Monday, January 24, 2011

Roger Ebert Still Insists 3D Is Inferior *AND* Why I think His Opinion, Again, Is Flawed...

I suppose it is safe to assume that Roger Ebert is not going to give up. Ok. I can accept that. He hates 3D and thinks it is inferior to 2D.

Yesterday he posted on the opinion of film editor and sound designer Walter Murch in his Chicago Sun-Times column. You can see Ebert's whole article here.
I have taken the liberty of grabbing a few snippets from his page for our discussion here:

Ebert states: I received a letter that ends, as far as I am concerned, the discussion about 3D. It doesn't work with our brains and it never will.

The notion that we are asked to pay a premium to witness an inferior and inherently brain-confusing image is outrageous. The case is closed.

This letter is from Walter Murch, seen at left, the most respected film editor and sound designer in the modern cinema. As a editor, he must be intimately expert with how an image interacts with the audience's eyes. He won an Academy Award in 1979 for his work on "Apocalypse Now," whose sound was a crucial aspect of its effect.

Then Ebert posts Murch's letter:

Hello Roger,

I read your review of "Green Hornet" and though I haven't seen the film, I agree with your comments about 3D.

The 3D image is dark, as you mentioned (about a camera stop darker) and small. Somehow the glasses "gather in" the image -- even on a huge Imax screen -- and make it seem half the scope of the same image when looked at without the glasses.

I edited one 3D film back in the 1980's -- "Captain Eo" -- and also noticed that horizontal movement will strobe much sooner in 3D than it does in 2D. This was true then, and it is still true now. It has something to do with the amount of brain power dedicated to studying the edges of things. The more conscious we are of edges, the earlier strobing kicks in.

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the "convergence/focus" issue. A couple of the other issues -- darkness and "smallness" -- are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen -- say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

If we look at the salt shaker on the table, close to us, we focus at six feet and our eyeballs converge (tilt in) at six feet. Imagine the base of a triangle between your eyes and the apex of the triangle resting on the thing you are looking at. But then look out the window and you focus at sixty feet and converge also at sixty feet. That imaginary triangle has now "opened up" so that your lines of sight are almost -- almost -- parallel to each other.

We can do this. 3D films would not work if we couldn't. But it is like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, difficult. So the "CPU" of our perceptual brain has to work extra hard, which is why after 20 minutes or so many people get headaches. They are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for. This is a deep problem, which no amount of technical tweaking can fix. Nothing will fix it short of producing true "holographic" images.

Consequently, the editing of 3D films cannot be as rapid as for 2D films, because of this shifting of convergence: it takes a number of milliseconds for the brain/eye to "get" what the space of each shot is and adjust.

And lastly, the question of immersion. 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain "perspective" relationship to the image. It is almost a Brechtian trick. Whereas if the film story has really gripped an audience they are "in" the picture in a kind of dreamlike "spaceless" space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with.

So: dark, small, stroby, headache inducing, alienating. And expensive. The question is: how long will it take people to realize and get fed up?

All best wishes,
Walter Murch

Here is my response to Ebert on his column (which is still waiting for his approval):


Though I continue to respect your authority wrt cinema, again I must vehemently disagree with the aura surrounding this story.

Simply put, if a movie is WELL MADE in 3D, there must be time given to the audience to relax their eyes. It is not a white and black scenario as Murch seems to be hinting at here. It is very much a grey area. This is where having an experienced stereographer on set is paramount. Scenes with tight or even medium narratives should be dialed back to close to 2D. It adds nothing to a movie to see a nose sticking out or eyes sunk in a face.

I reviewed THE GREEN HORNET (here: and just so you know - I did NOT fully enjoy the non-stop 3D. I think you will enjoy reading that section of the review. I was clear in that time must be given to the audience to rest. I left with a headache that lasted for 15 minutes.

If you are bombarded with fairly intense 3D for an entire 2 hours it is not a good thing. I will tell you this. James Cameron will tell you this. Several rules were broken for THE GREEN HORNET and it is a shame because it is the best conversion project to date. It could have been perfect 3D, rivaling even native 3D.

No, the case is very much open and in fact is 3D is leading the industry. 50 to 70% of box office revenue is 3D and growing ( James Cameron is a well respected editor too - I believe he has a different take.

Funny CAPTAIN EO was mentioned; that of course is Francis Ford Coppola's 3D effort! He is revisiting 3D again. Scorsese's HUGO CABRET is coming. Herzog's CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS is simply amazing. I don't have to mention all the other respected filmmakers embracing 3D.

But you know all of this Roger! I applaud your fortitude, but sometimes it takes more to admit your wrong than to stay the course.

So hopefully some of my words will help diffuse the additional fear, uncertainty and doubt that is continually coming from Ebert. I respect the man and his opinions as everyone is entitled to them, but I am steadfast against him on this.

Hopefully the 24 year old blogger he has added to the roster will help him see the error in his ways. Unfortunately the first interview question thrown at him was probably: "What are your views on S3D?"

Oh well.

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