Monsters vs. Aliens opens in theaters this weekend, the first of what Jeffrey Katzenberg promises will be an all digital 3-D output from the animation division at DreamWorks. So far, the film is receiving rather tepid reviews from people I admire, but I want to see it anyway, for two reasons: 1) I adore animated movies; and 2) I adore '50s sci-fi films (and the more cautionary and politically charged they are, the better). I could debate the merits of 3-D for the next year on this blog; for the record, I think it's utterly ridiculous and artistically distracting, although I find it oddly appropriate that this film, an homage to the creature features of the '50s that were originally burdened with silly 3-D, should be the first from DreamWorks to explore the third dimension.
But what's prompting this discussion isn't exactly regarding the merits. My conundrum is that my lovely wife, who also adores animated films, has had a depth-of-vision issue her entire life and can't see the cinematic 3-D effect. The solution's not difficult: naturally, if we go, we'll go see the standard projection version of the film, which is available at one of our local theaters. (After all, if it were me in her situation, I know she'd want to see the standard release — there's no reason for both of us to get the short-shrift when a better, more viable version exists.)
More importantly, and perhaps not surprisingly, this has me thinking about artistic intent. On DreamWorks Animation's end, of course, the intent is to rake in as much cash as possible — one shouldn't ever doubt a studio's motive — but what about the intent of the animators? Is seeing the flattened version of an animated movie that is meant to be seen in 3-D doing a disservice to the creative vision of the crew?
This problem is along the same lines of the should-I-read-the-book-first debate, something I've had much experience with the last few months. I see myself as a writer first and a film lover second (or concurrently!), and in all high-profile scenarios, I defer to the original text. I wanted to read the graphic novel Watchmen before seeing the film, and after reading the novel, I'm hesitant that I should actually see the film. I had to wait to see Revolutionary Road until I finished Richard Yates's novel, which my wife gave me as a Christmas gift. However, when I finally saw the film a few days after finishing the book, it felt surprisingly stiff, as if a cast and crew suddenly materialized and began an impromptu remake of a film I had already seen. (I still liked the movie and have committed myself to watching it again in a couple months after cleansing my palette with other novels.) Hell, I even wanted to re-read Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are before watching the awesome trailer released this week, and that's just a trailer.
I'm a stickler and it's long plagued me that I can't have it both ways. In two forms of something that is essentially the same, someone's creative vision will be sacrificed because, if you're like me, you're incapable of washing away the first impression of an astounding work of art. Richard Yates or Sam Mendes — whose vision should I embrace first? Zack Synder, the so-called "visionary" director of Watchmen, actively (and quite pompously) promoted the idea of foregoing Alan Moore's graphic novel until you've seen his movie. And while that's not the reason I'm avoiding the film, it went a long way toward emboldening me to tell him to go screw himself.
And now I find myself in the same boat with 3-D, which was originally invented as a ploy to lure young people into seats and is, yet again, being used to lure young people into seats. But 3-D, regardless of our personal opinions on its worth, is part of the process here, if what I've read about Katzenberg is to be believed, and I don't think it's out of the question to treat the 3-D of Monsters vs. Aliens the same way you'd treat other cinematic characteristic. The goal of any art lover should always be to see the work as it was originally meant to be seen. I can tell you the print of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" that hung in my college dorm room never did justice to the actual painting that hung on the walls of the Art Institute; that is even more so for my Jackson Pollock print. Film lovers should take special considerations to see movies as they were meant to be seen: widescreen when it was made in widescreen, black-and-white when it was made in black-and-white, with the proper sound balances (mono or stereo), and, often times, seeing it on the big screen as opposed to television or computer screens. And can't that be said for 3-D?
This discussion is more simplistic than the novel-or-film-first debate because what's at stake is not character development, plot continuity, emotional depth, visual cues, and authorial intent — although, I suppose, it's worth noting that 3-D can be distracting and thus impair a viewer's ability to follow the film. Still, since I'm teaching a class in the creative process this semester, I can't help but wonder what an animator who worked on Monsters vs. Aliens would advise me to do. All subjective criticism of the film's plot and humor aside and focusing exclusively on the form, how will my experience be altered if at all?