Kermode: "3D cinema is a con"

Film critic Mark Kermode argues that 3D cinema is the oldest trick in the book

Why is Hollywood currently spending so much time and so much money trying to convince us that unless we play ball with their latest movie fad, we're just not seeing the big picture? Why is James Cameron telling us that "everything looks better in 3D" and waving Smurfs in our faces to prove it? Why am I getting a headache watching Clash of the Titans, a movie that was shot in 2D but has been ‘converted' to 3D to make it ‘better' when it actually now looks far worse?

Why did Warner Brothers blithely announce in the summer of 2010 that the same conversion process was going to be applied to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 despite the fact that everyone clearly hated it on Clash of the Titans? And why is Martin Scorsese, the one-time doyen of edgy American New Wave cinema, now looking me straight in the eye and telling me that "while you and I are sitting here talking, we're talking in 3D" as if that somehow justifies making a new movie that we'll all have to watch through those bloody silly glasses?

What's wrong with this picture? Let us be absolutely clear about this: 3D cinema is a con.

For a start, it's not 3D; rather, it is a technical illusion that uses an artificial "parallax effect" (the process through which your left and right eye see slightly different images) to confuse your brain into thinking that flat images on a flat screen are either nearer of further away than a designated "point of convergence". At least, that's what it's meant to do; in terms of audience experience, the system is at best flawed, producing ‘"wall-eye", "ghosting", "unfusable images" and a range of other equally exciting-sounding optical blips, along with those old favourites headaches and eye-strain – any one of which should be enough to put off potential viewers.

But the current 3D revival is not about enhancing the audience's cinematic viewing experience. On the contrary, their entertainment is entirely secondary to the primary purpose of 21st-century 3D, which is to head off movie piracy and force audiences to watch badly made films in overpriced, undermanned multiplexes. It is a marketing ploy designed entirely to protect the bloated bank balances of buck-hungry Hollywood producers. It is not a creative leap on a par with the advent of colour or sound; if it were, it would not have faltered on so many previous occasions. Far from being new and exciting, 3D cinema is the oldest trick in the book – as old, in fact, as cinema itself. And there's good reason why it has been consistently rejected by audiences for more than a hundred years.

This is an extract from Mark Kermode's The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex: What's Wrong with Modern Movies published by Random House Books, priced £11.99.

Genre: Non-fiction
Tags: Mark Kermode