the ebert certainties

Roger Ebert is one of my favorite movie critics, and his blog (which is often about subjects other than movies) is always interesting. But I have noticed recently that he has taken to making some pretty flat statements of fact (of the "I said it and that settles it" variety).

  • One – which got a lot of response, as you can imagine – was that video games are not and can never be art.
  • A recent review began, "No Strings Attached poses the question: Is it possible to regularly have sex with someone and not run a risk of falling in love? The answer is yes. Now that we have that settled..."
  • He has also asserted that movies were better when they showed more casual nudity (partly because there are actually some situations in life when people really do take their clothes off, but mostly because he likes to look at bare breasts whenever possible).

I think he likes getting the reactions, and he enjoys being at a point where he's old, he's respected, he's sick, and he doesn't feel like censoring himself anymore.

His most recent flat statement of fact was here, where he said that 3D can never work in movies ("Why 3D doesn't work and never will. Case closed."). I have tremendous respect for Ebert and certainly for Walter Murch, but I have my doubts about the assertion. What is the line about when somebody old and very experienced in a certain field tells you that something will happen in that field, it probably will; but if they say something is impossible, they're probably wrong. (I do have to figure out where that comes from.)

I did find it interesting that the very things they cite about the eye and the brain to support the theory that 3D can't ever work are the very same things that Paul Anderson (writer/director of Resident Evil: Afterlife) has talked about as the things you have to keep in mind when writing and directing 3D movies. But from his point of view they're not obstacles, they're just the factors that need to shape your story and how you direct it.

From Anderson's point of view, what doesn't work is "dimensionalizing" a movie (taking a 2D movie and converting it to 3D after the fact). If you haven't planned it for 3D from the beginning, if you didn't have that in mind from the script stage, then you're going to write a movie that will give the audiences the headaches that Murch and Ebert predict.

Daniel Engber at Slate talks about this issue here, and he brings up a good example I hadn't though of. I saw Dial M for Murder at least once in 2D and thought it was entertaining but minor Hitchcock, very stagy. Then I saw it in 3D and completely revised my opinion. It is perhaps not quite Hitchcock's best, but it is only a notch below the top. Everything in it was designed for 3D, and in 3D it all comes together. In fact, the showing where I saw it also featured a Three Stooges short in 3D, and the double-bill pretty clearly illustrated "3D as gimmick" (things poking out of the screen every few seconds) compared to "3D as a tool to create art."

I haven't seen Dial M for Murder since then, in fact, because I have about as much desire to see it in 2D as I have to see The Searchers in black and white, or to watch To Have and Have Not as a silent movie.

It would be interesting to read an exchange of ideas on the subject of 3D between Ebert and Anderson, but that would never happen. Roger Ebert hates the Resident Evil movies (he doesn't even review them any more), and besides, he's settled the question. The case is closed.

Oh, and I have no idea whether video games can be art, but I did write about the interactivity question here.

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  1. Pingback: the other other mr. anderson » Anthony Lee Collins

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