Here's why watching 3D movies is miserable

Commentary: As much as the movie studios would like the opposite to be true, 3D movies are handicapping the theatergoing experience and there's almost never a time you should pay extra for it.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
3 min read

The horror visualphotos.com

I just got back from seeing " X-Men: Days of Future Past" (click the link for a proper review). It was pretty good as far as superhero movies go if you don't care much for substance and you like having kindergarten-level exposition forcibly jammed down your throat. But what I was most upset with was how awful it looked in 3D. I usually see my movies in two dimensions when I go to the theater but this time I was invited to experience it the way Epcot Center intended.

I'm not sure what the appeal of 3D in movie theaters is, mostly because it degenerates the moviegoing experience. It turns it into a spectacle that takes away the focus of what's actually happening onscreen -- the story, the actors, the composition of the frame. It's a damn circus.

First off, everything appears darker because you have to wear those god-awful glasses. Also, "X-Men" looked unnaturally smooth throughout, kind of like that nauseating soap opera effect you get when people watch films that were shot at 24 frames per second through the glass of a 120Hz HDTV. That crappy video-ish result your TV is spitting out? It's not better, it's just your TV inventing frames in between the original 24 so that it looks smoother. The director never wanted it to look like that and he or she hates you for watching it that way.

3D also makes things look miniaturized, sort of like the played-out tilt-shift filter that was interesting for about 35 seconds back in 2010. It barely worked in "Gravity," and that film had the benefit of endless space as a backdrop for crying out loud. In "X-Men" it made every scene look like some kind of awkward diorama.

So who on Earth are 3D movies for? Who asked for this? It wasn't me. The most common response I get from people who claim they know is that 3D was forced on theaters by pushy movie studios who realized that they are competing with the 60-inch HDTV and really comfortable couch in your living room. It's a way to get people back into the theaters. I guess it makes sense, look at this chart from movie index site The Numbers:


Movie ticket sales in 2014 are projected to be the worst in almost 20 years. Why? Say what you will about the overall quality of film over the last two decades, but movies are also getting competition from a dozen different angles, not to mention the most threatening medium of them all, video games.

3D movies are a gimmick. They're eye candy designed to make you forget you just paid $15 to see a darker, less brilliant version of a film that its director never intended. You're paying extra for an inferior experience. That doesn't make sense.

I like digital projectors and I think making the seats more comfortable is a step in the right direction -- anything to avoid reminding me that I have to temporarily share space with other people is a positive in my book. But as long as 3D has a presence in the moviegoing experience, I'm waiting the three long weeks it takes for them to become available on-demand.