Christopher Nolan’s dim view of a Hollywood craze: ‘I’m not a huge fan of 3-D’

June 13, 2010 | 8:04 p.m.


Night 2 of the Hero Complex Film Festival was a great success as Christopher Nolan took time from applying the finishing touches to “Inception” to sit for a lively Q&A session. There’s plenty to tell you about, but I’ve broken out an entire article on his enlightening comments on the 3-D craze of the moment. 

Christopher Nolan


Christopher Nolan, speaking at the Hero Complex Film Festival, was cheered loudly by the audience when he made a moviegoer confession: “I’m not a huge fan of 3-D.”

The director of The Dark Knight added that, after doing 3-D tests, his new film “Inception” will not be released in the trendy stereoscopic format because “we didn’t have time to do it to the standards that I would be happy with.”

Then, the professorial 39-year-old filmmaker, who burst on the scene a decade ago with Memento,” launched into a clinic on the entire topic of 3-D conversion and filmmaking that left some fans in the audience scratching their heads even as the film-school crowd leaned forward to catch every word. First off, he said, he resented the suggestion that cinema was somehow flat without those special glasses. 

Hero Complex Film Festival

“The truth is, I think it’s a misnomer to call it 3-D versus 2-D. The whole point of cinematic imagery is it’s three-dimensional. … You know, 95% of our depth cues come from occlusion, resolution, color and so forth, so the idea of calling a 2-D movie a ‘2-D movie’ is a little misleading.”

Nolan was speaking at the Los Angles Times-sponsored festival, staged at the Mann Chinese 6 in Hollywood, between screenings of his 2002 thriller Insomnia and “The Dark Knight.”

The festival is continuing Sunday with an appearance by Ridley Scott and screenings of “Alien” and “Blade Runner.”

On Friday, the special guest was Leonard Nimoy and the film was “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” 

Nodding to the movie screen behind him, Nolan told the audience of 500 that he, literally, had a dim view of the 3-D releases he’d watched: “The truth of it is when you watch a film in here, you’re looking at 16 foot-lamberts, When you watch through any of the conventional 3-D processes you’re giving up three foot-lamberts. A massive difference. You’re not that aware of it because once you’re ‘in that world,’ your eye compensates, but having struggled for years to get theaters get up to the proper brightness, we’re not sticking polarized filters in everything.”

After the massive success of James Cameron’sAvatar” and Tim Burton’sAlice in Wonderland” (they have a staggering $3.7 billion in combined worldwide grosses since December), there is a studio stampede toward 3-D, which is seen as the type of singular spectacle now needed to lure consumers away from the comfort of their home-theater sofas.

But filmmakers have reservations. The sword-and-myth adventure “Clash of the Titans” — which, like “Inception,” was produced by Legendary Pictures and distributed by Warner Bros. — was quickly converted into a 3-D film, and in the eyes of many critics, the post-production “rush job” showed. “Clash” director Louis Leterrier was beside himself as his movie came under fire, and he won’t be back to direct the sequel; still, “Clash” has made $487 million worldwide and, domestically, stands as the fifth-highest-grossing release of 2010.

Hero Complex Film Festival 2010 Christopher Nolan

Leterrier chose his public comments on the 3-D issue carefully for the simple reason that it won’t be easy to make another studio blockbuster without a studio. Nolan, who scored a billion-dollar success with “The Dark Knight,” is as secure as any director in Hollywood at the moment. But he made it clear Saturday night that although he was captain of his own destiny, it was the studios that built the ship.

“Well, let me put it this way: There is no question if audiences want to watch films in stereoscopic imaging, that’s what the studios will be doing, and that’s what I’ll be doing.”

Nolan said “Inception,” the July 16 dream-world heist film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, could have ended up as a 3-D release. “We did tests on ‘Inception’ with the different post-conversion processes, and they all went very well. It’s quite easy to do, in fact.  But it takes a little time, and we didn’t have time to do it to the standards that I would be happy with.”

