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High-spirited defense of the artistry of 3-D

by By Peter Debruge Guest Columnist

Dear Roger,

I value your opinion, but question your reporting on this anti-3-D essay you've written for The Spectator [London]. Movies do earn more in 3-D (I don't have the statistics in front of me, but I know that "Coraline" earned 85% of its box office on 3-D screens, and I suspect that all four of the films you cite did at least half their business in the format). To the best of my knowledge, Pixar does not have technology "that can convert any 2-D movie into 3-D from scratch." And DreamWorks' "Kung Fu Panda" was made and released in 2-D; "Monsters vs. Aliens" was the studio's first in 3-D.

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Surely you can't believe that no adult appreciates 3-D. I, for one, am an enthusiastic fan of the format and was happy to participate in the 3-D Summit hosted in L.A. last month. I agree that the format has its limitations, but then so does 2-D... or color, or celluloid, or the 24fps projection speed. "Polar Express" was the film that convinced me: A mediocre experience in 2-D made riveting and rich in three dimensions (despite its being conceived and animated for a non-stereoscopic release — Zemeckis just works that dynamically with the z-axis anyway, as does Lasseter, clearly, in light of this terrific 3-D re-release of the "Toy Story" movies).

As you mention, there have been attempts to get audiences excited about 3-D before. I liken this latest stab at the format to the advent of THX, the high-fidelity (high-volume) acoustic format many moviegoers see as a value-add benefit when seeing a film, but just makes my ears hurt. Maybe 3-D bothers you, but "the kids" love it. Is the format here to stay? I hope so. Will every film be produced in 3-D some day? I highly doubt it. It's most likely a selective add-on, the same way only certain types of films get the THX treatment.

The way I see, the future of 3-D is in a fragile place. Someone in your position can rant about its shortcomings and possibly even play a part in its demise. Bravo. But consider this: Why not be constructive in your criticism? This latest essay goes on the attack, putting the format down outright, insulting those who enjoy it and coming across short-sighted in the process. It's okay to be negative, but I think a more effective essay might be 10 things stereoscopic filmmakers could do to make a 3-D movie you would respect. (No spears in the eye? No sacrifice of image brightness and color?)

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It's the potential that excites me. I believe that filmmakers have yet to refine the cinematic language to reflect the differences inherent in stereoscopic projection, the same way they had to evolve for color, sound and digital. Maybe James Cameron will figure it all out with "Avatar," or Spielberg with "The Adventures of Tintin." I don't expect it to be sudden, but there are some extremely talented fillmakers embracing the format, and I'm willing to give the format the benefit of the doubt. That's one of the qualities I've always admired about your writing. I just wish you'd extend that optimism to 3-D.

The writer is a film critic for Variety

Ebert: You are of course correct about "Kung Fu Panda." The panda spent so much time ooming into the foreground from far below that I misremembered it, to coin a word. The article mentioned in the British weekly magazine is here:

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