The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Roger Ebert: Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too)

Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too)

3-D is a waste of a perfectly good dimension. Hollywood's current crazy stampede toward it is suicidal. It adds nothing essential to the moviegoing experience. For some, it is an annoying distraction. For others, it creates nausea and headaches. It is driven largely to sell expensive projection equipment and add a $5 to $7.50 surcharge on already expensive movie tickets. Its image is noticeably darker than standard 2-D. It is unsuitable for grown-up films of any seriousness. It limits the freedom of directors to make films as they choose. For moviegoers in the PG-13 and R ranges, it only rarely provides an experience worth paying a premium for.

That's my position. I know it's heresy to the biz side of show business. After all, 3-D has not only given Hollywood its biggest payday ($2.7 billion and counting for Avatar), but a slew of other hits. The year's top three films—Alice in Wonderland, How to Train Your Dragon, and Clash of the Titans—were all projected in 3-D, and they're only the beginning. The very notion of Jackass in 3-D may induce a wave of hysterical blindness, to avoid seeing Steve-O's you-know-what in that way. But many directors, editors, and cinematographers agree with me about the shortcomings of 3-D. So do many movie lovers—even executives who feel stampeded by another Hollywood infatuation with a technology that was already pointless when their grandfathers played with stereoscopes. The heretics' case, point by point:

When you look at a 2-D movie, it's already in 3-D as far as your mind is concerned. When you see Lawrence of Arabia growing from a speck as he rides toward you across the desert, are you thinking, "Look how slowly he grows against the horizon" or "I wish this were 3D?"

Our minds use the principle of perspective to provide the third dimension. Adding one artificially can make the illusion less convincing.

Recall the greatest moviegoing experiences of your lifetime. Did they "need" 3-D? A great film completely engages our imaginations. What would Fargogain in 3-D? Precious? Casablanca?

Some 3-D consists of only separating the visual planes, so that some objects float above others, but everything is still in 2-D. We notice this. We shouldn't. In 2-D, directors have often used a difference in focus to call attention to the foreground or the background. In 3-D the technology itself seems to suggest that the whole depth of field be in sharp focus. I don't believe this is necessary, and it deprives directors of a tool to guide our focus.

AS 3-D TV sets were being introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, Reuters interviewed two leading ophthalmologists. "There are a lot of people walking around with very minor eye problems—for example, a muscle imbalance—which under normal circumstances the brain deals with naturally," said Dr. Michael Rosenberg, a professor at Northwestern University. 3-D provides an unfamiliar visual experience, and "that translates into greater mental effort, making it easier to get a headache." Dr. Deborah Friedman, a professor of ophthalmology and neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said that in normal vision, each eye sees things at a slightly different angle. "When that gets processed in the brain, that creates the perception of depth. The illusions that you see in three dimensions in the movies is not calibrated the same way that your eyes and your brain are." In a just-published article, Consumer Reports says about 15 percent of the moviegoing audience experiences headache and eyestrain during 3-D movies.

Lenny Lipton is known as the father of the electronic stereoscopic-display industry. He knows how films made with his systems should look. Current digital projectors, he writes, are "intrinsically inefficient. Half the light goes to one eye and half to the other, which immediately results in a 50 percent reduction in illumination." Then the glasses themselves absorb light. The vast majority of theaters show 3-D at between three and six foot-lamberts (fLs). Film projection provides about 15fLs. The original IMAX format threw 22fLs at the screen. If you don't know what a foot-lambert is, join the crowd. (In short: it's the level of light thrown on the screen from a projector with no film in it.) And don't mistake a standard film for an IMAX film, or "fake IMAX" for original IMAX. What's the difference? IMAX is building new theaters that have larger screens, which are quite nice, but are not the huge IMAX screens and do not use IMAX film technology. But since all their theaters are called IMAX anyway, this is confusing.

These projectors are not selling themselves. There was initial opposition from exhibitors to the huge cost of new equipment and infighting about whether studios would help share these expenses. Some studios, concerned with tarnishing the 3-D myth, have told exhibitors that if they don't show a movie in 3-D, they can't have it in 2-D. Although there's room in most projection booths for both kinds of projectors, theaters are encouraged to remove analog projectors as soon as they can. Why so much haste to get rid of them? Are exhibitors being encouraged to burn their bridges by insecure digital manufacturers?