Nolan said the craft of making a modern big-budget blockbuster with visual effects involved many of the same approaches needed for 3-D conversion. So, as a technical exercise, he finds it compelling but, as moviegoer, he has little interest in sitting in the dark with the finished product — at least in most cases so far. 

“It’s all based on all the visual-effects technology, you know, that we’re currently most engaged in with match moving, so forth, and rendering 2-D imagery into a 3-D space. … On a technical level, it’s fascinating, but on an experiential level, I find the dimness of the image extremely alienating.”

What about shooting in 3D — as opposed to the post-production conversion approach? Nolan said that approach necessitated shooting in video, with big, bulky gear and a beam-splitter that required trade-offs with optics he was not eager to make. “There are a lot of problems with it … the idea of shooting a whole film through a massive beam-splitter and so forth — there are enormous compromises. Post-conversion technologies probably, for me, are definitely the future, but really it is up to the audiences what they want to see and how they want to watch their films.”

Nolan is due to start filming a third Batman film in March, and he and Emma Thomas, his producing partner and wife, will be the producers of a Superman film, adding a new cinematic chapter to the superhero property that launched the comic-book industry in the summer of 1938. Nolan didn’t say it, but it wasn’t a leap to infer that Warner Bros. would be putting pressure to make those movies into 3-D releases for 2012 and beyond — and that the filmmaker was hoping new 3-D advances would come to light by then.   

“I’m certainly quite pleased with ‘Inception’ as presented — it’s very bright and very clear, so as the technology improves, those differences may change, and that is what I hope for.”

— Geoff Boucher


Inception poster

“Inception”: DiCaprio inspired by “complex and ambiguous” script 

Ken Watanabe wins over Nolan: “He’s such a movie star”

Captain America film may lead the way for Marvel in 3D

“Matrix,” “Star Wars”  — coming soon in 3-D?

Bigger than Batman: Nolan takes on “Inception”

“Inception,” the only movie that matters?

ZEITCHIK: 3-D is changing the the ways scripts are written

Nolan breaks silence on Superman and Batman

Forget crossovers: Nolan says his Batman doesn’t play well with others

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25 Responses to Christopher Nolan’s dim view of a Hollywood craze: ‘I’m not a huge fan of 3-D’

  1. Jurgen Vsych says:

    As a film director, I am in favour of any technology that helps bridge the distance between the audience and the image. But I wonder why more filmmakers (apart from Douglas Trumbull) are not experimenting with higher frame rates. It's amazing that, in 2010, we are still shooting at 24 frames per second.

  2. John Harris says:

    Don't convert films to 3-Dimensional films. It isn't worthy of discussion period because it doesn't work.
    This guy doesn't get it with stereoscopic filming. It is as totally different story telling tool. STORY TELLING TOOL! I hate upper case emphatic-ism..but there you have it. Either you know what you are talking about or you dispel an opinion on little or no experience.

  3. Kyle says:

    What an AWESOME weekend. Can't wait for next year!

  4. Alec Siegel says:

    Great weekend! Thanks, Geoff!

  5. Ryan Parrott says:

    Such a great idea for a festival. I really, really enjoyed the weekend– can't wait for next year!

  6. PokePoke says:

    Clint Morris, from MovieHole hints he knows the actor who Warners is chasing for Superman. Somebody waterboard the name out of him.
    P.S., I hope it's Tom Welling.
    P.P.S.,Otherwise then Henry Cavill.
    All other candidates put forth, so far, on fanboy message boards have been frankly hideous, from Twilight ape-man, to Gossip Girl metrosexual. ((shudders))

  7. James Elbon says:

    "The truth is, I think it's a misnomer to call it 3-D versus 2-D".
    There is a proper term that can be used. Stereoscopic 3-D versus Monoscopic 3-D.

  8. frank bones says:

    Chris Nolan is my new hero.
    For a director of massive stature to come out against 3D, as opposed to just hopping on the band-wagon, is music to my ears.
    I hate every variety of 3D, and don't think it adds anything to the story-telling.
    So, there.
    If Hollywood and TV manufacturers decide within the next ten years that I must watch everything in this abhorrent new format, I'll be plenty happy to content myself with 80+ years of prior masterworks, from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Annie Hall to The Seven Samurai to "M," none of which relied on novel technological gimmicks to impart their story or immerse you in their world.

