2D Glasses: Helpful Solution or Foreboding Omen?

2D glasses title

I once had a friend who was intrigued by a limited-run tropical flavor of Sprite. When he purchased the drink, he quickly discovered he didn’t care for the taste. Then, for some reason, he began to shake up the bottle to get rid of the carbonation, opening the lid slightly to let it escape.

This process of shaking and eking out the gas went on for a couple of minutes. Finally, when the soda had gone completely flat, he took a swig and declared, “Wow! This is almost as good as regular Sprite!”

The very next day he bought the tropical version again, and went through the same process.

I use this as an example of the perplexing behavior of consumer culture. What about the tropical Sprite prompted him to go through the trouble of making it uncarbonated when he could have just as easily bought a regular Sprite by pushing the adjacent button?

I experienced the exact same reaction when I heard about internet-famous Youtube host Hank Green’s invention: 2D Glasses. They take the optical information from a 3D projected movie and reflect half of it, resulting in a regular 2D image.

My question is: “Is this a natural evolution, or should this be taken as some sort of sign?”

The product was allegedly made because Hank Green professes to enjoy 3D movies, while his wife does not. Since they enjoy the act of going out to a movie together, he created a way to allow her to watch a movie alongside him without projectile vomiting or getting a migraine.

The sentiment is sweet, but why subject someone to 3D at all? Is the difference really enough to justify inventing a way to allow them to endure it for two hours or so? If a person genuinely enjoys watching big movies in 3D, then that’s his or her choice, but I can’t help but feel like 2D glasses should be a lightning rod for protest rather than a sigh of relief for those who get dragged along.

Basically, the message being communicated is “This thing is here. It’s not going anywhere. You’re going to have to deal with it. Have these different glasses and stop bitching.”


A Bunk Technology


Arguably, very few movies have actually been improved by 3D. There’s definitely a way as a director to use 3D to your advantage, but the majority of movies simply don’t. For one, most live action movies are shot on regular digital cameras and then later converted to 3D in a half-assed process that makes figures and shapes awkwardly jump out from the background.

The image of some fake shit flying at you from the screen is the quintessential trope of 3D. However, by jutting out from the screen, you are only calling attention to the borders around it, severely taking audiences out of the movie experience.

To do 3D properly, you have to accomplish two things:

1. Have a legitimate 3D image from either a CG model or a stereoscopic camera

2. Plan scenes around 3D so that the effect doesn’t feel tacked-on

Since most animated movies are CGI, they usually get a pass for the first one. However, not many scenes rely on emphasizing depth within the scene, and instead resort to one or two “jump out at you gimmicks” and moderate multi-plane blocking for characters.

For live action movies to satisfy the first criteria, they have to buy expensive-ass stereoscopic cameras. Jame Cameron helped invent the things, so of course he was one of the first to try and convince others it was a good idea. When film studios and theaters began to purchase the technology he had invested heavily in, he made quite a handsome profit.


Most other directors, like Bryan Singer, seem to barely pay attention to 3D. I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2D, but only noticed one or two scenes that 3D could have actually come into play. Although I admit watching Quicksilver’s scene in 3D might have been cool, the fact that Singer seemed to only be complying as little as possible made me feel like I wasn’t missing out.

Another major issue is that even if a director puts effort into properly using 3D, the technology’s still going to have some things going against it. For one, the glasses create the illusion on a smaller screen space when the light must pass through them, resulting in a condensed-looking image. For two, the light being filtered makes the picture darker. Finally, the illusion of depth kind of messes with our brain.

A post quoting film editor Walter Murch explains it best, but essentially the film is being projected about sixty feet in front of you, yet the objects are supposedly moving closer or farther away than that. When the brain sees something that, stereoscopically, should only be ten feet away, but they are still focusing on an object past that, the motion blur goes out of whack. That’s why many people get sore eyes, dizziness, headaches, nausea, or just severely uncomfortable.

On top of that, wearing the glasses just looks and feels stupid. Nintendo figured that out with the 3DS, and even then they still gave people the option to shut the 3D effect off completely.


Near Consensus


The above rant is nothing new. Many people hate on 3D, especially critics. Christopher Nolan even openly admitted to adamantly protesting against using it. So far, very few films have been substantially improved by 3D. Some defenders like to point to Avatar, and while Cameron may have employed 3D with a more sophisticated flair, Avatar still sucked. The story wasn’t improved by the stage-setting that the 3D did, only the predictable action scenes were.

Another film people like to point out was made better by use of 3D was the recent Gravity. I haven’t seen the film in 2D or 3D, so I can’t really weigh in, but I’m willing to take people’s word on this.

What we end up with is a handful of movies with a handful of scenes that are fun to watch in 3D even though they’re darker, look smaller, and make our brain hate us. I can live with that. If there was one or two screens in a theater that just projected 3D, that wouldn’t make me gripe.

But instead, every major release wants to be 3D now. The inflated ticket prices are the only way for studios and theaters to get back their investment on the technology, so now nearly every major showing on a decent screen demands that you watch it in 3D. New movies are coming out all the time – some being blatant re-releases with 3D tacked on – that try as hard as they can to emphasize the fact that it will be a “3D experience” when I had hoped studios had realized people stopped giving a shit.

Yet here we are, with the only logical alternative seeming to be to spend money on a set of different glasses so that you won’t be left out. Glasses, I might add, that probably make the image even darker than usual because they filter out even more light.


So I hope you’re happy, 3D fans. You’ve kept the gravy train rolling for some people, but forced others to put up with an unhappy set of circumstances. Rather than having the option to forget 3D exists, we now have an excuse for every film to be shown in 3D, complete with the five to ten dollar surcharge.

2D glasses, the ChipotleAway of the movie world, simply perpetuate the illusion that people are willing to tolerate 3D into the future. Instead, 3D movies should be relegated to the niche, gimmicky attraction that they are. I would love to see a world where the people who wanted to watch 3D had to buy some special product and go out of their way, or even bleed while making them, not the other way around.

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One Comment

  1. I really thought this 3D thing would be over by now. I’m not a fan of it at all and haven’t been to see a movie in 3D since Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, but to balance the rant scales, I have to say that the entire film of Avatar was made better with 3D because of the depth of the image really immersed the viewer. It actually impressed me more in the quieter scenes than during action. But I’ve still never walked away from a film thinking “I sure wish I’d paid extra for 3D!” Lose it, Hollywood. At least until the next Avatar film comes out.

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