February 2014

The illusion of depth

By David Feela

When it comes to imaginative integrity, Hollywood must be losing it, and not because my 3D glasses are smudged with synthetic popcorn oil. No, the movie industry works so hard to hype its 3D visual technology as innovative that the movie-going public is blindsided to Hollywood’s true motive: to distribute each film at least three times: once as a new release, again as a DVD (including the Blu-Ray edition, UltraViolet, special collector’s edition with extended scenes, and the unrated edition), and then as a remastered 3D classic where the public is asked to sit through the film yet one more time wearing silly plastic glasses. I’m getting, like, triply depressed!

If there is a book, I like to read it first, but really, who cares how many actual books get sold. The money is in the movie. A studio decides if a book is marketable based on whether enough scenes can be invented or tweaked to titillate the 3D-er.

There. I might have invented a new word, but I suspect I am merely redefining it: 3D-er (noun): a member of the public that will sit through virtually any film because it promises to leap off the screen into their laps.

“Titanic,” “Top Gun,” “Nemo,” “The Lion King” – to name a few, not new, but remastered with 3D. I can’t wait to see them again, to spend a third more on tickets than I did the first time, because they’re dimensionally enhanced. I want to see if Kate Winslet’s cleavage is any more dramatic when she’s hanging off the ship’s bow with Leonardo Decaprio. I want to experience Nemo as perhaps a more fully engaged quirky talking fish. I’m dying to see if 3D can make Tom Cruise appear a bit taller. And what could pump me up more than a graphically enhanced re-release of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” with splatter?

Quite a few fans qualify as 3Ders, so the film industry continues to manufacture products to entice this audience – an audience it essentially invented – not so different from the one it hoped to create in its failed attempt to rehash older popular films during “the colorized era,” when black-and-whites were magically transformed into painted canvases. Try convincing any film buff that the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “The Third Man” should be remastered in color, much less in 3D, and you’ll be rolled unceremoniously down the movie aisle and tossed out the emergency exit.

In the 1970s, Universal Studios introduced another technology that was thought at the time to revolutionize the theater experience: Sensurround. Essentially, it amounted to exaggerated bass decibels that could be “felt,” not just heard. Designed to debut with the film “Earthquake,” Sensurround managed to draw a crowd for its shakedown experience, but it ultimately failed as a concept when the multi-plex theater design took hold in America. It was just too awkward to be watching, say, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” while the crowd on the other side of the wall sent tremors to your side of the theater.

As long as I’m complaining about manipulative marketing (and what better season than after the holidays to bring this up?) let me drag this column out by mentioning the infuriating strategy of producing films that are chopped up into a series. I’m not talking about the old strategy where popular films spawn the backward glance known as the prequel, or the rehashed glance often referred to as Whatever II, Whatever III, and so on. No, before the movie is even released the public has to accept that when the movie ends, it’s not really ended.

I read “The Hobbit” from cover to cover, more than once, but it was always just one book. And when the first film of “The Hunger Games” came out a year ago, I shied away from reading the book after learning the author initially wrote it as a single volume – not three. The strategy reminds me of a shaggy-dog story which I will have the decency not to repeat.

It’s difficult to think of any successfully released film followed by a better film spun off the same story, but the industry keeps churning them out, and the public lines up to see them. Okay. Maybe one, but I better not mention it without incurring the wrath of those who hated it. Movies do indeed stir a pot of emotions. I may have gone too far already, but people don’t punch people who wear 3D glasses, do they?

David Feela, an award-winning poet, essayist and author, writes from Montezuma County, Colo. See more of his works at http://feelasophy.weebly. com/.