After complaining about the latest revival in 3D movies, I finally went to see Avatar in glorious IMAX 3D. The movie is a stunning spectacle, well worth the price of admission and even hanging around for half an hour to ensure that we got a good seat in a full cinema a couple of months after the films release. However there are issues.
The first issue is that we had to sit through several trailers for 3D movies that are going to be released in the next few months. Hollywood seems to be more determined to make 3D movies work this time around by building a pipeline of 3D movies for us to go and see. On the other hand, all of the forthcoming 3D movies are animated, meaning that serious people do not need to watch them. To do digital animation properly, the film makers build 3D model of everything in the foreground of a scene, so it is not a huge amount of extra work to throw off a 3D version of an animated movie. Come to think of it, Avatar is mostly an animated movie with slightly different visual aesthetic and much more detail in the models and textures.
The other issues relate to movie making. 3D is a different medium that requires different film making techniques. For example, limited depth of field is beloved technique for "art house" movies. In 3D all parts of the image need to be in focus all the time because you cannot resolve a 3D image that is out of focus, moreover it is likely to give the viewer a headache. The rule for 3D movies is f/64 all the way.
Another issue is the foreground. 3D movies need to be very careful about composing the picture so the foreground does not protrude. There were only a couple of instances in Avatar where the foreground was a problem. The one noticeable incident had foreground leaves in the forest sticking well into the field of view combined with a camera movement that caused the fronds to move rapidly past the eye in a most distracting way.
Depth of field and foreground are only a couple of issued with the language of 3D movies, there are many more need to be considered. One example is the aspect ratio that the movie is made in. It seems that Avatar was made so that it could be viewed in several aspects ratios. All in all I question whether it is possible to make a movie that succeeds in both 2D and 3D.
James Cameron has said that he did not want the 3D effects to distract the viewer from the movie. I still remember the scene in "Flesh for Frankenstein" where the children go into the belfry, bats fly around and one flies out of the screen and into your face. Fortunately, there were no such scenes in Avatar.
Finally there is the political angle. Some people have complained that Avatar is anti-American. For anyone who thinks that the sub-Blackwater corporation mining Pandora, and walking over the natives without so much as a "by your leave", represents the American ideal, I feel very sorry for them.