3-D Still Going Strong

I took my son to see Toy Story 3 in 3-D yesterday. I’m not sure why I did. I haven’t really seen what the hype about 3-D is all about, yet I continue to take him to these enhanced movies. He doesn’t like wearing the glasses, being only 4, and I don’t really get a benefit either. It got me thinking again about the 3-D hype that’s been the craze this year.

When I was 5 or 6, Captain Eo was playing at Disneyland. It was a huge deal at the time. 3-D was supposed to be the future. The film had all kinds of optical tricks aimed to please those willing to wear the 3-D glasses. An asteroid comes out over the crowd and explodes over people’s heads in the opening scene. Back then that was pretty impressive, and it became the base for all my future 3-D evaluation for better or worse. Other 3-D shows have come and gone, and some shows introduced a “fourth” dimension, prodding, poking, spraying, and blowing cold air on the audience in tandem with the action on the screen. This is all well and good for a theme park gimmick, but are we really ready for full-length films in our living rooms?

I am beginning to wonder why I am not jumping on the 3-D hype wagon. Maybe it is because I don’t really get much benefit from the glasses. When I expect to see things pop out of the screen, they don’t. Maybe it’s because the glasses never fit me right. Maybe wearing contacts does something to ruin the effect. I am not sure why, but it just doesn’t seem to work well for me. Watching Toy Story 3 though, I began to wonder if my expectations were wrong. I only noticed a couple of things that seemed meant to pop off the screen, and they did. What I noticed more was a focus on the individual characters location in space. There was an effect of a 3 dimensional figure with a sometimes two dimensional backdrop. It felt like a video game.

Is this what the hype is about then? Perhaps. From what I can tell it seems to be the case. This new 3-D fad isn’t so much about popping images off of the screen, but to enhance depth perception on the screen. As great as this epiphany seemed to be, it was quickly dashed tonight. My family sat down for a spontaneous family movie night, and we rented an old kid-friendly film that the kids hadn’t seen in a while. Given how old the movie was, it didn’t seem likely that it had been enhanced in any noticeable way. What I noticed though was the same 3-D depth perception I experienced in the theater. Is this simply a camera trick, or am I so used to the 2-D method that I automatically adjust my perception? I really hope it was an automatic response, since I was pretty happy to see something new at the 3-D movie theater.

I think one of the best ways to discover the actual intent of modern 3-D movies and games though is the Nintendo 3DS. According to a friend who attended E3, the line to the Nintendo demos was huge. There was a wall of people heading in Nintendo’s direction to check out the glasses-free 3-D gaming experience. The 3-D camera on the device is what I am most interested in. Taking a picture of someone in 3-D will likely show us what the hype is all about. I doubt anyone will have the capacity to view these images in real 3-D, but from what I’ve heard the difference can be seen when compared to the same image in 2-D.

As the 3-D televisions are pouring into retail stores, and gaming systems like the PlayStation 3 are upgrading 3-D capabilities, hopefully we will understand whether the hype is worth it. I think I am better prepared to accept the phenomenon in my video games than I am in my movies. Maybe it will turn out to be a simple fad, as Beta turned out to be. A lot of money will be spent marketing 3-D this year. Hopefully for the sake of all involved this won’t be as short lived as other fads. 3-D has a lot of potential. It has been coming for decades. It would be nice to see it finally gain some traction. Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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