Archive for January, 2010

The obligatory baby video

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

(if video doesn’t embed, here’s the link)

I am just over two months into fatherhood, so it seemed like a good time to compile some footage and post a video. I think my parenting path is pretty typical at this point. You spend years looking at all the different families, noting all the things you’ll never do to your kids, all the stupid crap you’re never going to be a part of. Soon the idea of being “independent” and “against the grain” becomes self-justifying, and, after rejecting every aspect of parenting condemned as “typical”, you start to wonder what’s left. Is there a way to be a completely unique parent? A hipster parent? Pretty soon you’re acting like a self-righteous vegetarian, a holier-than-thou asshole. And when it comes down to it, when the kid is actually here and in front of you, all of that “never see me doing that” preaching gets flushed right down. I’m taking tons of photographs, shooting video, making ga-ga sounds, and happily curtailing most of my already-voluntarily-minimal social life. Why? Because he’s amazing, this little guy, and I love him. And I’m going into parenting the same way I go into anything else in life: do what feels right and try not to be an asshole about it.

3-D crap is still crap (in 3-D)

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

I can pinpoint the moment when I lost my stomach for large concert venues, right down to the minute. It was June 28, 1997, 9:13pm, at Soldier Field, attending U2’s PopMart tour. It took less than two hours for U2 to unravel, dissect and anesthetize everything I had loved about live music, and by the time Monica and I left (cutting out before the encores), I decided to never, ever see another stadium concert (the exception is Rush, who transcend all the hocus pocus to reliably deliver on the Big Show, again and again). Too many people who I didn’t like and too much chaos, all of it just plain obscenely and oppressively gigantic. U2, consequently, has saved me hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in ticket sales. James Cameron, I’m afraid, has just accomplished the same feat for 3-D movies.

[Please put on your 3-D glasses now. Ready?]

Yes, people, I have seen Avatar. I heard about it years ago, as Cameron was cooking up his secret weapon. I knew of the name, knew that he was filming it in 3-D, with computer and photography equipment that he was literally inventing. I imagined some souped-up, next generation Tron, the realization of William Gibson on the big screen (the sequel to Tron will, in fact, be in 3-D, by the way . . . it’s a Disney film, and Disney . . . well, read on). The 3-D idea, in particular, seemed outlandish and impossible. Then we had the flood. The last few years has seen a steady increase in 3-D feature films, most of them animated, the others concert footage. This broke open in 2009, spearheaded by Disney.

This instant batch of 3-D has been a big shot in the arm for theaters. I am a home theater enthusiast, and my personal set-up is basically a medium-screen, full featured theater. I have no reason to go out to the AMC, where every other jackass is whipping out a cell phone to text friends and family, emitting tiny, blinding blue-white display beacons that are far more distracting in a darkened auditorium than cellular conversation. I can eat whatever I want, pause everything, crank it up and turn it down, all from the comfort of my favorite chair, in the presence of people I know. I can’t, however, view anything in 3-D. So, if 3-D seems worth it, I get out to the theater and cough up the big bucks for a unique experience.

The movie studios, though, have long realized that the theater income is only part of the picture. The home market has presented ample opportunity to re-sell the entertainment. I own The Empire Strikes Back on VHS (three times), laserdisc and DVD. I’d probably own the Blu-ray, too, if they bothered to release it. It’s all part of the plan, though. Once the next format has sufficiently settled, they will release a better, sharper, snazzier version that I can once again purchase. For now, I can see two more markets coming up. 3-D is happening now. The next HD will be later. By the time this extended joke has played itself out, I will have payed hundreds of dollars to keep on watching Vader whack off sweaty Luke’s stupid hand and Yoda babble his “there-is-no-try” crap, on a small screen, in letterbox, in Prologic surround, in Dolby Digital surround, in HD projected onto a large screen, in lossless 7.1 surround, in 3-D, in 4320p UHDV with 22.2 surround and, finally, playing directly into my occipital lobe via a convenient jack on the back of my neck. There is no “try”, there is only “do”, again and again and again.