Yet when you see a 2-D film in a 3-D-ready theater, the 3-D projectors are also outfitted for 2-D films: it uses the same projector but doesn't charge extra. See the Catch-22? Are surcharges here to stay, or will they be dropped after the projectors are paid off? What do you think? I think 3-D is a form of extortion for parents whose children are tutored by advertising and product placement to "want" 3-D. In my review of Clash of the Titans, I added a footnote: "Explain to your kids that the movie was not filmed in 3-D and is only being shown in 3-D in order to charge you an extra $5 a ticket. I saw it in 2-D, and let me tell you, it looked terrific." And it did. The "3-D" was hastily added in postproduction to ride on the coattails of Avatar. The fake-3-D Titans even got bad reviews from 3-D cheerleaders. Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose DreamWorks has moved wholeheartedly into 3-D, called it "cheeseball," adding: "You just snookered the movie audience." He told Variety he was afraid quickie, fake-3-D conversions would kill the goose that was being counted on for golden eggs.

Neither can directors. Having shot Dial M for Murder in 3-D, Alfred Hitchcock was so displeased by the result that he released it in 2-D at its New York opening. The medium seems suited for children's films, animation, and films such as James Cameron's Avatar, which are largely made on computers. Cameron's film is, of course, the elephant in the room: a splendid film, great-looking on a traditional IMAX screen, which is how I saw it, and the highest-grossing film in history. It's used as the poster child for 3-D, but might it have done as well in 2-D (not taking the surcharge into account)? The second-highest all-time grosser is Cameron's Titanic, which of course was in 2-D. Still, Avatar used 3-D very effectively. I loved it. Cameron is a technical genius who planned his film for 3-D from the ground up and spent $250 million getting it right. He is a master of cinematography and editing. Other directors are forced to use 3-D by marketing executives. The elephant in that room is the desire to add a surcharge.

Consider Tim Burton, who was forced by marketing executives to create a faux-3-D film that was then sold as Alice in Wonderland: An IMAX 3D Experience (although remember that the new IMAX theaters are not true IMAX). Yes, it had huge grosses. But its 3-D effects were minimal and unnecessary; a scam to justify the surcharge.

Even Cameron plans to rerelease Titanic in 3-D, and it's worth recalling his 3-D documentary, Ghosts of the Abyss, which he personally photographed from the grave of the Titanic. Titanic 3-D will not be true 3-D, but Cameron is likely to do "fake 3-D" better than others have. My argument would nevertheless be: Titanic is wonderful just as it stands, so why add a distraction? Obviously, to return to the No. 2 cash cow in movie history and squeeze out more milk.

I once said I might become reconciled to 3-D if a director like Martin Scorsese ever used the format. I thought I was safe. Then Scorsese announced that his 2011 film The Invention of Hugo Cabret, about an orphan and a robot, will be in 3-D. Well, Scorsese knows film, and he has a voluptuous love of its possibilities. I expect he will adapt 3-D to his needs. And my hero, Werner Herzog, is using 3-D to film prehistoric cave paintings in France, to better show off the concavities of the ancient caves. He told me that nothing will "approach" the audience, and his film will stay behind the plane of the screen. In other words, nothing will hurtle at the audience, and 3-D will allow us the illusion of being able to occupy the space with the paintings and look into them, experiencing them as a prehistoric artist standing in the cavern might have.

In marketing terms, this means offering an experience that can't be had at home. With the advent of Blu-ray discs, HD cable, and home digital projectors, the gap between the theater and home experiences has been narrowed. 3-D widened it again. Now home 3-D TV sets may narrow that gap as well.

What Hollywood needs is a "premium" experience that is obviously, dramatically better than anything at home, suitable for films aimed at all ages, and worth a surcharge. For years I've been praising a process invented by Dean Goodhill called MaxiVision48, which uses existing film technology but shoots at 48 frames per second and provides smooth projection that is absolutely jiggle-free. Modern film is projected at 24 frames per second (fps) because that is the lowest speed that would carry analog sound in the first days of the talkies. Analog sound has largely been replaced by digital sound. MaxiVision48 projects at 48fps, which doubles image quality. The result is dramatically better than existing 2-D. In terms of standard measurements used in the industry, it's 400 percent better. That is not a misprint. Those who haven't seen it have no idea how good it is. I've seen it, and also a system of some years ago, Douglas Trumbull's Showscan. These systems are so good that the screen functions like a window into three dimensions. If moviegoers could see it, they would simply forget about 3-D.

