Barbara Klinger is a Professor of Film and Media Studies at Indiana University at Bloomington as well as the President-Elect of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Her areas of expertise include new media, audience studies and gender in cinema. She will be giving a lecture entitled “Beyond Cheap Thrills: Space & Style in Contemporary 3D Cinema” tomorrow from 4:00-6:00 p.m. in White Lecture Hall. Her talk, along with a free 3D screening of Pina next Friday, is being put on by the the FHI/AMI Thinking Cinematics Working Group to explore 3D aesthetics.

Recess film editor Ted Phillips spoke with Klinger about 3D cinema’s past, present and future.

Recess: I’m really excited for your talk tomorrow. What should we look forward to?

BK: There are a lot of complaints in the public sphere about 3D being useless or being annoying and kind of a cash cow that I try to address in the [talk] by thinking about what 3D actually does do in terms of cinema’s aesthetics of style and space.

R: 3D is somewhat polarizing these days. What do you think needs to happen for 3D to become decisively popular, for it to step into the norm and become less of a divisive issue?

BK: I think that the move will be, and the move has already been, to use the in-screen depth part of 3D’s illusionism. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is a horror film and a science fiction film, two genres that have, in the past, used a lot of out-of-screen depth illusionism, things that come out and grab you. He refrains strongly from using the grab-you kind of effects and used screen depth more. One of the trends, and it’s also visible in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, [is] for prestige directors like Scott and Scorsese to avoid the out-of-screen effects and go more towards the in-screen.

That partially might make 3D more acceptable—that and improving technology enough so that you don’t have to wear glasses. Maybe they don’t charge you an arm and a leg for your 3D experience; that would help, too.

R: I saw Hugo in 3D and I have to agree, I think it’s the best 3D film I’ve seen in terms of the quality of the 3D image and the tastefulness of its use.

BK: Basically everything you can use in 3D he does. He doesn’t have the things that come out and sit on your lap, but otherwise he does use a really broad range of techniques in 3D very well.

R: How does shooting in 3D affect the cinematography and directorial decisions in a film?

BK: If you’re shooting in 3D, one of the hardest things to do is to shoot an interior space with character dialogue where you go to a medium shot or a close-up. [It’s hard] not [to] make it feel like it has what’s called the diorama effect where the characters stand out artificially in the space. Visually one of the problems with shooting in 3D or converting to 3D in post-production is having a convincing rendition of space when you’re not looking at vast, epic amounts of space. I think there are control issues in shooting in terms of lighting, the maintenance of depth perspective from shot to shot and other kinds of continuity things that, once it’s up there on the screen in front of the audience, you can really see. You can see the cardboard-cutout figures when the 3D hasn’t been done very well or it’s been done in post-production. Whatever a ‘natural viewing’ experience is, it can easily go off the rails through these various problems.

R: Speaking of post-production 3D, they’ve been releasing a lot of old films—I know they’ve been doing it with Star Wars and Titanic. What are your thoughts there?

BK: I saw Beauty and the Beast in 3D and it was, in my opinion, a total waste of the four million or however many dollars they put into that. Same thing with films that are converted in post-production that aren’t these re-releases: a lot of them don’t do really much at all with depth. The exception, of course, is Titanic. I think the usual price for conversion used to be around four million dollars, and [James Cameron] spent maybe more than 11 million dollars on that conversion. The word immersion is kind of a cliché, but I think it does have the effect of immersing you more in the action. And I’m not a huge fan of that film, but I admire what he did in the conversion process. It’s the best-converted film out there yet.

R: Where do you see 3D today and where do you think it will go or needs to go?

BK: There are the directors of restraint who we’ve talked about, who are worried about being associated with the “comin’-at-ya,” out-of-the-screen effects, so they are using 3D in different ways. Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Wim Wenders’ Pina are other films of restraint in terms of 3D. On the other hand, genre-films still use the out-of-screen effects to help mark their genre. Fright Night [does this]. So does Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and so does Harold and Kumar’s Very 3D Christmas. Films that are considered lower-brow, horror comedy, thrillers—you know, Jaws in 3D, that sort of thing—I think those films will continue using the out-of-screen effects. Right now, 3D is dividing up, and I don’t embrace this point of view, in terms of what are considered higher-brow and lower-brow movies.

I think the future is that we will see as many 3D films as we have now, and studios will continue producing them not only for domestic audiences but for international audiences. Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby [will be in 3D], so on the more artistic side of things a lot of directors are interested in experimenting with 3D. It’s an experimental media.

R: An analogy is that 3D is the next color film. Color film happened back in the ’20s and ’30s, and at first only a few people were experimenting with it and finally it sort of took everything over. Do you think that will happen with 3D, that it will become the norm?

BK: It’s one of the most interesting questions out there. It’s the question that’s called diffusion. When a new technology is introduced, will it experience diffusion?

All of a sudden it’s taken up and it’s everywhere and everyone has one. The reason 3D is so interesting, and maybe even more interesting than the color example, is that it’s been around since the 1900s. We’ve had several pushes towards 3D cinema in the 20th century, in the ’50s, in the ’80s, and now again, so in a way 3D keeps coming back. When is it going to experience diffusion? I don’t think anybody knows the answer to that right away, so we have to leave that as a question, but a good one.

For more information, check out the event registration page.