Though many, if not most, technophiles will react with shock and disapproval when I say this: I really prefer old school 2D TV and movies over high-definition (HD) and 3-D.
Ever since I saw my first 3D movie, some IMAX thing or another, I thought it was an OK novelty. But, the earth didn’t move, I didn’t care for having to wear uncomfortable, supposedly but not really one-size-fits-all eyewear, and I didn’t leave thinking that it would be a boring step backwards to go home and watch my old analog TV or see my next normal movie wherever and whenever that might be. Years later, watching James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar, despite admittedly more comfortable eyewear and the latest, greatest 3D technology, I had largely the same experience.
Impressive and fun, but nothing I couldn’t live without.
On the TV side of things, the experience wasn’t that different.
After 40 years of watching analog, low-definition television, of course the giant flat panel TVs that are now all the rage looked at first like a huge improvement in viewing pleasure.
And yet, when I finally pulled the trigger, brought home my first HDTV, and watched my first HD movie, I was really disappointed. It and other movies I watched later — from action flicks with tons of special effects to romantic comedies looked too…
….real to me.
Why is that a problem?
Well, I don’t know about you, but most of the time I turn to movies for a break from reality, and throughout my life I’ve been able to do so watching low-definition 2D. The real art of filmmaking, it always seemed to me, was the ability to transport the viewer to another time or place, no matter how outlandish, using skill more so than technology, the latter a simple tool that, without its operator, could not make the magic happen.
For me, the two-dimensionality of the big screen, or even the not-so-big screen, is a big part of what differentiates the movie experience from my day-to-day reality. The fact that I can’t just walk up and step into the movie means that this alternate reality is enticingly out of reach.
In addition, to my eyes, the subtlety of the cinematographer’s art — the composition of a scene, the lighting, camera angles, motions, and exposures, those elements that create ambiance and mood — is sabotaged by HD, diminished by it. And the inherent graininess in the picture quality of the old technologies is part of the overall illusion.
I suppose none of this will be a surprise to anyone who has read my occasional paeans to low-fi vinyl records — e.g. Nostalgia: Vinyl Records Edition, Vinyl Update. Along with my grainy low-def, 2D movies, give me the hiss and the pops of a gently used vinyl record spinning on a record player any day.