I'm not opposed to 3-D as an option. I'm opposed to it as a way of life for Hollywood, where it seems to be skewing major studio output away from the kinds of films we think of as Oscar-worthy. Scorsese and Herzog make films for grown-ups. Hollywood is racing headlong toward the kiddie market. Disney recently announced it will make no more traditional films at all, focusing entirely on animation, franchises, and superheroes. I have the sense that younger Hollywood is losing the instinctive feeling for story and quality that generations of executives possessed. It's all about the marketing. Hollywood needs a projection system that is suitable for all kinds of films—every film—and is hands-down better than anything audiences have ever seen. The marketing executives are right that audiences will come to see a premium viewing experience they can't get at home. But they're betting on the wrong experience.

Ebert is the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

© 2010


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bring it!

Terrorism Works...

So, Comedy Central, once again, showed just how gutless and spineless they really are. If you thought last night's bleeping of Mohammad's name was an intentional joke from Matt Stone and Trey Parker, think again.

As some of you may know, Matt and Trey started another Mohammad plotline. Some militant Muslims then started making death threats, and referenced the murder of Theo Van Gogh. Matt and Trey stuck to their guns and then... Comedy Central pussed out.


I will repeat this. Comedy Central has proven to these monsters that terrorism works. The episode is still not streaming on the official site, and Matt and Trey posted the following statement:

In the 14 years we've been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn't stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn't some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle's customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn't mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We'll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we'll see what happens to it.

Well... I don't care what anyone says. Here's Mohammad:

Bomb me.

Fatwah me.

Jihad me.

My name is Greg Bishansky, and I'm NOT afraid of you.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


"Kick-Ass" was not a perfect movie, but it was a perfectly enjoyable movie. It's the story of a teenage geek who reads too many comic books and decides he wants to be a costumed superhero. His first time trying it, he gets his ass kicked, stabbed and then hit by a car, and hospitalized. This was Mark Millar pretty much showing comic book geeks who want to do this exactly what would happen to them if they ever tried this.

He gets out of the hospital, has a few metal plates, and busted up nerve endings which justify him not feeling much pain in subsequent ass kickings he takes.

We also have a side story going on with a father and daughter duo of costumed vigilantes who are, well, much better at this than our young protagonist, and far more ruthless. Because, let's face it, if you wanted to do this, you can't be like Batman and not kill criminals if you want to keep coming home alive. Of course, for them, this is all about vengeance. Nic Cage plays the best/worst father ever in this movie.

Now, mostly this is played straight, but with dark humor all the way through. Until Act Three when the climax divorces itself from the premise and turns into, well, typical comic book logic involving a jet-pack.

There is also a very unbelievable scene where our young hero, after spending time with this girl he has a crush on, thinking he's gay, spills the beans and she ends up fucking him. I am told this scene went the other way in the comic, exactly how you'd expect such a thing to go. Hell, she's been naked in front of him when she thought he was gay. I can't understand why she didn't think he was a creep in the movie. But, I guess we needed this light, happy moment for him considering what was coming up next.

But those two flaws, while they raised an eyebrow for me, were hardly deal breakers. It was a fun, little movie. What gets me is that people are so upset about a little girl saying 'cunt?' It's just a word. No one cares about her shooting, stabbing and killing people? I had no problem with Hit-Girl using that worst word in the English language. Her own father was shooting her to train her to wear a flack jacket. It's rated-R anyway.

It was a fun movie, I will buy this on Blu-ray.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


So, while digging through the ASK GREG archives, I found the very first question I ever asked Greg Weisman. There is no date, but this was early 1997, and I was a much younger person (probably about fifteen). Also, in those days, I was a bit of a Demona Apologist (sigh, I know, I know... didn't I cover that in an older blog post?) and I think it comes through a bit.

This was before Greg and I became friends, probably over a year before I even met him for the first time. But I've been feeling sentimental lately.

Just for the record, I did sign my name, but the archives existed in a much different form before their 1999 upgrade.

Anonymous writes...

Demona is definetly my favorite character on Gargoyles. She's intellegent, beautiful, has a great voice[excellant job Marina], and I can understand why she's insane. Imagine coming home one day and finding pieces of your loved ones all over the place. I guess we'd all snap. How did you come up with her character? The tragic villain, not the comedy character. Did you ever plan a spinoff show about her and what she did through the centuries? I'd watch it. Well thanks for taking the time to read my question. Ciao.

Greg responds...

No spin-offs were planned for Demona, though I had hopes to tell more flashback stories about her life. She would have remained a recurring character in GARGOYLES and she would have been a regular in both DARK AGES and FUTURE TENSE. And she would have appeared at least once in TIMEDANCER.

All of that is moot for now, but maybe someday...

