Watching The Wizard of Oz in 3D is a really interesting experience, and probably not for the reasons you might be thinking. I should probably mention first that the 3D on display here was overall very effective (much to my surprise). There wasn’t that issue of eye-strain caused by the multitude of moving objects on-screen like Jurassic Park and Pacific Rim’s conversions had. Sure there were some inconsistencies, with a number of scenes that more “3D-ified” than others, but overall it really did feel like I was looking right into the set, watching people move about on stage like a live theater show…
…Which is kind of the problem.
For all the novelty of seeing the film in this way, I found that doing so removed a lot of the “magic” of watching it as it was. I didn’t feel like I was watching a movie, I felt like I was watching…well, a mediocre stage production. I could see the flaws in the costumes and make-up clearer; I could more see the matte paintings as separate entities from the rest of the set because they couldn’t stereoscopically convert it correctly along with the set pieces. Bad lip syncing was more obvious from… pretty much everyone. I could see the strings, cheap construction, and trap doors, things that are normally hidden with “movie magic” because the 3D is forcing me to focus on these things more at every turn.
When shooting a movie, the director and cinematographer frames and sets up the shot to draw the audience to look at specifically what the director wants. This includes how many objects are present in the frame as well as their “depth” in relation to other objects on the screen. In regular 2D films, the image is given the illusion of depth based on that composition and lighting, so while you may focus on certain points in a manner that simulates distance, it’s still being done on a singular, controlled plane. I’m not especially knowledgeable on the finer details of this, but suffice to say that 3D basically takes all that careful planning the director and cinematographer did and throws it down the crap-shoot. When your eyes are looking at a stereoscopic 3D image, your vision can only focus on a very limited plane, so your eye may be drawn to a location the director never intended, or locked onto a plane that’s simply more persistent in drawing your attention (like a blurry tree obscuring your view of the action).
It’s the same with noticing actor’s placement and actions in the shot or scene. Think about the idea of “stage business” for a moment. For non-theater folk, this is when an actor on stage not directly participating in the scene is occupying himself with some sort of mundane action, maybe chatting with a background character or something. It’s clear that many of the actors in this weren’t doing what would be considered good stage business. Often they’d just be standing there looking bored or behaving in a way that would be considered unnatural in a theatrical setting. This can also be anything ranging from a major character making a distracting, over the top face while others are talking, to that stupid-ass munchkin who wouldn’t stop looking at the camera during “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”. It’s not that these things are inherently “bad” so much as the simple fact that “film business” is inherently different from stage business. It just doesn’t translate well to the three dimensional aspect of watching a theatrical performance at all!
I noticed the same thing when watching Beauty and the Beast in 3D. You know that poorly drawn, completely stationary guy in the background during “The Mob Song”? No? Well neither did I until the 3D conversion drew my attention to him like a magnet because the pop-up book look drew my eye right to him. And again, watching these films as they were originally meant to be shown pretty much prevents these kinds of problems because the composition of the shot doesn’t draw ones attention to them (or makes them peripheral enough to not be distracting).
Even outside of all of this, the effort to diorama-ize things has other unintentional side effects. The editing, namely, just doesn’t work in 3D sometimes. A lot of the cuts in this film are done in ways that, while not strictly in line with continuity, are forgivable because it helps keep the emotional and narrative momentum of the scene going at an agreeable pace. A good specific example of this is Braveheart, where during one of the charges, Mel Gibson’s weapon changes from shot to shot. Even if it was technically an error, the editor felt that sacrificing that bit kept emotional heft of the charge better than if it were done strictly with shots that fit. A more general example would be where a character starts off walking somewhere, and when we cut to another shot of them walking, they’re much further than they would have been if walking at that pace. Again, it’s all just a matter of pacing. When you’re able to look at the scene as if it were a set, these issues in continuity and placement are magnified to an extent where one can tell where the editorial manipulation of reality is intruding on what is now being perceived as “realer”. In other words, your mind is trying to make it real because of the 3D, but the reality breaking inconsistencies in the editing constantly pull you out. In other, other words, it ruins the suspension of disbelief.
Now keep in mind that this is largely just about converting movies to 3D rather than movies shot natively in the format. It’s like when they tried to post-colorize black and white movies in the 90’s. It’s simply never in the film’s best interest artistically to make such sweeping changes to how it’s presented out of the misguided perception that 3D is just naturally “better” than 2D. What’s more is that Hollywood’s obsession with making films more “realistic” and more “immersive” is, ironically, having the exact opposite effect. It’s showing that the smoke and mirrors they’ve been employing don’t hold up to scrutiny when viewed up close. Instead of being drawn into a world that should be both like but unlike our own, I often feel driven away by the blatant reality that these are just sets, and those are just actors dressed up as characters in a world that was just made in a studio soundstage. It’s like the curtain is slowly being pulled back, and unfortunately I can’t help myself but pay attention to the man behind it.