The Avengers and the Case of the Near-Disastrous 3-D
About 20 minutes into a 3-D press screening of The Avengers Monday night in Los Angeles, one member of the audience interrupted the superhero theatrics to make it known that all was not right with his viewing experience. “Fix the projector!” the exasperated gentleman bellowed during a conspicuously quiet moment, as Mark Ruffalo’s contemplative face filled the screen. Something was very off, giving the complainant and others in attendance a less-than-ideal, even disastrous presentation. The only problem? There was nothing wrong with the projector.
The issue that led this particular fed up gentleman — who may or may not have been a film critic on assignment, I’m not sure – to shout out in irritated frustration wasn’t any fault of shoddy projection, or texting teens, or (forbid!) an accidental digital file deletion up in the booth, or any of the common complaints audiences have in the age of modern moviegoing. It was a case of faulty 3-D glasses mucking up the picture for the poor guy, giving Joss Whedon’s ZOMG epic 3-D adventure an unsolicited layer of blurriness, blackouts, green tint and/or other visual muck — only he didn’t realize that it was because of the cumbersome contraption on his face and not the projection itself.
I know this because about 10 seconds into The Avengers, I realized my pair of theater-provided 3-D glasses were also inoperable — and then spent 15 minutes running back and forth from lobby to darkened theater aisle, sorting through literally dozens of pairs in a frantic attempt to find ones that worked so I could get back to watching Hulk and Co. smash, already.
Now, a brief techie aside: The Arclight theaters, which hosted the screening in Hollywood, employ the XpandD active-shutter kind of 3-D glasses — they’re the heavier ones with the rubberized frames and the just-cleaned wet spots, weighty because the active-shutters in each pair are synced to an infrared signal broadcast in the theater which switch alternate right — and left-eye images at high speeds and require batteries. (The alternate kind of 3-D glasses, passive glasses, use polarized lenses and tend to be those lightweight, disposable, hipster-looking shades; these were used at the incident-free Avengers’ L.A. premiere last month at Grauman’s Chinese, but the Arclight cinemas are XpanD partners.)
So the Arclight’s active-shutter glasses were causing a major malfunction for us unlucky attendees who’d grabbed bunk pairs on our ways to our seats. And the exasperated gentleman and I were not alone. In my journeys up and down the hallway I saw many fellow would-be Avengers-watchers doing as I was, all of us locked in a comically desperate dance of grabbing glasses, testing them, returning defeated. Trays upon trays of fresh 3-D glasses were laid out in front of us by the bewildered theater staff, who quickly retired their “These should be working” auto-reply and let us seize handfuls of the damned things at a time.
(The Arclight Cinemas declined to comment for this article, by the way.)
Critic/journalist Fred Topel, who’d been in the same boat, tweeted about the snafu that night along with an explanation he’d received from the theater manager later, after it had been fixed:
Topel managed to find a working pair before too long, but others weren’t as lucky; of the handfuls of folks I saw leaving their seats to hunt down working 3-D glasses, some, like Screen International critic Brent Simon, gave up the search when he’d decided too much movie had gone by to return to his seat.
“My glasses had in-and-out image flickering, one of them went black, and then I had massive green tinting on one pair — sort of like Hulk vision?” he told Movieline. “I tried watching with no glasses for a while, but that was problematic.” After 15 minutes of attempting unsuccessfully to find a working pair, Simon decided he’d have to see the film from the start another time, and left.
But unlike those who’d exited altogether or managed to eventually find a working pair, there were the untold folks who, like our exasperated gentleman, either never realized the glasses were the problem or that they’d have to leave their seat and miss parts of the film in order to find a fix. “I had a good vantage point from where I was sitting of how many people were coming back and forth, streaming down the aisles,” said Simon, “and some people were just watching without their glasses.”
If you’ve ever watched 3-D without 3-D glasses, you know that watching a film for any amount of time with that kind of consistent blurriness would totally suck. So is every 3-D release worth the potential hassle? Or worth the potential risk? I’ll put this out there: The Avengers does not need to be seen in 3-D.
For starters, it contains a number of scenes that are dark and dimly lit to begin with, notwithstanding the added dimness that most 3-D post-conversions usually suffer. (For example: The entire opening sequence is composed of nighttime action shots that are frustratingly hard to make out.) At moments I glimpsed the screen sans 3-D glasses and the film was brighter, crisper, much more vivid, even gorgeous, and if not for the blurriness of the third dimension I'd have preferred to watch it that way. Whedon seems to have shot for immersive 3-D rather than gimmicky 3-D, which is fine and all, but overall the added dimension doesn't add that much. If I were to recommend The Avengers to anyone, I’d wholeheartedly push them toward 2-D.
Besides, to be in a 3-D film and not get the full 3-D effect — or worse, to sit through a blurry presentation without even realizing something was wrong — would defeat the point entirely. And if 3-D isn't an essential or notable enhancement to a film, why bother? Just remember: In our brave new world of 3-D dominance, we are all, potentially, that exasperated gentleman. How many of us might continue to sit there, watching through broken glasses, unaware of why the picture was so darn fuzzy?
But 3-D continues to be pushed upon us, and while Monday's minor debacle was just one isolated incident of the technology revolting against its bearer, I simply offer it up as anecdotal evidence of a bump in the road to our moviegoing future; take from this what lessons you will if you see The Avengers in 3-D this weekend. Just don't rush to blame the blurry curves of ScarJo's Black Widow getup on the projector.