Format Smack-Down: IMAX versus 3D

3D movie audience
The worst part is that they're watching Birth of a Nation in 3D.

This blog post was inspired by a running conversation with The Korean, which once again came up at the Convocation. He’s a big supporter of the 3D craze taking the world by storm, lamenting only that there aren’t more movies coming out in the format.

While I’m not a detractor of 3D (used well, any tool is a good thing), I’ve had some trouble convincing him that it would be more worthwhile to suffer the ticket price up-charge to see something in the IMAX format.

Of course, when I’m talking IMAX format, I’m speaking more about the real IMAX format, not the propietary one in which something like the rebooted Star Trek get released. However, I’m still a fan of a bigger movie screen with quality presentation, instead of the typical big-screen TV theatre where they put any movie that isn’t the Big Draw for that week.

Film Gimmickry

3D is a gimmick. It’s absolutely, positively a gimmick intended to lure extra money from the audience. I don’t dispute that at all. I am, however, “easier” on it than a lot of people that I know.

However, everything about movies is a gimmick. CinemaScope was a gimmick, after all, to give people a reason to abandon their new TVs: look at how much more picture you get! Color was a gimmick. And yet, we can’t really imagine the movie experience without them now.

And all of that was just to combat the allure of television, before there were so many ways to coax your hard(ly)-earned ducats from your pocket. Movie makers face an increasingly fractured marketplace. People have High Definition digital pictures in their homes that are arguably of equal or better quality than your average multiplex.

I can stream Netflix in HD (if they hadn’t driven me away), watch YouTube in HD, watch a football game with a better view than anything a stadium can offer. The point is, film and movies are always looking for a way to get you to spend money there. And since they haven’t yet invented Feel-Around, they went back to a technology that failed twice before, but they hoped could work this time: 3D.

3D: Pros and Cons

So I don’t have any beef with 3D, though it’s not my preferred format. That the results of the post-filming process are mixed doesn’t really justify the extra cost for me; if they could guarantee that it would be awesome most of the time, then I’d be down with paying a little extra since I get to the movies a lot less frequently than I did in the past (read: I have kids).

The Korean and I even saw the remake of Fright Night in 3D, because I’ve got an open mind and am constantly willing to have my opinion swayed. But so far, the technology has been decidedly imperfect. Could it see an uptick as people like James Cameron re-release their works in 3D?

Because that’s happening. I mean, sure, people will only complain loudly when it happens with other films, but James Cameron enjoys a free pass to do whatever he wants without criticism because people like to see blue cat people having sex. Not sure why, but whatever.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t planning on seeing the Star Wars films in 3D when they’re re-released. But it’s not a fair comparison, because I’d see them even if they were just being trotted out in regular format to get the movie theatre experience again. And when it comes to getting new film technology right you’ve got to bet on Lucasfilm to figure it out.

But as someone who wears glasses, I can say: those 3D contraptions are not convenient, and I’m not switching to contacts. I tried ’em, they sucked, I’m not doing that again. And if you’ve ever tried to wear 3D glasses over regular glasses, you understand.

(Late Note: While writing this blog, I happened across The Oatmeal’s comic on the 3D Phenomenon, and it’s well worth reading. Truly funny stuff.)

IMAX Format: Only Pros

Star Destroyer from A New Hope
Scientific diagram for how IMAX hunts down and destroys 3D movies.

Whether you’re talking about the proprietary screens that are “only” 28×58 feet or the true IMAX theatres (76×97 feet) at places like the Airbus Theatre at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, they’re still a sight better than the 3D gimmickry.

The picture clarity, the size of the screen (larger than average screens no matter the comparison)…seriously, that’s real immersion in a film.

And I’d have to say that it was Christopher Nolan (arguably the best director still working, this side of Martin Scorsese) who sold me on the format with The Dark Knight. I went to see that on opening day in IMAX just as a sort of way to blow off work early and see what the fuss would be about the format.

I still remember who I was with, and the audible gasp of the entire audience when the opening tracking shot above the rooftops of Chicago Gotham started. It was like seeing Star Wars for the first time with the Star Destroyer rumbling overhead and you just started believing in the film.

I’m stricken with glee that Nolan has said that The Dark Knight Rises will use roughly twice as much full-format IMAX footage.

The Case is Closed

You may ask yourself, “Why did he go to so much trouble to disprove The Korean in such a public forum?”

