Wednesday, December 30, 2009

James Cameron’s Avatar: The Future of 3D Movies?

Billed as the most expensive movie ever, is James Cameron’s Avatar herald the future of 3D movies?

By: Ringo Bones

Despite costing 400 million US dollars to make, James Cameron’s latest cinematic magnum opus called Avatar seems to have left no stone unturned in terms of making a better movie that has gone before. Even the epic struggle of the movie seems to address the concerns of some Marxist-Leninist Socialism sites on the web. You know, those who used to complain about how Peter Jackson’s retelling of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings hasn’t address ongoing (back in 2003) class struggles that never made it into prime time news. With Avatar mimicking the on-going struggle between multi-national corporations and indigenous tribes over land use, they can now tell their “comrades” that there is now a big-budget Hollywood movie telling its own version of an on-going class struggle – though it does look better on 3D. Given the movie’s hype more or less commensurate with the audience praises, does Avatar herald the future of 3D movies?

One of the linchpins that made Avatar an undeniable success was the new 3D camera developed by a Burbank, California based company called 3ality Digital Systems whose 3D system allows their version of 21st Century 3D movie to be “almost” seamlessly adopted into existing movie theaters. Compared to 3D movie schemes that had gone before, 3ality’s new 3D system produces less eyestrain than the polarized 3D system that became popular during the 1970s and 1980s. The 3ality Digital System’s 3D cameras are heavily dependent on the company’s proprietary control software that it can even warn the movie director and / or cinematographer – on the fly - if the shots are visually uncomfortable / visually fatiguing to the audience.

The greatest advantage of 3ality Digital Systems’ 3D movie is that it can easily be shoehorned into existing Dolby Digital / THX compliant movie theaters anywhere in the world with only minimal additional gear. Unlike the I-Max system which uses its very own dedicated movie theater to show a dedicated I-Max 3D clip that is much shorter that a 2-hour or so movie feature. Even though it still uses special glasses to direct the “right” image to the “right” eye, it produces much lesser eyestrain that the previous versions of 3D movie systems that had gone before. Like the red / green or red / blue glasses filtering system that is only good for 1950s era black and white 3D movies or the polarized ones of the 1970s and the 1980s where the 3D images produced are comparable to what you’ll see when you are “legally inebriated”. As good as 3ality’s digital 3D-movie system is in comparison to what has gone with mass commercialism before, it still produces some eyestrain – especially in older people whose eye muscles are not as flexible – like in looking extremely close up objects - as it used to be.

From my own experience, 3ality’s 3D-movie system really did wonders on Avatar, even if our local movie theater’s bass reflex loudspeaker system are producing 10% second harmonic distortion in its heroic effort to reproduce some of the loud passages of the movie’s soundtrack THX compliance notwithstanding. The 3ality 3D system really did justice in portraying the true size and scale of the Bell UH-1 Huey / Iroquois type vehicles used in the movie. The newfangled 3D system did add something that doesn’t exist in ordinary 2D movies.

Despite of the “realistic” image hype, the 3ality 3D created a curious 3D image / stereoscopic image to my eyes that makes me think as if I’m watching the movie Avatar through a pair of binoculars comparable to the magnifying power to my own eyes. I mean the 3D effect is a somewhat exaggerated “diorama effect” / picture cut out 3D presented by the lens and prism optics of your typical off the shelf binoculars. Even at a bit over 2-hours watching Avatar, the 3ality 3D system haven’t gave me eyestrain. The 3ality system did add a hitherto extra dimension to James Cameron’s Avatar – their 3d system did really make the movie look like it really took 400 million US dollars to make.