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About this book

This book puts forward a more considered perspective on 3D, which is often seen as a distracting gimmick at odds with artful cinematic storytelling. Owen Weetch looks at how stereography brings added significance and expressivity to individual films that all showcase remarkable uses of the format. Avatar, Gravity, The Hole, The Great Gatsby and Frozen all demonstrate that stereography is a rich and sophisticated process that has the potential to bring extra meaning to a film’s narrative and themes. Through close reading of these five very different examples, Expressive Spaces in Digital 3D Cinema shows how being sensitive to stereographic manipulation can nuance and enrich the critical appreciation of stereoscopic films. It demonstrates that the expressive placement of characters and objects within 3D film worlds can construct meaning in ways that are unavailable to ‘flat’ cinema.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction: The Expressivity of Space

Abstract
Space, in film, is an expressive construct. The classical and postclassical continuity styles often provide establishing shots to inform us of the layout of the locations in which the story we are watching is to take place before closer images follow in sequence. These images are chosen in order to give us better, more salient access to these shown spaces. Editing tends to work alongside this selective framing to put the images at the service of narrative.1 The way these spaces are constructed and revealed to us constructs meaning. Such spaces can express a social situation within the film’s narrative. The image can be peopled sparsely or filled with characters. The way that these characters move through the constructed spaces and their interaction with objects within them can be deployed by filmmakers to express their relationship with each other, or to their relationships to wider contexts. Proximity is also vital to our understanding of these relationships. Language that we commonly use to describe inter-personal relationships and lived experience often carries over into the way we discuss certain shots and framings within the film world. Describing people as ‘close’ suggests they are intimately acquainted with each other while saying that they are distant suggests the opposite. Likewise, close-ups in film often give us the impression that we have privileged access to characters’ interiority. ‘A long shot’, in turn, is not just a technical term to describe an image that puts us at a distance; it is also a colloquial phrase we use to suggest the uncertainty of an initial estimate.
Owen Weetch

Chapter 2. ‘I See You’: Avatar, Narrative Spectacle and Accentuating Continuity

Abstract
As the highest grossing digital 3D film to date and an early high profile example of stereoscopy’s contemporary resurgence, Avatar offers us an opportunity to survey and interrogate discourses surrounding the format and its applicability. In this, the film is suited to introducing readers to the basic technical terms that are needed to discuss digital 3D cinema, as well as to provide them with grounding in current thinking on it. It also allows for an interrogation of how stereographic representational strategies interact with and inflect established film language. In both cases, close reading of stereographic placement will demonstrate that 3D can contribute to the cinematographic articulation of a film’s narrative rather than distract from it. Close reading of Avatar’s aesthetics will also problematize three popular discourses that circulate stereoscopic cinema. The first argues that negative parallax distracts from diegetic absorption and that, in response to this, an aesthetic that solely exploits the depth behind the screen plane is feasible. The second understands that 3D, even if it adopts this depth-focused aesthetic, remains counterintuitive to representational trends dominant in postclassical Hollywood cinema. Finally, the third discourse argues that 3D is suited to spectacle rather than narrative. This chapter is structured so as to consider each one in turn, closely analysing individual sequences in Avatar that ostensibly support these positions. However, I will be arguing throughout that these assumptions are reductive and that by being sensitive to stereographic representational strategies and how they interact with established film language, criticism of the technology can instead become more nuanced. Avatar’s narrative, centred on a character’s exploration of a new, alien space, features multiple manipulations of 3D space that emphasise the format’s potential for subtlety and expressivity.
Owen Weetch

Chapter 3. ‘You’re Going to Make It’: Ride Alignment and the Mastery of Stereographic Space in Gravity

Abstract
In the previous chapter, we saw that Avatar coded movement past the frontier of the screen plane and into the locus as something immersive and positive. Outward protrusion, on the other hand, was constructed as something threatening and antithetical to the illusion of authenticity that was offered by the film’s explicitly depth-focused aesthetic. I want to argue that Gravity is much more ambivalent and supple in the meaning it constructs with the screen plane and the stereoscopic spaces on either side of it. 3D here represents the distances of extraterrestrial space in a narrative where movement through space conveys a protagonist’s shifting emotional state in what I will argue is legible as an existential narrative of survival, acceptance and self-actualisation. The film’s relationship between protagonist and mise-en-scène, where the impetus lies in the former conquering the latter, aligns it closely with survival thrillers such as Alive (Frank Marshall, Kennedy/Marshall, USA, 1993), Apollo 13 (Ron Howard, Universal, USA, 1996), The Edge (Lee Tamahori, Art Linson Productions, USA, 1997) and The Grey (Joe Carnahan, Scott Free, USA, 2011). In these films, we follow characters that are forced to fend for themselves as they contend with unexpected situations in extreme environments that put their life at risk. Along with Sanctum (Alister Grierson, Relativity Media, Australia, 2011), Everest (Baltasar Kormákur, Working Title, UK/USA/Iceland, 2015) and The Martian (Ridley Scott, Scott Free, USA, 2015), this is the one of several survival thrillers to be exhibited stereoscopically. In each case, stereography reinforces and nuances the representation of the protagonists’ relationship to their surroundings, a relationship upon which their survival depends. In these films, how protagonists behave in relation to physical obstacles reveals the nature of their character. In Gravity, I want to explore how characters’ attitudes towards their situation, and therefore their own lived experience, changes over the course of film. I will show how these existential adjustments are worked through by characters’ shifting occupation of differently parallaxed spaces and in the ways that they renegotiate their relationship to the screen plane.
Owen Weetch

Chapter 4. ‘You Only Looked that Way Because I Was Little’: Spaces of Terror and Reaching Maturity in The Hole

