Drowning in the Digital Abyss


J. Hoberman in the NYRB blog:

That audience numbers and sales of 3-D equipment to theaters have decreased this year suggests that the novelty of stereo movies has worn off. As sometimes happens, the fullest expression of a particular pop culture trend appears with the trend itself in apparent decline. In any case, the possibility of using stereoscopy—the side by side images that are the basis of 3-D—to create the illusion of depth is hardly new: the stereopticon was a popular nineteenth-century parlor toy and Edwin Porter, an assistant to motion-picture pioneer Thomas Alva Edison, developed an early 3-D system based on superimposed green and orange images.

But the current, digitally-based work in stereo filmmaking began in earnest in 2003 with James Cameron’s under-the-sea IMAX documentary Ghosts of the Abyss, and continued with such films as Cameron’s Avatar, which succeeded hisTitanic as the highest-grossing motion picture in history. Avatar was still in release when some sixty new 3-D films were announced, including not a few finished movies crassly “retro-fitted” with 3-D. Most were undistinguished.Gravity is the first 3-D movie since Martin Scorsese’s 2011 Hugo to suggest that the filmmaker has pondered the nature of stereo filmmaking rather than its effects.

A fantasy about Georges Méliès, Hugo was a celebration of so-called movie magic. Gravity is more material in its concerns. No previous 3-D feature has ever given a more physical sense of the void. The characters hover on the edge of eternity. When they fall away from the camera we know that they will be falling, or rather spinning head over heels, into negative space forever.

More here.