I basically enjoy villains a lot. I think the villains in our show were very unique, particlarly Demona and Xanatos. Much of Demona's character came so easily and fit together so well, I hesitate to take credit for it. Demona was out there in the mist ready to be revealed to the world. At any rate, I certainly must share credit with everyone else who worked with the character, in particular Michael Reaves, who wrote "Awakening". Still, from the beginning of our second phase (read non-comedy) development, we already knew Demona was a traitor who had meant well initially but could not face up to her own guilt. Though I hadn't worked out all the details of "City of Stone" from that early point of pre-Awakening development, I also knew that she had not slept through the centuries as Goliath and the others had. She would have had to live through 1000 years of persecution and prejudice. I knew that she was Goliath's lost love. How he viewed her defined both who she was and who she wasn't. I knew she was a tragic figure. I didn't want the audience to forgive her actions, but I did want them to understand.

And the original link

As any good "Gargoyles" fan knows, the "Future Tense" spin-off became "Gargoyles 2198." Also, in my question, I kinda left out the part where Demona was (in)directly responsible for the fate of those loved ones.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

2008 - 2010: The Spectacular Spider-Man R.I.P.

Greg Weisman has now commented, and I think I'll post his words here:

The Spectacular Spider-Man


I've heard nothing directly from Marvel, Disney or Sony, but I think the recent announcement that an "Ultimate Spider-Man" animated series is in the works at Marvel Animation, makes it fairly clear that The Spectacular Spider-Man is over.

I can't say that I'm surprised, but that doesn't mean I'm not disappointed. But guys... all of you so quick to rush to my defense (sometimes in the most heated of terms)... it's appreciated, of course, but not necessary. This is the business I've chosen to work in. It comes with the job.

Sure, I think Spectacular kicked some ass! But there's no reason to assume that Ultimate Spider-Man won't kick ass too! I'd recommend giving it a chance. I remember when we were first announced, a bunch of MTV Spider-Man fans were screaming about why they were creating a new series and not continuing that one. Heck, there were even a bunch of 90s Spider-Man the Animated Series fans who felt they should still be continuing THAT show. Some of those folks wound up giving us a chance. Some didn't, I'm sure. Some of those who loved those and other old Spidey series found they liked or loved Spectacular. Others didn't, I'm sure. But we found our audience, and now we've got nostalgia working on our side. But I wouldn't want Ultimate Spidey to be judged on anything other than itself. Because that's all I wanted for Spectacular.

It's just the way of things. I try to take the long view and be philosophical about it. Don't always succeed, but I try. I had more stories I was dying to tell, but anyone who's familiar with this website due to a certain series beginning with a "G" knows that this isn't the first series I've felt that way about. I rarely run out of tales to tell. I had more Spidey stories to tell. More Gargoyles stories to tell. More W.I.T.C.H. stories to tell. More Captain Atom stories to tell. More Starship Troopers stories to tell. Even more Max Steel stories to tell. And if and when I get a new series -- no matter how long it lasts -- I'll probably STILL have more stories of that puppy to tell too.

So I try to be grateful for what I did get. I got to tell 26 fun stories. And those led directly to me writing for The Amazing Spider-Man, which puts me in some pretty august company and fulfilled a life-long dream, even if it was only half of one issue. So it's all good.

For those who loved and will miss, alongside me and pretty much all of its cast and crew, The Spectacular Spider-Man, I appreciate all your support and kind words. Let's celebrate what we achieved and not stress over what we didn't get to do.

Thanks, everyone.

Greg Weisman
April, 2010

I wish I were close to being as classy as he is on even my best days. I try to be... and fail spectacularly. But, that was very well said. It also outlines why I like him so much. Yes, I love his work, but I respect the man just as much as the work, and I don't get to say that with most other works and creators.

I think, I'll re-post a small tribute I created in his honor:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Spectacular Spider-Man.

I've said elsewhere that due to reasons of professionalism, I'm not going to comment. Instead, I am going to post some quotes from Tom Breevort responding to fans, and a comic book page that I think adequately sums up the situation.

Why should we care about this new show when Spectacular was so amazingly better than what you will put out there?

"It’s nice of you to keep an open mind and look at the thing before you judge it. You remind me of all of the animated Batman fans who were outraged when Brave and the Bold was announced, most of whom have come around to really loving it. A new show doesn’t somehow mean a censure of the old show–it’s just a new show! And it’ll be good or bad on its own merits. But it might be better than you think."


Do you feel it unfair that we loose a TERRIFIC show just so you can have team ups? Would it be that bad to leave Spectacular alone and have both shows?

