"Is this real life?"
When AVATAR was announced, it was billed as the third dimension revolution that would bring audiences back to theaters. Emphasis on 3D. Everyone already knew that director James Cameron had spent a decade developing the technology and working to bring a new unprecedented vision to the big screen in an immersive experience the likes of which audiences had never seen. Then the trailer came out. In 2D. Insert poop hitting the floor sound effect. Is this what Cameron had spent all his time and money on? His long heralded follow up to the biggest movie of all time looked like a Pixar reject?
Nerds around the world were disappointed, and (shockingly) vocal about it. 'Too much hype!' 'He’s gone George Lucas on us!' "Smurfs meets DANCES WITH WOLVES?" But Cameron kept it cool; it was about the theater experience. He knew this was the future for big budget movie making and he was going to show us. Once our puny brains were engulfed in 3D Pandora goodness he would make us all into converts. A nearly three billion dollar box-office proved his point.
Now imagine if you will that AVATAR had been a 2D flick. A good movie with a decent box office haul; a solid base hit. AVATAR showed that this new style of filmmaking had an audience. A big one.
Then came the imitators. Every movie that came out between April and September in 2010 and 2011 was slapped with a 3D label next to the billing and an extra five dollars on the price. TRON: LEGACY did ok with it; THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN was pretty good. For the most part however, it became an excuse for the studio to drive up profits. Throw a "filmed in real 3D" and you had a hit. Even if it served no point other than to be, at best, "kind of neat". Did it really serve the story to have Captain America's shield FLY DIRECTLY AT THE SCREEN! WHOA! (Sarcasm). Jason Moama's naked butt cheeks in the third dimension did little to invigorate the new CONAN.
Now to my point: Peter Jackson is shooting THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY in 3D. (Production blog below detailing the process.) No one will question that Jackson is at the forefront of the technology of filmmaking. When Jackson announced he was shooting TEH HOBBIT in 3D, the nerd-gasm that hit the web was extraordinary. Could any news have been better? Is this the best combination of artist meets inspiration since Paula Deen discovered butter? Eh...
We’ve all seen Jackson get distracted by the thrills of movie tech before. His KING KONG was a whole lot of expensive CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and not much else. His director of photography on THE LOVELY BONES quit because he thought Jackson was going over the top in his depiction of the afterlife. With THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy he developed a perfect blend of direction that made a statement of quality no one could ignore. He created an immersive world of visual thrill and rich characters inhabiting unique environments, and he kept it in the second dimension.
Now Jackson is back to direct THE HOBBIT films. He’s writing them with all his original partners, same cinematographers, all applicable cast, Howard Shore (composer). In all likelihood the audience will be back to and the only drastic departure is his use of the new RED camera system. This begs the question: can it seamlessly fit into an existing series with the drastic changes that 3D demand? Can it possible have the same emotional resonance and impact as the LOTR with the added distraction that 3D brings to the picture? Will this split the Tolkien-Jackson legacy into before and after 3D?
The responsibility Jackson now has is to utilize the discipline and use this technology to drive the story forward without dominating it. If I see Smaug sit and shoot fire directly at the screen for an extended period of time just to showcase how neat the effects are, and highlight the 3D quality, you're going to have one very upset writer on your hands.
Can 3D filmmaking solidify itself as the next logical step in big budget movies? On one hand, Peter Jackson has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt. On the other, he has once again placed just as much emphasis on technology as story telling. If I walk out of THE HOBBIT with a smile on my face, I'll be a hell of a lot more inclined to spring for those five dollar goggles in the future. Fortunately, as any fan can attest, Jackson is a true student of film; he has every intention of pushing the medium in a forward and logical direction. If he can't pull it off, it sure won't be from a lack of trying.