Aside from the fact that I’m a petty and occasionally terrible person filled with a need to pummel dissenters into dust (that I frequently satisfy), I would like to see if anyone else honestly takes his side* in this debate. I’ve seen movies in both formats, and and say that 100% of the time, the IMAX theatre has been the better experience.

*Instant skepticism is cast upon some commenters

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13 thoughts on “Format Smack-Down: IMAX versus 3D

  1. As tempting as it is to disagree, 3D I a gimmick that sucks. I mean, imagine if Watto, Jar Jar, or one of the Gungas was in 3D?! *shivers*

    I’m shocked that you didn’t take te opportunity to berate the “4D” experience (which admittedly I have not tried because it’s too stupid to waste time and money on).

    Also, your argument is lacking a attack on the rise of 3D films (so clearly, there’s a supportve audience somewhere).

    For your poorly argued reasoning, I’m deducting 500 points from your score, leaving us tied.

    1. Jar Jar Hater,

      You are not allowed to rename yourself in kessel korner without first submitting name changes for review. Your name change would have been rejected anyway, and you’re lucky you got away with choosing an acceptable one in the first place.

      Even if you were to deduct 500 points (which you can’t), I’d still be more than 1000 ahead. It also would not give you a single point, meaning it would still be a complete shut out.

      “I’m shocked that you didn’t take te opportunity to berate the “4D” experience (which admittedly I have not tried because it’s too stupid to waste time and money on).”

      The naming convention of 4D is silly, because it sounds like a Star Trek plot device where you can experience something before it happens.

      And saying the 3D movies have redeeming quality because people buy into it is a silly argument. People also bought New Kids on the Block albums.

      1. Wow, your blog attracts a lot of haters. Must be something about you. What’s with the NKOTB hate?

        Martin Scorcese supports 3D. It must be good.

        1. Huh. So you changed your name again in attempt to provoke. Does someone need a hug?

          Also interesting -you’ve now moved from agreement to argument. Whether by design or reflex, it shows that your views are more like shifting sands than solid ground.

          If you re-read the blog, I actually said I didn’t have a problem with 3D as a concept, just the general execution of it. Argument fail principles fail, renaming fail. Triple point score for me, I’m now up 2,897 to 0.

  2. I could not agree with you any more that 3D is a gimmick and a bad one at that. There is a reason this technology has been around since the 50’s and it never caught on. It gets repackaged but it is still the same old gimmick.

    One of my chief complaints is that 3D doesn’t make the movie better. in fact directors are trying hard to make that shot work in 3D, so they end up making scenes that don’t make sense. It just doesn’t work. And think about it, some of the best movies that ever existed are known for their dialogue. No one cares about the 3D, they care about the story.

    My other beef with 3D, is I spend a lot of money so I don’t have to wear glasses. I hate wearing them, but I need them, so I wear contacts. Eventually when I am a good candidate for it, I will get LASIK. I have no desire to wear glasses. Why would I pay extra for a movie, to wear something that I downright loathe? I don’t and I won’t.

    Bottom line, is 3D is a that thing that just won’t go away. It is movie herpes. Yes, you can suppress it, but it will come out later down the road. Same old thing, just festering, annoying, and it is incurable. Maybe it could be gonorrhea, it is painful, but if treated properly, it will go away. Either way, 3D needs to be dealt with before it gets out of hand.

  3. Dearest 3D haters:
    When I go out of my way to see a movie outside the comforts of my own home, I’m there for the spectacle, large screen, booming sound, and yes, something visually captivating, more than my usual HD experience at home. And yes, there are movies like Clash of the Titans where 3D was advertised but there was nothing 3D about it. However, if anyone says they wouldn’t prefer to see a movie like Avatar, which does 3D justice, in some other format other than 3D, well, you’re either lying or you have lost your imagination. Holmes, did you not say in regards to the Fright Night remake, that 3D added to the experience? I mean, why WOULDN’T you want that extra stimulating experience? Point, winner. Again. Class dismissed.

    1. You might have the worst argument I have read on this blog: ‘3D made Avatar a better movie’ Yes, it made a terrible movie less shitty. Not a ringing endorsement, pal.

          1. they polished a turd my friend. I’m not sure if that made it better. It is still a turd no matter what dimension you look at it in.

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