Digitally Rendered Fish Raped My Wallet
Since the day I was born, I’ve always maintained better than 20/20 vision. Because of this, I’ve never had to wear any sort of glasses, but I’ve known plenty of people who have. From discussions with them, I gather that when their glasses are off, it goes like this: objects gets blurry; they develop a halo effect and go soft around the edges; depth perception is hard to distinguish; and, commonly, headaches occur.
Two nights ago, I saw PIRANHA 3D. Now I know what it’s like to have imperfect vision while not wearing glasses.
I’ll spare you my opinion of the movie itself, as that has little bearing on the course of my argument, the thrust of which is this: post-production 3D is a sham, and studios owe film fans better.
The cost of movie tickets has been on the rise for over a decade now. While it used to be inexpensive enough to go on a date to a cineplex, it now costs upwards of $10 per ticket for an evening showing on Long Island. Add in the price of concessions, and that same date will probably cost you close to $50. And that’s not for a 3D film. Back in the third dimension’s last glory days, in the 1980s, theatres provided free glasses. Sure, they were flimsy cardboard with a blue lens and a red, but multiplexes weren’t punishing you for paying to see a film in the alternate format. Unfortunately, those days are long gone. The gluttons that run Hollywood are all about the bottom line, and now there’s a surcharge for the glasses. Yes, they’re fancy, with nice, clear lenses and soft, plastic frames. But they represent a not-so-hidden example of price gouging. Studios have figured out a way to bloat their bottom line: the price of the glasses goes toward the film’s box office. My glasses for PIRANHA cost an outrageous $4; this turned an already hefty $10.50 ticket into an almost $15 ticket. Take a family of four to see a 3D film where I saw PIRANHA, and you’re talking close to $60, snacks and sodas not included.
This is wrong, folks. The greedy fat cats would love to turn every film into a 3D extravaganza, no matter what the subject matter or genre. I expect if Merchant and Ivory were still around, this fall would give us HOWARD’S END 3D. While some genres lend themselves more naturally to the audacious visual format, those who run the show are only concerned about profit margin, and 3D pushes more dollars into their greasy hands. This trend is starting to creep into home viewing as well, with chains now pushing 3D televisions, with glasses that run for $100 a piece. This just a few years after they’ve forced the entire country to buy HD widescreen televisions. When does the gouging stop?
I digress a bit, but only to make a point. 3D is costing droves of movie goers lots of money. And if they’re willing to pay it, then God bless them. People are freely entitled to spend their money as they see fit. If a film is lensed in 3D and an audience wants to see it that way, so be it.
But the fat cats have found a way to thieve from your pockets one step deeper. Not so long ago, they discovered that films don’t need to be filmed in 3D for theatres to present it in the third dimension. Through post-production sleight of hand, they can take things filmed for the second dimension and convert it to appear in three. A flat image, then, begins to exhibit depth. Of course this comes at an extra expense, anywhere from $2- 4 million, I’ve read in several places. But for the studios, this is a small investment. If the film has a big opening weekend, they’re going to recoup that in the extra fee for glasses alone. And they have every impetus to partake in this process: just look at the box office for ALICE IN WONDERLAND 3D, the first post-conversion mega-hit.
Let me sum up what I’ve argued so far: 1. Studios and multiplexes are gouging by charging for 3D glasses that used to come free. 2. They’re putting out scores of movies per year in the third dimension, regardless of content. 3. They’re now engaging in cheating movies into 3D that weren’t filmed that way, and still charging exorbitant fees for those glasses. These are the facts.
And now, Exhibit 3D. PIRANHA 3D.
My very first post-conversion 3D experience was a complete and total mess. From the very first shot of dunes behind a foreground chain link fence, the 3D was a sloppy affair. When the titles and opening credits “popped out,” I couldn’t distinguish the letters from one another; it was like I was reading Russian in script. Problems continued throughout the entire length of the film. At times, my eyes had difficulty distinguishing between foreground and background throughout the movie, as they meshed and unmeshed sometimes within the same scene. Other times, the 3D effect disappeared altogether, and everything was flat, just as it would have been for five bucks cheaper had I not paid for the glories of looking through glasses. Much of the time the colors weren’t very sharp. Worst, the whole film had that halo effect, blurring around the edges. Was I having a religious experience? Only if Jesus came back as a bloody tangle of dismembered bodies and copious boobs. No, I was merely watching poorly rendered 3D.
Compare this to the best I’ve experienced since the new wave of 3D: MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D. Patrick Lussier did a brilliant job with the extra dimension; instead of throwing objects into your face 97 times in a 90 minute film (does anybody remember FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH PART III?), he built a three dimensional world within the screen. Lussier created a film so beautiful, with its sharp edges and crisp visuals, that I suspected watching it, I could get up from my seat and walk into the screen. While the movie itself was average, the 3D enhanced it so much that I enjoyed the product much more so than I would have if it were flat. And that is what 3D, or any other “movie magic,” is supposed to do: enhance a film. MBV 3D made me feel like I was partaking in an experience, instead of just watching a horror flick.
If only PIRANHA had been able to do the same for me. Instead, it provided shoddy craftsmanship. The piranhas were more intent on raping my wallet than providing a decent night out. The filmmakers will argue that they “intended” to film in 3D to begin with, but the logistics and budget of filming all those underwater scenes would have made it an impossibility. Hence, they’re doing you a favor by giving you an awesome, in-your-face experience through conversion. To which I reply, hey I’ll buy you a Rottweiler, but it costs too much to feed, so here’s this awesome, in-your-face pet rock. Hell, as editor-in-chief I’d hire Shakespeare to do our DVD reviews. But he’s dead.
I can’t be the only one who’s insulted by this lousy conversion. In fact, Box Office Mojo clearly tells me I’m not. In its opening week, it brought in just under $14M, and placed 5th behind: THE EXPENDABLES, EAT PRAY LOVE, VAMPIRES SUCK and THE OTHER GUYS, none of which used 3D, and subsequently added no hidden coffers to their tolls. This past weekend, it netted a small toll, $4.3M. Less than $20 million over its first two weekends, and websites and print were touting this as big summer fun. A 74% approval rating among critics involved in agriculture has done nothing for the film, and like its blown up killer fish, will sink slowly and quietly into the depths of obscurity, long forgotten by Columbus Day.
Hollywood magic was built long ago on the premise of sleight of hand, deceiving the eye into believing the great and almighty Kong is breaking free from the island. The new magic is deceiving you to break money from your own wallet and play it down on inferior product. The piranhas are perfect metaphors for the toothy fat cats that run Hollywood, ready to rape your wallet with those razor sharp incisors.
As I removed my glasses at the end credits, I enjoyed clarity not just of sight, but of mind. PIRANHA 3D was an epiphany on a small scale, and it proved I will never see a post-conversion 3D film in a theatre. I deserve better magic, and so do you. Think about it next time before you pay for glasses.