James Cameron, the man behind the two biggest theatrical releases of all time, and arguably the one person responsible for the recent onslaught of 3D films hitting cinemas, is not shy about sharing his opinion. Ever since his long-in-development blue pet project Avatar hit theaters, we've seen countless other movies get the 3D treatment. However, most of these films were not shot that way and have been converted in post production for the simple (financial) reason of garnering higher ticket prices.
A few days ago, Vanity Fair interviewed James Cameron to talk about the re-release of Avatar in theaters, with a few extra minutes of never-before-scene footage. The interview sparked a bit of controversy when Cameron was asked about the release of Piranha 3D and whether or not the Alexandre Aja directed remake sparked any sort of nostalgia in him - considering his history with the franchise.
Mike Ryan of Vanity Fair raised the well-publicized fact of Cameron's distaste for rushed 3D post-conversion and asked him how he felt about the matter now - considering this phenomenon is in existence in large part due to his vision and the success of Avatar.
"Yes, but that’s not my fault. We worked for four-and-a-half years to make Avatar what it is. There are a number of good movies that are being natively authored in 3-D that are coming out. But what you saw was sort of the gold rush. After Avatar, people tried to cash in. Or, in some cases, like Alice in Wonderland and How to Train Your Dragon— especially the latter, which I think is excellent in 3-D—they were films that were in the pipeline for some time. They weren’t cashing in, they were just coming out. You’re going to see the whole market kind of stabilize and redefine itself over the next couple of years. Look, it’s caveat emptor as well. The consumer needs to be aware that just because a movie is in 3-D doesn’t mean that it’s good. And they can find out online or the media can talk about it. Was it shot in 3-D or was it converted to 3-D? And even conversion itself is not necessarily bad if it’s done right."
I think most moviegoers can agree that, aside from animated features, we'd prefer movies to be shot in 3D rather than be subject to poor and rushed 3D post conversion, which has never looked good or enhanced a film (think The Last Airbender and Clash of the Titans). However, James Cameron isn't altogether dismissing post-conversion, since he's converting his other "biggest film of all time," Titanic, into 3D.
"Yes, we’re going to prove that point with Titanic. We really want it to be the gold standard of how you do a conversion."
Due to the difficulties and logistics of actually shooting live-action in 3D, conversion is likely to be what we can expect from the industry going forward, especially for summer tentpole movies. All of your big action blockbusters and superhero comic book movies will be in 3D but many of them will not be shot using 3D technology. In fact, it's already happening as we speak with Marvel Studios' Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Thor finished principal photography weeks ago and are deep into post production, yet they have until next May before the film comes out. With eight full months of time to work on the film, we can only hope that they perfect the post conversion 3D - to enhance the moviegoing experience.
The next part of the interview is where headlines started getting made. Cameron was asked about Piranha 3D and if it brought stirred up any nostalgia in him. The first feature film Cameron ever worked on as a director was Piranha 2, back in 1981, although he wasn't on the project for long.
"Zero. You’ve got to remember: I worked on Piranha 2 for a few days and got fired off of it; I don’t put it on my official filmography. So there’s no sort of fond connection for me whatsoever. In fact, I would go even farther and say that... I tend almost never to throw other films under the bus, but that is exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3-D horror films from the 70s and 80s, like Friday the 13th 3-D. When movies got to the bottom of the barrel of their creativity and at the last gasp of their financial lifespan, they did a 3-D version to get the last few drops of blood out of the turnip. And that’s not what’s happening now with 3-D. It is a renaissance—right now the biggest and the best films are being made in 3-D. Martin Scorsese is making a film in 3-D. Disney’s biggest film of the year—Tron: Legacy—is coming out in 3-D. So it’s a whole new ballgame."
On one hand, I completely agree that the 3D effect has been abused quite a bit in 2010. We've seen so many studios tack on 3D post-conversion for the sole reason of inflating ticket prices. It's not an artistic or creative decision, it's 100% financial and that's not how a film should be treated (if we lived in a perfect world).
Through the outcry of journalists and moviegoers, we have seen a bit of change for the better. Some studios are taking more time, planning in advance for 3D. Films such as Drive Angry and Resident Evil: Afterlife pride themselves on actually shooting in 3D from the start, and others are avoiding 3D entirely, simply because it wouldn't work to enhance the creative vision (think Jon Favreau on Cowboys and Aliens).
Where James Cameron goes wrong here is in his arguably insulting comments about creativity. Comments like: "When movies got to the bottom of the barrel of their creativity" for example. As a fellow-filmmaker, there's no reason to bash the talent or creativity of a project, especially when you have nothing to do with it. Cameron is super successful at everything he does and, as a result, gets to do whatever he wants. Does he really need to cast stones at the creativity or talent behind Piranha 3D? Taking shots at the use of 3D is one thing, a point I actually agree on, but knocking down the movie when it's clear he hasn't seen it, that's something entirely different.
Piranha 3D is an over-the-top gimmick film and it totally works as such. It completely lives up to what it presents itself as, without taking itself seriously, and that's why the gimmicky 3D works here - it's a campy and fun experience. Hell, even most critics are behind it, and despite the film's graphic violence and nudity, it's doing fantastic on Rotten Tomatoes, currently sitting at 75% fresh.
In response to Cameron's comments, Mark Canton, producer of Piranha 3D felt the need to defend his colleagues and sent out a very public response.