  9. Benjamin says:

    Fantastic Q&As this weekend, Geoff. Always fun to see great films and then get to hear the world-class directors involved talk about them.

  10. Laer Carroll says:

    3D is like any other tool. You can use it well or ill. All too often the people have been using it so that it DETRACTS from the movie.

  11. Federal Burger says:

    Right-wingers now attacking Nolan, raising questions about what he's doing with Superman franchise:

  12. geoff boucher says:

    Not much of an attack, really…I think it's also a leap to presume that Nolan is making Superman dark or edgy, too. He's not directing it, after all. That post also has Millar's first name wrong, they need to fix that…

  13. Gare Cline says:

    I am a CGI previsualization artist who has recently made a foray into
    stereoscopic 3D or S3D. For whatever my two cents are worth, I think
    Mr. Nolan's comment on the future of S3D lies in creating it in post-
    production speaks more of his ignorance than anything about the nature
    of S3D. If you want real S3D, you have to shoot it in S3D. Take the
    two films, Avatar and Alice In Wonderland. One was shot in S3D and the
    other posted in S3D. The results are apparent.
    By the by, the Europeans are ahead of us in this game. Recently, a number of
    German and French features were completely shot in S3D.

  14. I. S. says:

    Great interview, and nice to have Mr. Nolan's thoughts on 3D. But I have to agree that they sound a little ill-informed. Shooting in stereo is not tied to digital capture – never has been – and Ridley Scott, who has impeccable cinematographic judgement, seems to have just let slip that he will be shooting in stereo on film. Moreover, it is hard to imagine how 2D to 3D conversion could be any filmmaker's first choice for the format. I don't expect fanboys to know anything about how it works, but I do expect more from Nolan.

  15. […] whose guiding hands are behind the next adventures of both the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel, told Hero Complex in June that he still has lots of issues with 3D, and he explained the format's limitations in […]

  16. […] all ”event” films that target younger audiences. Nolan hasn’t been shy about expressing his disdain for 3D as we know it at the moment but he also has zero interest in taking on the mantle of some anti-3D […]

  17. […] Although it comes as no surprise. Chris Nolan has mentioned how he’s ‘not of fan’ of 3D. Read why here. […]

  18. […] But contained within the naming announcement was also key news on the 3-D front: Nolan, who has widely criticized 3-D filmmaking, is turning his back on the process yet again. Both The Dark Knight and Inception […]

  19. on 3D says:

    […] Christopher Nolan points out, a film is three-dimensional. “The truth is, i think it’s a misnomer to call it 3-D versus 2-D. […]

  20. […] such as Christopher Nolan have resisted the industry pressure to go along with the 3-D parade, citing the limitations and downside of the technology as it stands now, and there have been some ominous fiscal signposts for the […]

  21. […] Nolan did an article (I thought it was in scifi wire but I can’t find it ETA: it’s here) about how he doesn’t like 3D because it compresses the light spectrum and the picture,though […]

  22. Rocky says:

    3D will go down as the biggest Hollywood bust ever. Very surprised that everyone has missed the fact the story is what brings the viewer into the true 3D world, your own mind. Relying on gimmicks to do this will fail at great expense. Hopefully it won't have any long lasting effects on the industry.

  23. […] thinks big and IMAX is a part of that. The filmmaker loves IMAX and views it — and not stereoscopic 3D – as today’s best approach to cinema spectacle and, as he put it last Thursday, the […]

  24. […] The Los Angeles Times reported that Nolan’s dislike stems from the “extremely alienating” dimness caused by darkened projector images, having to shoot on video instead of film, and various problematic limitations that the still-new technology forces. […]

  25. […] thinks big and IMAX is a part of that. The filmmaker loves IMAX and views it — and not stereoscopic 3D – as today’s best approach to cinema spectacle and, as he put it last Thursday, the […]

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