There’s been a bit of a weird backlash against 3D movies of late - not all of it unjustified by any means. There are far too many movies which are converted to 3D as an afterthought - wholly a post-production exercise. But then there are the classic 3D reference movies which have had practically every frame and camera movement plotted in advance and scripted into the very fabric of the film.
My 4 favourite go-to reference 3D movies are Avatar, Hugo, Life of Pi and Gravity. Each one a technical masterpiece which wholly immerses you within the subject matter. There are certain kinds of films which are better suited to 3D and others not really. A fantastic example is the opening sequence from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo - a long tracking shot which flies over Paris, into the train station, along the platforms and hidden passages and up to Hugo’s POV in the clock tower - exhilarating and breathtaking.
The very best 3D is spectacular and emotive, and usually needs some degree of camera movement to render the correct degree of immersion. Movement really is a key component of 3D along with interesting camera angles and using the camera as part of the narrative. Action pictures tend to be best for this format, but to really make the most of it, like Peter Jackson did with the Hobbit - you need to plot every scene against how it will look on camera.
The most recent 3D movie I’ve seen this year is the final instalment of Hunger Games - the first in the series in 3D, and in some ways one that should not really have bothered. There are far too many stationary and intimate scenes for which 3D is wholly wasted on as there are no interesting camera angles used, and the focus is too tight on the key protagonists. The most recent Terminator film was similarly fairly poorly rendered. For the class of 2015, Avengers Age of Ultron was not bad, but neither was is quite as good as the best rendered 3D films this year - Jurassic World and Mad Max Fury Road. The latter is probably the most successfully rendered - with numerous ongoing tracking and panning sequences. The fact that it is a fast-moving road movie makes it particularly suitable for 3D, but director George Miller has done a fantastic job in getting the best out of the 3D format here.
When 3D is done well, it properly puts you in amongst the action and makes you feel closer to the subject matter. Poorly conceived and post-production 3D often ends up a bit disjointed - and you get a jarring feeling when transitiong from static to moving action sequences. Many viewers cannot experience 3D owing to some slight astigmatism in eyesight, or else suffering from a sort of motion sickness which means these films induce nausea. Movies which too frequently change tone can also quite obviously be disjointed and will impact negatively on the viewer too.
If however you view any of the classic 3D reference films, you cannot fail to get the sense of almost being there - almost being able to reach out and touch the principal actors and feel yourself part of their active environment. It’s a shame really that so few of the 3D films are proper 3D - where the film has been entirely approached and filmed within that technical environment - even with parts re-written to suit the medium. Simply tacking 3D onto any old narrative rarely works, it has to be a key ingredient of the movie making process, not a secondary technical consideration or and afterthought. James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee and Alfonso Cuaron all fully understand the medium and have made 3D masterpieces which utilise and show off the medium to the very best effect. I’m still considering my top 10 all time 3D movies, and when decided will post in the comments below...