Breevort:"No, I don't think it's unfair. It's really amazing, the sense of entitlement some fans have. We did that show, it ran its course,and now it's done, like so many other things. And given the tremendous cost to mount a production like that, and the limited return on doing so going forwards, we're putting our efforts now into the next thing. It's absurd to think that we'd keep producing two competing shows about the same character at the same time. Who does that?"

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Gargoyles" in the "Marvel Universe?"

Ever since Disney bought Marvel, people have been asking Greg Weisman if he has any interest in integrating the "Gargoyles Universe" (which would be the first sixty-five episodes of the series, and the two SLG comic series "Gargoyles" and "Gargoyles: Bad Guys") into the Marvel Universe, and Weisman keeps saying no. Yet people keep asking him.

I love "Gargoyles" and I love the "Marvel Universe." I love "Gargoyles" more, and I'm not afraid to say it. But this is a terrible idea, and I'm going to talk about why it's a terrible idea.

First of all, the two universes are pretty incompatible. Time travel works differently in both universe for one. In "Gargoyles" you cannot alter history, and that series is so much better for it. If it were a part of Marvel, it would be too easy for Goliath to, let's say, go back in time and prevent the massacre of his clan back in 994 Scotland.

I suppose you could retcon away those Marvel time travel stories like "Age of Apocalypse" and "Days of Future Past." While I would not mind that, it wouldn't be fair to the fans and creators of those stories.

Second, while I have no doubt the existence of gargoyles would be shocking to the people of the Marvel Universe, it wouldn't have the same impact it should. Not in a world where mutants, super-beings, Atlanteans, Inhumans, Eternals, Norse gods, and Fin Fang Foom are already known to exist with Galactus stopping by every other Tuesday.

Third, okay, Marvel's Odin is now a Child of Oberon, as are the Asgardians. Okay... how well do you think that's going to go over with the fans of Jack Kirby's Thor who have been reading it for nearly fifty years now? Hell, there are still some people who are uneasy about Odin being subject to Oberon in "Gargoyles." I'm not one of those people, but I understand where they're coming from.

Now, I know some people are bound to mention the NON-CANON Radio Play from the 2009 Gathering, that was a crossover between "Gargoyles" and "The Spectacular Spider-Man," so let's get this out of the way. That wasn't actually the Marvel Universe. It was a re-imagined, and stream-lined version of it. It also helped that both shows were created or developed by Greg Weisman. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it, but I don't think anyone wants this to be a regular, or even a recurring occurrence. I think it worked well as a pandering love letter to fans of both franchises, and the voice actors who brought these characters to life.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the Marvel Universe is not really going anywhere. It is very cyclical. Things come, things go, status quos change and are restored. Spider-Man is married for twenty years, then he is single again. Magneto reforms, then is a villain again, then reforms, etc, etc.

For example, I respect a lot of what Joe Quesada has done for Marvel. However, the notion of him having any kind of creative influence over "Gargoyles" scares me. "Goliath and Elisa were more interesting before they finally declared their love and got together. The core of it was always impossible love, so now we have to split them up." You know it would happen.

"The Gargoyles Universe" is going somewhere, even if we're currently not getting any new fiction, it was always evolving. Never going backwards, but moving forwards. It was an evolving tapestry, and change was constant. Marvel, on the other hand, lives and breathes on the illusion of change, while actual change is non-existent. Death is meaningless. Characters don't age, and the status quo may shake up on occasion, but it is always eventually restored.

The Marvel Universe was built by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, and maintained by many very talented and creative people acting as custodians of that work. But, for better or worse, it is a soup with hundreds of cooks. Many great chefs, and more than a few fast food fry cooks.

"Gargoyles" was co-created by Greg Weisman, and while he had a lot of help, he was the only co-creator, and the one who never stopped working on it. He was the first author of "Gargoyles" and more than likely he will be the last author of "Gargoyles." For the better. We saw "Gargoyles" without Greg Weisman, and it was nothing good.

Both universes have their place, but you couldn't merge them without one of them being significantly altered in the process. Now, I will admit my bias again and say that I wish the "Marvel Universe" was more like the "Gargoyles Universe" but, there's no real point. It's been around for nearly five decades (over seven if you want to talk about Timely Comics), and it's not going to change. As I've made clear, I think that's kind of the problem, but an understandable one given the nature of Marvel Comics. DC too, for that matter.

Now, I realize a lot of the above makes it look like I'm saying "Gargoyles" is great and Marvel is awful, but I don't feel that way at all. I just don't think such a thing would work without one of the universes suffering for it.