By Z.S. Roe
What was the last 3D movie you saw? Was it entertaining? How about engaging? Perhaps more importantly, was your imagination engaged?
Prometheus was the last 3D movie I saw, and while the film itself was enjoyable, the experience was less so. Now several years into this 3D craze, I’ve still yet to see any good reason (aside from profit) to continue the practice. What exactly does the 3D effect add to the movie-going experience? It makes it more realistic, sure, but staunch realism should never be the ultimate objective. Filmmaking (and, more broadly, storytelling) is not about mimicking life, but about responding to it in new, interesting, and thoughtful ways. Sometimes a story reflects life, but only the most boring stories reflect perfectly; after all, the distortions in the mirror are often the most compelling part of the reflection.
Apparently, though, such thinking on the matter is slowly going the way of the buffalo. This seems especially true considering recent coverage given to 4D movie theatres. For those not in the know, a 4D movie-going experience involves the usual 3D glasses, but adds a seat that moves and vibrates and can spray water, mist, bubbles, air, and over 1,000 different smells (such as coffee, perfume, and gunpowder). Oh, and each 4D theatre comes equipped with strobe lights and giant fans just in case the explosions on screen don’t seem real enough. (Click here for more info.)
The thinking behind these 4D theatres is that the added simulation will attract more people to multiplexes (especially those who illegally download their movies online and don’t bother going to the theatre). And I understand the desire to raise falling profits. People gotta eat, right?
All the same, the appearance of such theatre chains (mostly overseas right now) is still a little disappointing. For me, one of the best parts of storytelling is the relationship between the storyteller and the person who the story is being told to. This relationship is built up with the bricks of imagination.
I’ll go even one step further: the best storytelling depends on imagination. Put simply, imagination (the ability to form a mental image without the aid of our senses) is the gas that makes the storymobile go. For the storyteller, it’s about knowing what to tell and what to leave out. That’s not to say it’s about letting the audience fill in the blanks, thereby making the storyteller’s job a little easier. Sometimes the exclusion of something (such as visible light, wherein the actors are in the dark) can make that particular moment in the story all the more impacting. Truth is, you don’t need to have all your senses stimulated; as I said before, storytelling isn’t about mimicking life, but responding to it.
But when all your sense stimulation is provided (not just the usual hearing and sight, but also touch and smell and taste), the imagination is no longer needed, and becomes another one of our underused, floppy muscles in need of exercise. Even more, the connection between the storyteller and reader/listener/viewer is lessened, if not completely lost. And all this for the sake of heightened realism.
Look, I know 4D sounds fun. Hell, it probably is fun. But fun isn’t always the same thing as good. Only kids make that mistake, and that’s why they’re still in school—to learn something and work those underused muscles.
Opinion is a bi-monthly column of just that, my opinion. While opinions are like noses and everyone has one, mine are especially snotty. Please leave a comment or question—all opinions are welcome, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. If you like what you read here, please subscribe.