer to the characters, environment, and diegetic world of the movie.  Holy shit, I'm watching the world of Pandora in 3D!  It's like I'm there, actually flying beneath floating islands and waterfalls that don't follow the laws of gravity!

Here's the thing, though: this idea, which is constantly tossed about by filmmakers who advocate 3D's proliferation, is based on a bit of backwards logic.  3D's recent surge is based on some pretty spectacular technology.  How many 3D films have you seen that are shooting for IMAX releases?  It's almost always a major spectacle when 3D is involved.  And while spectacle is certainly fun on its own right, it's inherently the very opposite of immersion.

Let's assume you're watching Avatar in IMAX 3D.  Let's also assume you're not higher than Wiz Khalifa.  Chances are you're geeking out on the special effects, the insane world-construction, the marvelous color schemes, and not exactly concentrating on how tall Sigourney Weaver is in human form.  The entire reason Hollywood developed a definitive system of filmmaking was to guide the spectator's eyes to the best vantage points for narrative storytelling.  Spectacle removes our focus from the film's diegesis.  Instead, it slaps us across the face with shock and awesome.

Aren't Na'vi chicks hot?

Tossing 3D into filmmaking that already celebrates an overdose of spectacle only calls more attention to the medium itself rather than situate the spectator into a deeper sense of immersion.  It also hurts our heads.  That's why I'm so curious to see what happens with the Nintendo 3DS.  Games are often thought to have a similar sliding scale between immersion and game mechanics.  Players can easily play a game, even one deeply narratively-based, on its own mechanics and rule systems rather than get immersed in the narrative.  The balance is difficult to strike.

So will the introduction of 3D refocus all player's attention on the spectacle of 3D?  And furthermore, is the a technological introduction that will ever become totally ingrained in the way we watch film and play games?  I'm inclined to say no.  But I do think, if anything, the 3DS is the best example of a good way to approach 3D in gaming.  No glasses.  Solo perspective.  Portability.  Immense amounts of wireless goodies and the introduction of Alternate Reality Gaming as a feasible commonality.  

It also orders pizza

The thing is freakin' sweet.  It's just not going to be very "immersive."



  1. 3D not appropriate for all games or movies, but Avatar would not be the same movie without it. And Avatar was, in my humble opinion, sweet.

  2. As much as I love to bash Avatar, that wasn't really my goal here. I guess my question would be, do you actually think the 3D allowed you to dive deeper into the characters and feel a deeper connection with the film, or was it an extension of the celebratory special effects? I can't imagine everyone's experience is the same, but I'd be curious what you think.

    Avatar is also a film that, if all action silliness was condensed or altogether eliminated, would have easily fallen in at an hour and a half long. It's a bit lighter on character and plot development and relies on stock twists and residual cliches. This also complicates the usage of 3D I think, though to dubious results