Real Or Fake 3D Films

Once considered a novelty gimmick back from the ’50s 3D films look to be a mainstay in modern-day cinema. Specifically, f/x-laden genre spectaculars. It’s gotten to the point that a big-budget sci-fi or fantasy film without the 3D treatment seems to stand out or seem lacking. A prime example of that is the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises.

As anyone knows, this all started with the phenomenal success of James Cameron’s Avatar. There had been 3D film releases before Avatar but none of them were as hugely successful as Cameron’s sci-fi epic. Naturally, the film studios attributed Avatar’s success to the revolutionary 3D process that James Cameron utilized and set out to recreate that film’s success at the box office. This is why it seems as if every major genre or animated film is released these days in 3D.

All would be terrific if the 3D used was actually good on a consistent basis.

More and more often, audiences are complaining about the inferior 3D used in many films. Unlike Avatar, which was filmed using 3D cameras, most films released in 3D are post-converted. Usually it seems as if this process was slapped on at the last second and it shows. There are many rants that the films looked dark during some scenes, and actually seemed two dimensional at other times. These complaints were leveled at Clash Of The Titans, Green Lantern and Marvel Studios’ recent super hero films.

Film studios are in danger of killing any enthusiasm for a 3D film. What makes things worse is that the studios won’t reveal in their ads if the films were truly filmed in 3D or not. Add to that the higher ticket prices and it won’t be long before the bloom is off the rose so to speak. There are signs that this is happening already. Take the ticket sales of the newly released John Carter; despite the promotion that the sci-fi epic was in 3D (it was post-converted according to reports) it wasn’t a big hit. Or better yet, look at how Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace did when re-released last month in 3D. It wasn’t a flop and did respectably but it wasn’t a mega hit. Of course, being that Star Wars Episode I was filmed over a decade ago, one couldn’t expect it not to be post-converted, and in that film’s defense the conversion was actually pretty decent. While some images appeared to be two-dimensional, some scenes looked good and at least there weren’t any scenes that looked dark.

The true 3D process using special cameras is costly, but in the long run, it would benefit studios since they can claim their films are true 3D films rather than something hastily done to earn a quick buck.

The good news is that while many upcoming films are using the post-conversion process, there are more and more films that do use actual 3D. While some of those films may not be appealing to some (feature-length animated films and horror films) they do point to the notion that 3D is becoming more mainstream. Perhaps a day will come when it becomes more economical for studios to produce true 3D films on a regular basis or at least improve the post-conversion process. (This improvement would benefit older films needing conversions like future Star Wars re-releases.)

This website reports which recent and upcoming films are true 3D films and which ones aren’t. The following is a partial list of upcoming films using both types of 3D.

Post-Converted: The Avengers, The Cabin In The Woods, Gravity, Men In Black III, Wrath Of The Titans

Actual 3D: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Amazing Spider-Man, Brave, The Hobbit, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, Prometheus, Resident Evil: Retribution

José Soto

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Sci-Fi Oscar Bias

On Sunday the Academy Awards will be presented and I really don’t care which film wins for best picture because I haven’t seen any of the nominated films. I’ll eventually watch some of the nominees on cable though. But looking at the list, I realize that as usual there isn’t a science fiction film nominated for best picture. Well, The Three Of Life features scenes of the Earth being set afire from our sun going supernova billions of years from now, but that film doesn’t dwell on those described moments. Then there’s Hugo, which has some arguably slight sci-fi elements, namely the dramatization of Georges Melies and his silent film Voyage To The Moon, but Hugo is more of a fantasy film and an ode to early filmmaking.

Some research reveals that in the entire history of the Oscars only six science fiction films have been nominated for best film. They are A Clockwork Orange, the original Star Wars, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Avatar, District 9, and Inception. (On a side note, Inglourious Basterds is considered by some to be science fiction only because its ending establishes the film to be about alternate history.) Sure sci-fi films dominate the technical categories such as special effects and sound, but that’s about it when it comes to recognition from the Oscars.

Films like Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey have made the top 100 list from the prestigious American Film Institute’s AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies, yet weren’t nominated for best film in the year they were released. Many other sci-fi films have stood the test of time, while some best picture nominees and winners have been forgotten by today’s audiences. For instance, we continue to talk about The Empire Strikes Back and Back To The Future, yet the movies that won for best picture in the years these sci-fi classics came out are largely ignored (1980’s Ordinary People-IMO, for the record, Raging Bull should’ve won that year; and 1985’s Out Of Africa-not even sure what that movie was about). How about the sci-fi films that were nominated? Does anyone actually believe that Annie Hall is a better film than Star Wars? Sure maybe a bunch of elitist snobs do but despite what George Lucas has done with the saga, the original film has stood the test of time and is a popular as ever. In the case of Avatar, there were stories of many Academy members having an axe to grind with James Cameron and had a rapid disdain for Avatar because of all the computer animation. For my money District 9 was a better film than either Avatar or the winning film, The Hurt Locker. With E.T., it was a better film than Gandhi, but by the time the awards came out there was an obvious backlash against Steven Spielberg’s film.  You can thank the marketing departments that plastered E.T.’s mug on everything at that time. Plus Gandhi was considered more respectable, mainstream and IMPORTANT.

It’s vital to realize that the Oscars are really just popularity/political contests and marketing campaigns among Hollywood insiders who award the statues to sentimental favorites and buddies. The Academy Awards are awash with tales of snubs and cronyism and outright dumb selections which goes beyond sci-fi films. Take the pick of Crash in 2005 over the more popular and more controversial Brokeback Mountain. Or the trite comedy Shakespeare In Love over Spielberg’s classic Saving Private Ryan. That oversight was primarily due to a massive marketing campaign by the former’s executive producers.

Oddly this bias doesn’t extend to fantasy movies because those types of films have received best picture nominations since the 1930s (1937’s Lost Horizon and 1939’s The Wizard Of Oz were the first fantasy films nominated for best picture) right up to this year. One even grabbed the Oscar for best picture nine years ago; that was The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, which many fans felt was the weakest in Peter Jackson’s trilogy. It should be noted that the bias against animated films is even worse, but that’s another story.

The hostility against sci-fi films by the Oscars is clearly evident and will continue for the foreseeable future.  It’s a shame really, since so many past sci-fi films are considered classics not just by fans but by mainstream viewers and critics. This prejudice may have begun with science fiction’s B-movie origins. But as anyone can tell you, sci-fi films have become more sophisticated and true pieces of cinematic art. Shockingly if you go to online sci-fi forums there are many members who put down sci-fi films and don’t consider them worthy of being nominated. So the bias even permeates among many so-called fans who just can’t see these films past their settings. The bottom line is that the Academy has to get over this bias and join the rest of the crowd. Until then we can only root for an occasional acting nomination or the reliable special effects category. Either that or wait for the Saturn or Scream Awards.

José Soto