ABSTRACT: It is curious that the use of 3D in the movie Deathly Hallows part 2 is never referred to on this part of the site but impacts enormously on the cinematic experience. Is this a pain or a pleasure?
Much has been made across Mugglenet and beyond of how Deathly Hallows part 2 did/didn't capture the essence of the book, what it left out or in, the skill of the director/actors/cinematographer/composer... but, very curiously I've not seen any analysis or comment, even in mainstream newspaper reviews, about the effect that presenting the film in 3D had on the overall enjoyment and impact of the film.
In fact it was a curious choice to show DH pt2 in 3D at all, bearing in mind it is essentially the second half of a complete whole shot back to back with the same cinematographer, director and editor... there seems to be something of the studio trying cash in on the boom in 3D movies without regard to its relevance or suitability, something which I'll come back to later.
I'll start by nailing my colours to the mast and say that, for the most part, 3D added nothing to the film and in many places was a distraction, to the extent that I'm looking forward to the DVD release so I can watch the film again without this unnecessary encumbrance. Why do I say that?
The truth is that cinematographers have not yet learned how to use 3D in live action movies and still rely on bolting it onto a whole 2D visual vocabulary that has evolved over a 100 years or more. At least part of this vocabulary is designed to give an illusion of space and depth - 3D in other words - and because we're so used to it, we accept the illusion.
Then there are visual techniques the cinematographer uses to intentionally draw our eye to the most important part of the frame. Take two people in a room talking to each other, one of which is further away from the camera than the other. The person who is talking will be kept in focus, the other out of focus. When the other person talks the camera brings that one into focus, taking the other one out of focus. This technique is known as throwing focus. It is completely unnatural as in real life the eye would always keep them both in focus, but the cinematographer uses this device for dramatic effect and in the movies we totally accept it.
In fact, the way the human eye and brain perceive 3D is very subtle. Just take a moment to look around you. You're not immediately aware of depth and "3D-ness" and anything further away than 20 feet or so is not seen in 3D at all. There's a whole science about the psychology of perception, distance and depth which I won't go into but is relevant if you want to explore it further.
But 3D cinema has another problem. Theoretically you should not be aware of the screen at all but see a continuous 3D plane reaching from the front of your nose back to infinity... that would be true 3D. But 3D cinema doesn't do that. It splits the image into two parts - that which happens in front of the screen, and that which happens behind it. Imagine the screen as a window. Everything you see through the window is 'behind the screen' while everything that comes through the window towards you is 'front of screen'.
Unfortunately live action cinematographers have little control over what they can put in front of and behind the screen. Let me explain. I've seen some amazing 3D animations where you do get a complete 3D plane from tip of nose to infinity. That is possible because the film-maker has absolute control over all parts of the image and is able to place each element precisely where they want in that 3D plane. For live action you have no such control. The only front of screen elements you can include are cgi special effects which are created independently of the live shots.
So... where does this leave Deathly Hallows pt2 and my submission that 3D was an irritating distraction? Fundamentally we have a massive clash of culture and convention. Like pt1, pt2 was basically shot as a 2D film using all the tricks of the cinematographer's trade - including throwing focus. When you try to 'bolt-on' 3D it doesn't work. Behind the screen 3D rendition of 2D action is crude at best, but totally clashes with the 2D cinematographic tricks leaving a visual mess. The few front of screen effects - such as the dragon seemingly bursting out of the screen - are gratuitous at best and don't do anything for the film.
But of course 3D was an afterthought. If it hadn't have been, the original live action shooting including choice of shots, use of lenses and especially avoiding those film 'tricks' would have been tailored to 3D from the start. But the problem then would have been that any ensuing 2D version would have been very dull visually. The moral has to be to avoid 3D like the plague unless you are prepared to do it properly from the start and expect not to get a very good 2D version out of it unless you shoot each scene twice using very different shooting conventions.
I'd be interested to know what other people think as the issue of 3D in films is - to some extent - a personal one. I'd also be particularly interested in reaction from anyone who has seen the film both in 3D and 2D... I haven't because I wasn't prepared to go back to the cinema and hassle them for a 2D showing... and the DVD isn't out yet.