Taking 3D Experience to the Next Level

How would I explain the exotic experience of watching James Cameron’s Avatar? Simply in one sentence: When the movie was over, I felt like its protagonist Jake Sully; waking up exhilarated after a stint inside a Na’vi body. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration if we are to say that James Cameron has raised the level of cinematic experience unprecedentedly. The quest of cinematic technology has always been to give the audience a close-to-life experience; an imminent transition from vicariousness to firsthand experience, from objectivity to subjectivity. The advent of 3-D technology paved way for cinematographers to allow their images unfetter themselves from the 2-D screen and extend themselves closer to the audience. The difference between 2-D and 3-D cinema is similar to difference between your normal digi-cam and a SLR camera. While the former’s images are flat with no perception of space between the objects, the SLR image allows the object of desire to take limelight while pushing the other objects in the frame to blur and thus pushing them to the brink (giving a pseudo sense of 3 dimensions). 3-D cinema does more: it creates the illusion of depth by using two projectors beaming polarized light. The viewer then views the movie with polarized glasses which is designed to give different perceptions to the left and the right eye, thus tricking the brain into perceiving a three dimensional image.

3-D cinema has been around for more than a couple of decades now. But James Cameron’s Avatar will be remembered as the first film which harnessed the power of 3-D technology to the maximum. What makes the earlier 3-D movies a little ostentatious is that these movies are made with a hind-view thought: all scenes are shot to fit the 3-D technology. The characters poke their fingers into the camera, literally putting it between the viewer’s eyes and giving them a headache. The scenes were mostly characterized by naïve superheroes whizzing past you all the time without much reason. Some scenes went too far; In “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, Brendan Fraser spits into the camera (consequently spitting on the audience’s face, quite an insult!). But Cameron’s Avatar took the approach-centric way of using 3-D technology to enhance the experience of the story instead of devising a story that fits the technology. While the other 3-D movies focused on bringing the third dimension in front of the screen, Cameron focused on extending the third dimension behind the screen. This ingenious idea meant that the screen becomes, literally and figuratively, a window to a new world. The perception of space and relative distance between the objects on the screen is enhanced in this view. We sit startled at our seats as we see the characters come to life; the bulk of their bodies moving and changing shapes subtly as the camera changes angles. The extension of the third dimension behind the screen also allowed Cameron to depict previously elusive sensations like vertigo; when Jake Sully flies graciously in his Toruk and takes a dip towards the deep valleys, the screen seems to transform into a deep bottomless trench. The wavering grass, falling leaves, the jellyfish like Woodsprites and myriad other forms float before our eyes and transform us into the exotic world of Pandora.

Cameron also uses the 3-D technology to project the subtle emotions of the characters more profoundly. Every minute movement of the countenance is enhanced by the 3-D technology. Acting has taken a new dimension as Cameron’s technique captures the palpable movements of every muscle of the body more precisely: the throb, the shrivel, the shudder, the heave, the gasp, et al; nothing escapes your eyes. The characters always remain at the fore of the frames never allowing the grandeur of Pandora to overwhelm the emotional depth of the movie. Despite all this, technology does overtake and overwhelm the actual story once in a while; for the audiences are introduced to whole new phenomenon. But this might well be noted as our shortcoming. It will be sometime till we get “used” this new breed of movies. Cameron has taken cinematic experience to new heights and ushered the cineaste into a new era of real-time movie experience.

Nallasivan V

[Image courtesy: http://www.slashfilm.com/wp/wp-content/images/avatar.jpg]