Thoughts on Tron Legacy and 3D Cinema

by edsilverton


I went to see Tron Legacy at the London IMAX on Saturday. My expectations were that like Avatar I’d experience a technically impressive spectacle that would ultimately leave me cold. Suffice to say it lived up to those (rather predictable) expectations, but it also made me think about the nature of 3D cinema as a whole.

I had a feeling that my sense of detachment was being caused by something more than the unfortunately thin plot/characters. It was something about the nature of 3D cinema itself.

I’ve heard that people sometimes get headaches when watching 3D movies.  I didn’t experience that, but it did somehow feel like watching it was more “work” than usual. I think I was struggling to accept the 3D world as “reality”. My brain was simultaneously accepting and rejecting the images it was receiving. I couldn’t completely “let go” as I would normally and enter a passive suspension of disbelief. Normally when watching a 2D movie the screen itself is part of the 3D reality of the cinema and crowd. With Tron it was like there were two 3D realities competing against each other.

In the 3D virtual simulation of our everyday lives that we like to call “reality” we get a continuous uninterrupted (except for sleep) stream of 3D from a single viewpoint (our eyes). Our brains are adapted to deal with this input and explain it to our conscious mind as a nice continuous story. However, a 3D movie consists of many different camera viewpoints which are constantly changing, “teleporting” us around the film set in a way that is completely at odds with our hard-coded model of reality. If you were playing a computer game like Quake and ran onto a teleporter pad you would expect to appear somewhere else and are mentally prepared for it. If you were to be randomly teleported around the game level without warning it would be disorientating.

This is what I think was going on when watching Tron. I think if somehow I was aware that I was about to be “teleported” it would cushion the experience psychologically. Also, if the 3D visuals were to the exclusion of everything else in the outside world like those old fashioned clunky VR headsets I may not have felt like the two worlds were competing for my brain’s storytelling cycles.

In conclusion; I don’t think 3D works in the cinema but I do think it could work well in games. I think the viewer or perhaps more aptly “user” needs to be fully engaged in the experience in order to accept it as their new reality. Maybe we can look forward to being Jeff Bridges in a superior VR incarnation of Tron in cycles to come.