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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Tron: Irony, Fatigue and Dislike in the Third Dimension

Posted on February 2, 2011 at 5:19 PM

For a number of reasons (OK, that exact number of reasons is three. 1) The inconvenience; it is difficult to just run out and see a movie with Lauryn. Also, our schedule is very fluid. There are times when we’ll start a movie at 9:13 other times at 9:58; to have to conform to some schedule set by “The Man” because he thinks shows should start at a specific time is often tough. And if I miss that "let's go out to the lobby, let's go out to the lobby..." jingle, well, my night is just ruined. 2) The commercial experience often falls short of the awesomeness which is my living room theater. Besides the superior sound – possibly only IMAX can outperform my Definitive SuperCube Trinity Signature sub -- I have WAY better snacks and a far more liberal hard liquor policy. 3) The cost. $6 for a medium bucket of popcorn? SIX?! And how much is the upcharge to see a 3D movie?!) I don’t often get out to the commercial cinema. But occasionally movies will come out – Avatar, Batman, James Bond, Pixar, etc – that look so awesome that they must be shared in the communal videodrome of the commercial cine.  I’d been wanting to see the new Tron movie – I am one of the few in my peer group that actually saw (and mostly remembers) the original from its initial commercial release – and it seemed like this might actually be a movie to help sway my anti-3D vitriol pendulum somewhat back to a more moderate stance. Surely the imagineers at Disney would know how to do something awesome and mind-bendingly cool with 3D. Surely, right?


So, it turns out that last Saturday I did a radio interview with Mike Etchart at Sound + Vision Radio. I usually go on the show every few months and discuss some column I’ve written or product I’ve reviewed. This time, Mike recently read my “Why I still hate 3D” blog and – being so counter to the traditional rah-rah-siss-boom-3D chants going on, he wanted me to discuss why I so disliked it. So, I spent about 30 minutes rehashing my story and telling all of the reasons why I felt that 3D was 1D too many and how it was being so overhyped and basically contributing to the fall of humanity, clearly starting with the problems we’re seeing in Egypt. Yes, all of it 3D related.


Here’s the irony part; within about an hour of ending my interview, I got a call from a friend inviting me to go and see Tron: Legacy. In 3D. I knew my Tron seeing window of opportunity was closing, so I checked with Dana and – fresh off a night of delicious meats and fine wines at Ruth’s Chris – she bid me farewell on my Tron seeing journey.


First thoughts; $10.75 for a movie ticket? Ouchey! Now, granted, you in New York and LA and, well, probably nearly every other state in the union, are probably sniggering, “Oh, John! You luddite! $10.75 is a veritable *bargain* for seeing a movie! Why we pay $15 and that’s for the auditorium with the blown center channel and rip in the screen! How quaint you are in your small town ways!” So, yeah, $10.75.


Get the Dolby glasses and they are totally covered in hard, WAY hard water spots. Like no amount of shirt rubbing can seem to break their molecular bond to the polarized glasses. Fortunately, these water spots were powerless against a good hot-breath steam cleaning. While waiting for the film to start, I put the glasses on, and I take them off. I put them on and I take them off. I put them on, and I look out of the corners of the lenses. First, these glasses just aren’t comfy-cozy on my face. I know, I know, they can’t be custom, but damn, Dolby, could the frame be a little more nose and face friendly? And how about more smooth and roundy edges and less squarey pokey? And there is clearly a significant drop in light and color shift when the glasses go on.


