Let's all go to the lobby...

Coraline vs Coraline 3D. Coraline vs Coraline 2D.

stop-motion, digital, stereoscopic

If you looked up showtimes, you probably saw two different listings for this movie: Coraline and Coraline 3D. This seems to imply that the one called “Coraline” is the original version, and that a special 3D’d version somehow also exists. If that were the case, I’d most certainly rather see the “real” Coraline, without some distracting gimmick tacked on to my experience.

But that’s not the case. It just hasn’t yet become the convention to call stereoscopic movies simply by their title, saddling the flattened 2D version with the title modification. It’s misleading, but it’s sensible: Theaters not technologically equipped for 3D presentations (the majority) would lose revenue and so would the film. Then again, in the first eleven days of Coraline’s release, only a quarter of total revenue came from 2D screenings, so it seems to be a case of supply lagging, not demand.

In film history classes, one hears an oft repeated fable about one of the first public films screenings: the Lumière Brother’s L’arrivée d’un Train. It is said that the audience was so overwhelmed by the moving image of a life-sized train coming directly at them that people screamed and ran to the back of the room. This makes a nice story, but it’s probably just a historical conflation. The Lumière Brothers had been trying to achieve a 3D image even prior to this 1896 public exhibition. Louis Lumière eventually re-shot L’Arrivée d’un Train with a stereoscopic film camera and exhibited it (along with a series of other 3D shorts) at a 1935 meeting of the French Academy of Science. It’s more plausible that the latter screeningin which the train actually was coming off the screen at the audience—would have elicited the legendarily visceral audience reaction.

3D cinema has a lot of baggage. From it’s association with horror, porn and IMAX documentaries, to the general lack of public knowledge about the variety of stereoscopic technology, it becomes all too easy to disregard 3D as fadish entertainment—certainly not as art. Smell-o-vision anyone? Often, this impression is exacerbated by deficiencies in various 3D projection formats: because of the same kind of nonnaturalistic artifacts that spoil CG, audiences have a right to be wary.

Close one eye. You’ve made your head into a conventional movie camera. Besides potentially bumbling around a little more than usual, is it really all that different from using both eyes? Is looking at a photo of a sculpture different than looking at a sculpture itself? If film is a motion-picture, then stereoscopic film is motion-sculpture.

Dimensionality doesn’t necessarily make better art, of course. A silent, black and white film might be better than a colorful contemporary remake and if both those films were based on a book, chances are that reading will be the most rewarding experience.

I haven’t just watched numerous 3D films, I’ve shot short 3D films with a stereoscopic camera rig myself—all out of excitement over the artistic potential of the technology. Coraline realizes a lot of that potential. I’ve never even truly liked a 3D film before and now, all of a sudden, along comes one that I love.

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