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A few months ago, director Christopher Nolan commented in an interview on his fondness of shooting in IMAX and on his belief that 3D has been mishandled in film. Of course, “the internet” has twisted his words into him hating 3D (though somewhat implied, he never actually said that) and, because of that, there has been an increasing rallying cry that 3D is a gimmick and that IMAX is the greatest thing ever.
I am here to tell you that IMAX is as much a gimmick as 3D is.
What?! How dare I question the genius of Christopher Nolan on something he never actually said? Crazy, I know, but it is true. Both IMAX and 3D can fantastic if done properly. That is the key. Conversely, it can be a cheap cash-in if done in a slap-dash manner.
My personal take with 3D is that if the movie was filmed in 3D with 3D being intentionally considered during the pre-production stage, then it is inherently is not a gimmick. It becomes an effect and storytelling device. One may not care for the 3D effect, but that does not make it a gimmick. Movies like Avatar, Hugo, and Tron: Legacy were developed specifically for 3D and were shot with 3D cameras.
Then, there is the other side of the coin where movies are shot in the standard manner (either film or digital) and are converted in post-production likely to get a quick money grab. These films were not intended to be shown in 3D and the decision to convert them was made later in the game. As such, they really have no reason to be in 3D. A perfect example for this is the in-production Superman film, Man of Steel. Filming wrapped in February and just the other day, Warner Bros. announced a 3D conversion. It is tacked on a film that it was not planned for.*
The exact same can be said about IMAX. I would argue that the majority of Hollywood productions that are released into IMAX theaters have no business being in IMAX theaters. They were not filmed using IMAX cameras and, therefore, do not truly take advantage of the format. It is just thrown up on a big screen for to bring in more dollars. Films tend to be “remastered” for IMAX, but the quality does not match true IMAX (much like post-converted 3D does not match “true” 3D). Studios are able to get away with it due to the prestige that IMAX has. Within the last few years, it seems as if every major film gets an IMAX release, but only two or three per year are actually shot in IMAX. It is getting as obnoxious as movies being released in 3D.
A filmmaker like Nolan shoots in IMAX using the IMAX cameras. He takes advantage of the format and movies such as Inception and The Dark Knight are worth seeing in IMAX theaters because viewers are going to get the true IMAX experience.** More filmmakers are experimenting with the format. Hopefully, this will lessen the gimmick nature of releasing films in IMAX theaters.
3D and IMAX are both gimmicks. It is foolish to think otherwise. But they are gimmicks only when used incorrectly. For better or worse, this happens more often than not. But, there is hope. From my idle perspective, I have noticed a slow increase films shot in 3D over the post-conversion in addition to more films shooting in IMAX. As the technology becomes easier and more cost-effective to use (and continual use will force it to be), the gimmicky nature of IMAX and 3D will lessen, and, hopefully, the internet will complain about something else Christopher Nolan never said.
* Since initially writing this piece, the press release for a 3DMan of Steel has been taken down. I do not exactly know what this truly indicates (though, I have some assumptions). However, I feel my example can still stand.
** I am fully aware that no Hollywood film thus far has been shot entirely in IMAX due to the difficultly of working with the equipment, and it is usually just a number of scenes. The upcoming The Dark Knight Rises boasts over an hour shot in IMAX, a record for the format.