Christopher Nolan’s dim view of a Hollywood craze: ‘I’m not a huge fan of 3-D’


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Night 2 of the Hero Complex Film Festival was a great success as Christopher Nolan took time from applying the finishing touches to ‘Inception’ to sit for a lively Q&A session. There’s plenty to tell you about, but I’ve broken out an entire article on his enlightening comments on the 3-D craze of the moment.


Christopher Nolan, speaking at the Hero Complex Film Festival, was cheered loudly by the audience when he made a moviegoer confession: ‘I’m not a huge fan of 3-D.’

The director of The Dark Knight added that, after doing 3-D tests, his new film ‘Inception’ will not be released in the trendy stereoscopic format because ‘we didn’t have time to do it to the standards that I would be happy with.’

Then, the professorial 39-year-old filmmaker, who burst on the scene a decade ago with Memento,’ launched into a clinic on the entire topic of 3-D conversion and filmmaking that left some fans in the audience scratching their heads even as the film-school crowd leaned forward to catch every word. First off, he said, he resented the suggestion that cinema was somehow flat without those special glasses.

‘The truth is, I think it’s a misnomer to call it 3-D versus 2-D. The whole point of cinematic imagery is it’s three-dimensional. ... You know, 95% of our depth cues come from occlusion, resolution, color and so forth, so the idea of calling a 2-D movie a ‘2-D movie’ is a little misleading.’

Nolan was speaking at the Los Angles Times-sponsored festival, staged at the Mann Chinese 6 in Hollywood, between screenings of his 2002 thriller Insomnia and ‘The Dark Knight.’

The festival is continuing Sunday with an appearance by Ridley Scott and screenings of ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner.’

On Friday, the special guest was Leonard Nimoy and the film was ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.’

Nodding to the movie screen behind him, Nolan told the audience of 500 that he, literally, had a dim view of the 3-D releases he’d watched: ‘The truth of it is when you watch a film in here, you’re looking at 16 foot-lamberts, When you watch through any of the conventional 3-D processes you’re giving up three foot-lamberts. A massive difference. You’re not that aware of it because once you’re ‘in that world,’ your eye compensates, but having struggled for years to get theaters get up to the proper brightness, we’re not sticking polarized filters in everything.’


After the massive success of James Cameron’sAvatar’ and Tim Burton’sAlice in Wonderland’ (they have a staggering $3.7 billion in combined worldwide grosses since December), there is a studio stampede toward 3-D, which is seen as the type of singular spectacle now needed to lure consumers away from the comfort of their home-theater sofas.

But filmmakers have reservations. The sword-and-myth adventure ‘Clash of the Titans’ -- which, like ‘Inception,’ was produced by Legendary Pictures and distributed by Warner Bros. -- was quickly converted into a 3-D film, and in the eyes of many critics, the post-production ‘rush job’ showed. ‘Clash’ director Louis Leterrier was beside himself as his movie came under fire, and he won’t be back to direct the sequel; still, ‘Clash’ has made $487 million worldwide and, domestically, stands as the fifth-highest-grossing release of 2010.

Leterrier chose his public comments on the 3-D issue carefully for the simple reason that it won’t be easy to make another studio blockbuster without a studio. Nolan, who scored a billion-dollar success with ‘The Dark Knight,’ is as secure as any director in Hollywood at the moment. But he made it clear Saturday night that although he was captain of his own destiny, it was the studios that built the ship.

‘Well, let me put it this way: There is no question if audiences want to watch films in stereoscopic imaging, that’s what the studios will be doing, and that’s what I’ll be doing.’

Nolan said ‘Inception,’ the July 16 dream-world heist film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, could have ended up as a 3-D release. ‘We did tests on ‘Inception’ with the different post-conversion processes, and they all went very well. It’s quite easy to do, in fact. But it takes a little time, and we didn’t have time to do it to the standards that I would be happy with.’

Nolan said the craft of making a modern big-budget blockbuster with visual effects involved many of the same approaches needed for 3-D conversion. So, as a technical exercise, he finds it compelling but, as moviegoer, he has little interest in sitting in the dark with the finished product -- at least in most cases so far.


‘It’s all based on all the visual-effects technology, you know, that we’re currently most engaged in with match moving, so forth, and rendering 2-D imagery into a 3-D space. ... On a technical level, it’s fascinating, but on an experiential level, I find the dimness of the image extremely alienating.’

What about shooting in 3D -- as opposed to the post-production conversion approach? Nolan said that approach necessitated shooting in video, with big, bulky gear and a beam-splitter that required trade-offs with optics he was not eager to make. ‘There are a lot of problems with it ... the idea of shooting a whole film through a massive beam-splitter and so forth -- there are enormous compromises. Post-conversion technologies probably, for me, are definitely the future, but really it is up to the audiences what they want to see and how they want to watch their films.’

Nolan is due to start filming a third Batman film in March, and he and Emma Thomas, his producing partner and wife, will be the producers of a Superman film, adding a new cinematic chapter to the superhero property that launched the comic-book industry in the summer of 1938. Nolan didn’t say it, but it wasn’t a leap to infer that Warner Bros. would be putting pressure to make those movies into 3-D releases for 2012 and beyond -- and that the filmmaker was hoping new 3-D advances would come to light by then.

‘I’m certainly quite pleased with ‘Inception’ as presented -- it’s very bright and very clear, so as the technology improves, those differences may change, and that is what I hope for.’

-- Geoff Boucher


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