And this makes me think back to the column posted by Roger Ebert on why he hates 3D. Point 5 “Have you noticed that 3D seems a little dim?” So, besides the glasses actually darkening the image, the way that 3D projectors work – one-half of the image – or light output – is directed to one eye and the other half to the other – you result in a 50 percent reduction in illumination. Now, I’m going to play fast and loose with some numbers here so try and keep up... SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) determined a while ago that the ideal for a theater projector was to produce  around 16 foot lamberts of light on the screen open gate (no film in the system) , with no part of the screen producing less than 10 foot lamberts. (If you want to know more about lamberts and lumens and ANSI and all that, you’ll need to do the research on your own dime. Sorry. I love you, but, sorry.) So, that 16 f-L number is with a properly calibrated projector and a new bulb/lamp. So, how righteous do you think they are about keeping up with bulb replacement at your theater? You think they’ve got a guy that comes running in after exactly so many hours to take out a slightly dim bulb to put in a brand new one to ensure that you are getting optimal performance at every screening. And then, just to be extra, super-duper sure, he whips out a Photo Research light meter and takes a few spot readings on the screen to make sure everything is still tightly within spec, junking the new lamp if it has maybe come out of the box less than perfect? Or, do you think that maybe they run that baby until it is a tired old man, wheezing along through presentations, putting up 8 or 9 f-Ls because no one is complaining? (What's that? You see all of your movies at the ArcLight Cinemas? Well, OK. You ARE getting that perfect experience. Respect to you, sir. Respect.) So, not even factoring in the light lost from the glasses, you are at half-light output with 3D right out of the gate. (No pun intended for you techno film buffs out there...well, OK, a *little* intended...) 


So the movie starts and there is like this little disclaimer that comes on. It says something to the effect that a large portion of the film was shot and intended to be viewed in 2D and is not in 3D. Now, put your glasses on! Very cool new Disney castle opening that is very Tron’d up, and it starts into the movie, which is clearly in 2D. Which was actually fine with me; it gave me a chance to pull my glasses off and enjoy it like I’m watching a regular movie. When they entered the Tron world, it switches to 3D which was actually kind of a cool effect to establish a different environment and I glassesed-up.


As a movie, it was visually very cool. The lighting effects, especially the light cycles and disc fights, were all very awesome, and quite fun to watch. However, I think that I would FAR more enjoy the movie in 2D and look forward to a second viewing at home. I saw the movie with 7 other people and none of them felt that the 3D added anything to the experience. Besides the intial "step" into the Tron environment where things went blurry if you weren't already wearing your glasses, the 3D didn't add any visual interest to a film that was already packed with a ton of visual eye candly. (It was the first commercial 3D experience for one person and he suffered from the same eye blurriness, loss of focus, remove glasses-rub eyes-try and watch without glasses-give up in frustration and reinstall glasses procedure that I go through.) In fact, contrary to making it better, I actually think that 3D made Tron WORSE. This is because visually, it is a complex and difficult movie on the eyes to watch. First, the Tron world is basically black and ultra-bright neon. So you have these GIANT contrast extremes which are already causing pupil strain. Tons of super bright vibrant colors against a pitch black background, kind of like staring into different colored laser pointers for 2 hours. Then on top of that you are trying to deal with the whole convergence focus issue where your eyes are fighting their natural focal point on the screen and trying to look at things that appear closer or farther away. Then you have things just whipping around on screen which makes it tough to focus and adds to the brain/eye fatigue.


What Tron did was to convince me that I definitely do NOT like 3D. If I was on the fence before, Tron blasted me in the eyes with a double neon 3D punch of awful and convinced me that I’m firmly in the 2D camp. In fact, at this point I think I would avoid seeing any more movies in 3D that weren’t specifically filmed in 3D. (That's a nod to you, Mr. Cameron. I WILL see your Avatar 2, thank you very much. And if an Abyss 2 should come along in 3D, well, I'll be there. With head held high and glasses on proud!) No more trying to gussy it up in post; no more virtual cameras. Either you respect and believe in your 3D craft enough to go all in with it from the get go, or you can count me all out. When you are sitting there thinking, “Man, I really can’t wait for this to be over” you are no longer having fun. And with that, I’m going to take my $10.75 ball and go home.

Categories: February 2011, Movies, 3D TV

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1 Comment

Reply Bill
2:10 AM on February 12, 2011 
I have caught three movies in trid, with Legacy being the first (and as far as I'm concerned, ONLY) time with IMAX (2nd overall.) The visuals and sound were excellent, but I also learned of the mind-rending optically-induced pain people spoke of with their 3D experiences. Sticking with RealD for me, as the third film (2nd in RealD) felt just fine and maintained the effect far better than my constantly seeing through it during Legacy.