Thoughts on 3D, 4K+ and Prometheus

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I’ve been wanting to write this post for quite awhile now ;- but have been waiting for the right time.

I think a few things have become better defined over the past 6 months for me and for many of the people that I’ve spoken to in the industry .  These are my opinions only – but based on discussion with acquaintances at studios, fellow filmmakers, crew members, manufacturers, post houses and those who aren’t in the industry but go to the movies!

I think we’re seeing the start of the decline of 3D films.  Several key tentpole films have decided against shooting 3D recently – and a major one (The Avengers) started in 3D and after several weeks decided to continue shooting in 2D because production was going too slowly.

I myself have only seen two films that I thought added value to the experience in 3D – Hugo and Prometheus.  Both were masterfully shot and used the technique expertly.  At times the 3D effect was apparent (for effect) and the rest of the time it was there but not a distraction – which is what I think any technique should try for (not to be noticed.)

That being said, I can’t say that 3D ultimately transformed the viewing experience for me – it did not transport me into a different kind of place or appreciation for the films I’ve seen.  I’m willing to put up with glasses or other gadgets if they take the viewing experience and or the way I relate (emotionally or intellectually) to the content to a new level – but I can’t say it has done so yet for me unfortunately. 

I’ve never felt that the use of 3D in a film has fundamentally changed the way I felt or connected to the film or story – and in fact I’ve more often than not felt that the use of 3D detracted from the film.

I have always found the vast majority of glasses to be a pain, they make the image darker, and tend to shift the color of the film as well (as silly as this is, I found that I couldn’t sink into my seat and lean my head back when watching Prometheus on the IMAX 3D screen – and get lost into the film. If I did so the angle wasn’t quite right for 3D – so I had to sit more upright throughout the film.)  A lot of high speed action or camera movement simply doesn’t seem to work at 24 fps either (and that’s partly why Jackson and Cameron are pushing for 48fps.)  I also find that I am forced to look in the one spot where the 3D image converges – and that my eyes can no longer hunt around the frame as freely as I can with 2D films – which is a huge part of the filmgoing experience for me

And those are a few of the reasons why I don’t see 3D as viable until some technology changes the experience for the better. I think 3D is excellent for animation, sports, nature and any other specialized content.  I really do not see 3D adding much to the drama genre of films.

I will mention that the yet-to-be-released RED laser projector made a HUGE difference in how I experienced 3D relative to what is out there.  I was lucky enough to get a screening of RED’s technology at their studios and was told that James Cameron said that the projector was the first time he ever experienced "Avatar" the way it was meant to be experienced.

I think the future is 4K+ personally. The key word is "future."  I think that it will be awhile until the industry (outside of tentpole films) will make the leap in terms of their workflow, distribution and until we have 4K+ televisions at home.  I do think the future of cinema for large budget films is in higher resolution when those films can be enjoyed in high end theaters, with top of the line projectors (that are maintained) and large (30+ foot) screens.

Most theaters right now cannot take full advantage of 4K projectors given their lackluster quality controls and screen size.  Yet the top theaters, and notably IMAX theaters can definitely take advantage of it.  I’m still slightly on the fence to be honest – I think that the soft 2K Alexa image just "feels" more filmic than 4K+ cameras out there. (The camera has a 1/4 classic soft filter in front of its sensor.)  Yet one has to wonder how much nostalgia is playing a part in that opinion. I think it’s important to focus on what newer (younger) generations will want going forward. Will they truly miss the look of film?  One has to wonder: at some point they won’t be able to miss something they’ve never seen?

I know that audiences have been voting pretty clearly: towards seeing more and more films in 2D even when a 3D version is available.  My kids hate 3D for one thing… the glasses…

I would also like to note that I saw Tom Lowe’s "Timescapes" film in both 2K and 4K. (More to come on that soon!) Light Iron was gracious enough to set up a screening of the film that I had first seen at NAB (in 2K) – and I have to tell you it was noticeably more mesmerizing in 4K. I wouldn’t hesitate to pay a premium for a 4K projection of a film for example.  That being said,  I wonder how many people out there will be able to tell the difference between 2K and 4K in smaller theaters or on regular-sized televisions in their home – you really need to see 4K+ on a large screen to truly appreciate it.  A scary number of people polled still can’t tell the difference between SD and HD on their home televisions, and many cable providers still only offer 1080i or 720p on their "HD" channels…  point being, you need a large television/projector screen at home or in the theater to truly take advantage of the technology. When you DO have that large screen though – the experience is noticeable and adds a new dimension to the film. And that dimension has nothing to do with 3D!  I agree with many filmmakers that say that well shot films in 2D are far from "flat!" I definitely encourage you to share your thoughts on 3D and 4K in the comments section – I’m very interested to hear what you all think.

I went to see Ridley Scott’s "Prometheus" in IMAX 3D this past week. As I mentioned, the 3D was excellently done.  But I would quickly have given it up in exchange for seeing the film in the full 5K it was shot in on the RED Epic camera.  I found that the 2K image that was being projected was dark, uneven, and that I could see notably over-sharpened edges on most shots (and I was seated dead center of the IMAX theater.) I trust the original 5K files are stunning and would be even more so if projected on a IMAX screen.

As far as Prometheus – I thought it was a good film. The directing, cinematography, casting, and set design / CGI were absolutely superb. The screenplay didn’t quite have the "umph" that "Aliens" did…  I didn’t think it was quite as bad as some people out there were making it out to be. Although I agree the ending left a lot to be desired.

What I did find interesting is how the way an audience consumes and talks about films has fundamentally changed since "Aliens" came out – due, of course, to the internet / blogging/ twitter.  It’s amazing to see a film make or break it – in less than the 72 hours of its opening weekend. Definitely a frightening thing for any filmmaker – audiences aren’t holding anything back these days in terms of criticism.

That being said – I’d challenge any pundit to shoot a single scene in Prometheus half as well as Mr. Scott did…  Critiquing a film is always exponentially easier than it is to make one – something that is far too often and easily forgotten! !

Yet – here is a fun little poke at the film’s plot. Definitely worth a watch (the below is a comedic shortened version of the full review, which can be found HERE).

I think the biggest technical hurdle with film these days has nothing to do with cameras, lenses, or workflow – it seems to be that all too often the quality of the screenplay (or more to the point the quality of the story / storytelling.) It is after all about STORY and HOW WELL you tell it.

To that point one of my favorite Stanley Kubrick quotes:

"Everything has already been done. every story has been told every scene has been shot. it’s our job to do it one better. -Stanley Kubrick"