Monday, June 28, 2010

The 3-D Experience

Yesterday, I saw Toy Story 3 in IMAX 3D. Toy Story 3 was fantastic and I recommend that everyone see it, but that’s not the purpose of this post. Rather, I want to think about the 3-D experience.  Watching 3-D movies, I'm always surprised by how the 3-D animated images invoke a sense of childlike wonder in me. I let myself get caught up in the awe of the spectacle. Watching the movie, I feel the story coming somehow closer to my heart. But this may just be my experience.  Today, I want to explore the experience of seeing a 3-D IMAX movie and how new technologies may be changing our relationship to artistic representations.

Seeing Toy Story 3 entails much more than the feature film; going to a Jordan’s Furniture IMAX Theater is a fascinating, absolutely bizarre experience in its own right. At the gigantic complex in Reading, MA, Jordan’s Furniture has teamed up with IMAX theaters to present a consumer theme park, complete with Bean World, a life-size model town made of jelly beans, a laser water light show, and flying trapeze activity center. This is just the entrance of the store. You then wander through the maze of furniture displays, caressing the plush fabric of couches as you dodge sales clerks hunting for commissions. As you finally reach your destination, the IMAX theater, you understand the meaning behind Jordan’s Furniture’s slogan, “it’s more than a furniture store, it’s an experience.”                                                                                      

As you wait for the movie, the theater projects a light show synchronized to music. The psychedelic-like light show is a throwback to the “electric collage” light shows of the 1960s, an interesting homage given that 3-D movies made their first popular debut in that same era. Unfortunately, the choices in music, “Zoot Suit Riot,” “Dirty Boogie,” and “Mustang Sally,” dramatically diminished the effect; if only Jordan’s wasn’t afraid to play some more fitting psychedelic rock and turn it up to 11.

After a few previews for upcoming Pixar and Disney films, an advertisement for IMAX comes on. If you were not already sold on the idea that IMAX 3-D movies are “an experience” all their own, IMAX is committed to convince you. The IMAX ad claims viewers will “See More, Hear More, Feel More.” Using images of old movie reels, IMAX pays homage to the history of film and uses these visual references to declare IMAX 3D’s place as the next level in the film legacy. IMAX 3D films claim to “deliver the world's most powerful moviegoing experience” (1). According to their website, “the IMAX Experience in 3D - the world's most immersive movie experience - has entertained and enlightened millions of people worldwide. With crystal clear, larger-than-life, 3D images complemented by exhilarating state-of-the-art surround sound, audiences feel as though they are in the movie.” (1). 3D images employ stereoscopy, which, according to Wikipedia, is “any technique capable of recording three-dimensional visual information or creating the illusion of depth in an image” (2). By wearing 3D glasses, the viewer sees an illusion of enhanced visual depth perception. The images seem to extend off the screen, giving viewers the sense that these 2-D screen images are three dimensional in form. I have to admit that I know very little about the technology itself. What is most interesting to me is the way these technologies are described. 3-D technology sells itself based on the idea that it can bring you closer to reality. You will no longer simply view movies in the same way. You will “see more, hear more, feel more.” This repetition of “more” is the most fascinating, implying that these technologies will actually extend our human senses beyond their natural state. This is a promise that new technology has made over and over again. Come on consumers, extend your human capacity through technology.

IMAX describes the experience as such, “Images of immense size and striking clarity surround you. Deep, sharp sound lets you feel every vibration. Towering screens immerse you in fantastic and exciting worlds. Specifically designed theaters take you on a journey every time you sit down.” (1). Books, films, music, photography, sculpture, each of these mediums invoke different human senses. Music is heard. Books are seen and sometimes spoken aloud. Films are seen and heard. Sculptures can be touched. Our senses forge the initial contact and first relationship to these representations. Our senses make us feel. As we take in the film, book, or art piece, we apprehend it through the senses, feel an emotional reaction to the representation, and then mentally process that emotion through our thoughts about the representation. Watching an IMAX 3D movie invokes multiple senses simultaneously. We see images in enhanced visual depth; we hear the “deep, sharp sounds” of the soundtrack; we feel the vibrations underneath the theater chairs from the Butt Kicker® sound systems, which according to their product website, “recreate amplified audio signals in the feeling range.” (3). By invoking the multiple senses of the viewer, IMAX 3D films bring the viewer into the story, into the representation. If the viewer experiences the film through sight, sound, and touch, does this cause the viewer to forge a more direct experience to the representation? What if we could smell and taste what was happening in the film? These possibilities are already being explored. At another Jordan’s Furniture location in Avon, MA, you can ride the Motion Odyssey Movie (MOM), a ride that “engages all of your senses—sights, sounds, balance, and even touch” (4). I have not yet experienced this, but am very curious. Their current ride is “Happy Feet: Mumble’s Wild Ride!”:

Dare to race down the frozen cliffs of Antarctica in Mumble’s Wild Ride! Join Mumble and his hilarious penguin friends for a thrilling 4-D ride as they reach chilling speeds in this breathtaking icy adventure. When you join Mumble on Jordan's Verizon MOM 4-D movie ride, you'll not only experience 3D visuals, motion, and sound, but also ocean scents, wind, strobe lights, and more! (4)

Visuals, sound, motion, and even ocean scents! It’s like real life. Well, almost. What is so interesting about these 3-D, or in this case 4-D, technologies is the way they promise a more complete, more real experience. But more real than what exactly? If the technologies of representation (a 3D film for example) can invoke all the senses, and we call it “more than real,” how do we then feel about the rest of our “real life,” the life lived away from the IMAX theater? These technologies promise more total sensory experiences, yet to what extent can technology enhance our natural human senses? And in what cases should our human senses be enhanced by technology at all? What really concerns me is this: if we have technology capable of invoking all the senses, and these senses register in our bodies as feelings and emotions, to what extent can these technologies manipulate our emotions? Let me remind you that I do love 3-D movies. But I think that as we watch these technologies progress, we should be mindful of two things: of how technology artificially invokes our senses in order to produce certain emotional reactions, and how these technologies are redefining our sense of human reality.

Image Credits:  Toy Story 3; Movie Reel; Kids with 3-D Glasses

No comments:

Post a Comment