Earlier this month I wrote a post about people’s arguments against 3D films. Roger Ebert recently wrote this blog post: Why 3D doesn’t work and never will. Case closed.

Case closed? As if that will stop people from arguing or as if that excuses you from having to further defend your position in any way?

Ebert starts off by writing:

I received a letter that ends, as far as I am concerned, the discussion about 3D. It doesn’t work with our brains and it never will.

The notion that we are asked to pay a premium to witness an inferior and inherently brain-confusing image is outrageous. The case is closed.

Firstly, notice the first sentence of the second paragraph there. Why does he feel the need to mention price? Isn’t that a different (albeit related) argument?

Secondly, nothing can be inherently brain-confusing. Confusion is a psychological response to something; it can’t exist if there’s no brain to be confused. Since it’s completely psychological, it’s also completely subjective. A majority can certainly share opinions since human brains do have a lot of similarities, but you can never objectively close a case about what is and isn’t confusing.

The post is really about Walter Murch’s letter to Ebert, so Ebert then goes into mentioning Murch’s credentials. I’m tempted to scoff at the idea of giving off credentials for something like this; after all, we can all go see 3D movies and make our own judgments, but then I remembered what Ebert’s job was. Oh yeah. He probably feels the need to validate letters like this with credentials, even though, in a case like this, they’re meaningless.

Murch’s argument:

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the “convergence/focus” issue. A couple of the other issues — darkness and “smallness” — are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen — say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

If we look at the salt shaker on the table, close to us, we focus at six feet and our eyeballs converge (tilt in) at six feet. Imagine the base of a triangle between your eyes and the apex of the triangle resting on the thing you are looking at. But then look out the window and you focus at sixty feet and converge also at sixty feet. That imaginary triangle has now “opened up” so that your lines of sight are almost — almost — parallel to each other.

My counter-argument:

Nope, I don’t mind 3D!

Well, there you have it folks! You can’t say “here’s the physiological response of doing what you’re doing, therefore it’s innately bad.” I don’t give a $%@! if it gives you headaches or confuses you subconsciously. My brain feels fine, and unless you show me statistical evidence that 3D movies cause cancer or something, you’re not going to sway my opinion.

Yes, the extra price on top of already-too-high ticket prices is stupid, but if that’s your issue, focus on that. Murch’s argument only supports your anti-3D argument if you get headaches or feel other harmful physiological aspects in yourself while or after watching a 3D film.

It’s kind of funny that Murch writes:

[3D film audiences] are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for.

In his book, In the Blink of an Eye, Murch mentions that the same is true for many sorts of editorial cuts in general! He mentions that it’s fascinating the eye can understand such cuts at all considering how, before films, the eye never had a chance to experience and adapt to such cuts before (like over-the-shoulder cuts during a two-way conversation). Of course, there are still limits to what looks good to most audiences and what will undoubtedly confuse them; there are still rules that film editors have to work with for whatever effect they want to achieve.

Considering Murch himself knows this, shouldn’t he at least guess that young eyes and brains might have the ability to adapt to 3D, or that it might cause minimal or no harm or confusion in some brain-eye systems, like, gee, I don’t know… mine?


Luke · February 1, 2011 at 8:49 AM


The focus/converge thing doesn’t really seem to be a problem, in my experience.

Reflecting on that generation and their ability to take in new cinematic tropes in general, I bet a movie like Scott Pilgrim was too fast-paced for Murch and/or Ebert…

S P Hannifin · February 1, 2011 at 4:07 PM

Yeah, I’ve never had any problems with it whatsoever… and I highly enjoy it, in fact. I do have years of practice with Magic Eye books and crossing my eyes though…

Can’t say anything about Scott Pilgrim myself, I’ve yet to see it myself… heard good stuff about it though, so one of these days…

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