Abstract
Like Gravity, The Hole stereographically reinforces a narrative of control. Here too, a character learns to exert mastery over their surroundings and achieves self-actualisation in the process. As was also the case with Gravity, this film deploys stereographically accentuated point-of-view shots to suggest the beholder’s power. The Hole’s narrative, however, shows protagonists learning to wrest that mastery away from an antagonistic force that controls the film’s diegesis at the outset. I want to analyse how The Hole’s 3D works alongside other elements of its mise-en-scène such as set design, framing and montage to articulate a sensitive narrative concerned with childhood trauma, the terror that it can cause and the maturity ultimately required to confront it. Set for the most part in a single location, the suburban home of its youthful protagonists, this chapter will show how the film stereographically bestows domestic spaces, specifically a basement, a garden’s swimming pool and a living room, with an added sense of expressive presence. Through close reading, we will see that the dimensional effect inflects these spaces with expressive suggestions of presence, scale and importance that are impossible in planar cinema. In this chapter, I will delineate these inflections, describing and interpreting them to further demonstrate the meaning that 3D can construct.
Owen Weetch

Chapter 5. ‘There’s an Ocean in the Way’: Written Words, Unreachability and Competing Testimonies in The Great Gatsby

Abstract
Avatar, Gravity and The Hole are all, to some degree, concerned with characters’ mastery over the stereoscopic diegesis. In the first, a character rejected the opportunity to master Pandora in favour of a more participatory engagement with it, a relationship articulated through their enjoyment of the locus. In Gravity, Stone gained control of her situation by crossing back and forth over the screen plane at will and in the last chapter we saw how Dane’s victory was evidenced by his ability to inhabit the platea and the off-screen space that it implied. The following two films, The Great Gatsby and Frozen, are less concerned with the loss and eventual achievement of mastery than they are with intimacy that is either reached or rejected. I want to read these two texts closely in order to see how stereography spatializes the relationships between characters in each film. They each do this by limning our impression of either those characters’ closeness to or their distance from each other, as well as their spatial relationship to us. In The Great Gatsby, it is largely a case of distance rather than proximity. In this chapter, then, I will analyse how the film stereographically manipulates the impression of distance in order to spatially articulate its source novel’s explorations of the inaccessible past.
Owen Weetch

Chapter 6. ‘Against the Wall’: Frozen’s Expressive Planarity, Attempts to Connect and Ambivalent Utopias

Abstract
During its theatrical exhibition, Disney’s computer-generated animated adaptation of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, retitled Frozen, was preceded by a computer-generated (CG) short film entitled Get a Horse! (Lauren MacMullan, Disney, USA, 2013).1 This film begins in a small academy ratio image, placed in the middle of the wide 2.35:1 frame. It is placed in slight positive parallax, but features no discernible variations of stereoscopic depth within its frame. It is also in black and white, recalling the aesthetics of earlier Disney shorts such as Steamboat Willie (Walt Disney & Ub Iwerks, Disney, USA, 1928). It features a hand-drawn Mickey and Minnie Mouse being menaced by an obnoxious, burly dog called Peg-Leg Pete, who has designs on Minnie. Pete knocks Mickey out of the black-and-white, academy-ratio film he inhabits and into a full-colour, CG and stereographically represented cinema auditorium. The remainder of the short is an extended long take facing this cinema screen that projects this black-and-white film and is placed on the near locus. A now CG, stereographically rounded and full-colour Mickey, who is either level with the screen plane or inhabits the platea in front of it, attempts to broach the projected image. Meanwhile, a still hand-drawn Minnie is pursued by a similarly sketched Pete in the black-and-white world; a distant and flat diegesis from which stereo Mickey is cut off. At one point, Pete’s car crashes through some ice into a frozen lake, and the represented film’s camera follows it underwater. When this happens, the projected image starts to expand as if about to burst, the screen swelling slightly out onto the platea due to the water that builds up behind it. Mickey pricks the screen and fountains of water begin to burst out into the screened auditorium and onto the platea. Minnie and a host of other animated animals, who are now computer generated, are swept through into negative parallax on a digital tidal wave. The remainder of Get a Horse! is a slapstick encounter charting the to and fro between, behind and in front of the projected screen, all of which takes place within the same shot that faces it. When the screen is torn at points during the film (Fig. 6.1), it is revealed that the projected black-and-white element of this film is in fact an impediment to a colourful and 3D world that spreads far back into the locus. The projected image has in fact functioned as a kind of barrier between two separate diegeses.
Owen Weetch

Chapter 7. Conclusion: A Special Plea for Off-the-Screen Space

Abstract
The 3D illusion gives us the impression that objects can leap out from the screen towards us. If we allow for a literal understanding of the term, we can understand it as a format that manipulates a particular kind of off-screen space. While ‘off-’ and ‘on-screen’ are respectively understood as visible and invisible in discussions surrounding film language, 3D offers us an opportunity to consider multiple spaces that are literally off-the-screen and yet remain wholly visible to us. The close readings collected above show that it is not necessarily a question of the visible when we discuss spaces that are not ‘on’ the screen in stereoscopic cinema, but rather the role of the proximate. A character’s face, then, may be visible to the camera, and so on-screen as is typically understood. However, its stereographic placement may take it off-the-screen and bring it closer to us, emphasising the emotion it betrays. Conversely, it can be pulled back from the screen and shoved into the depths of the locus. If so, our access to that emotion is restricted. This is therefore a case of our being closer to or further away from things that we can already see. I want to take a moment here to engage with Noel Burch’s words regarding on- and off-screen space in ‘flat’ cinema because they are pertinent to the ways in which the films analysed in this book use the spaces on either side of the screen. Burch wrote of the relationship between on- and off-screen space as they are typically understood and how their interrelationship can construct meaning:
Owen Weetch

Backmatter

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