They have us because they know that we love the shiny stuff. Deeper than that, they know that we want these symbols of identity (see a previous Megablog post for more dirt on this idea). Apple Computer has perfected this, providing a perfect model for perpetual sales. Give the people the shiny new machine, and let them feel special for about six months or so. Then show them a shinier, newer machine. It shouldn’t take more than another year before that old-shiny machine looks dull. Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade.
Buy, buy, buy.

I knew that the 3-D home market was getting prepped as soon as I saw the Disney Digital 3-D imprint. They weren’t just putting out the occasional 3-D flick. They were full-throttle churning, and this was destined to hit home. It makes sense. Get people to re-purchase all of their beloved movies. Better yet, get them to ditch their thousand-dollar televisions for a new batch of two-thousand-dollar televisions. They’ve been priming the pump for the last couple years, and now, at the 2010 CES, oh my gosh, there’s a slew of 3-D televisions! Sound the trumpets, launch the press kits, and force all the journalists to check their AP style manuals for “3D” vs. “3-D”!

Somewhere in the Dark Tower, the Crimson King is sitting on his throne, hands together, smile beaming. The pieces are all falling into place.

So now we have Avatar. This isn’t just a retro-fitted, 3-D-i-fied re-release. It was built to be an immersive experience, with real acting, a real story, true innovation. Let’s see how fast this thing can go.

Cameron was cooking this thing up long before the big wave of Disney marketing. The 3-D effects have been integral to the story from the moment it hit the page. The only times we have had such overt writing explicitly for 3-D was in the salad days of Jaws 3D and Friday the 13th, Part III. The new crop of 3-D films are generally viewed conventionally, with 3-D money shots dispersed throughout various scenes (okay, Friday the 13th, Part III was all about the pitchfork-in-your-face money shot). Avatar, though, is an environment. The 3-D is as constant as the patented Cameron breakneck action. It is a wondrous ride, a visual feast.

It also made me want scream my way out of the theater off and on, for two-and-a-half hours.

Cameron, with his supreme effort of absolute 3-D saturation, has finally shown me why 3-D stinks. These movies have a habit of sticking things right in your face. A forest scene will always have a stray branch poking you in the eye. A room full of people will include the back of some dude’s head, right there. Flying creatures and ships fly right at you, every time. In a conventional movie, there is usually enough depth of field for the viewer to decide where to focus. Depth is achieved when the viewer selectively focuses on something “far away”, and then back to something “close”. The viewer’s brain does some of the work, deciding that a particular swooping pan over a mountain range is breathtaking, or that the Millennium Falcon’s flight into the heart of the Bigger-Badder Death Star is hair-raising. 3-D movies remove that viewer participation. In an effort to further immerse viewers into a scene, the 3-D movie dictates the aspects of that scene that should stand out. The viewer, however, can’t escape. Yes, I’m in a room full of people and the back of this guy’s head is right there in my face. I got it. However, the head monopolizes the entire scene. If there is any additional depth of field, I wouldn’t know because I stuck behind this guy with the 3-D freakin’ head.

The experience becomes similar to standing on the floor of a General Admission concert. Unless you’re exceptionally tall, you’re going to spend most of the show jockeying for a clear view of the stage, with various heads obscuring your enjoyment on and off throughout the performance. Avatar was full of these moments. Get that fern out of my face, dammit! Hey! You! Bazooka! I’m more interested in the expression of the person holding you, but I can’t read that character’s face because your big fat bazooka mouth is hitting me in the forehead. Instead of expanding the depth of a movie, 3-D flattens it. There are the things that are right in front of you, and then there’s all the other stuff (that is, the actual movie) that is not worthy of your attention.

The effect simply grew more intense and insistent as the film progressed. Soon enough I felt as though my head was encased in a fish bowl. I felt as though I was wearing an astronaut suit, sitting there in my comfy chair, trying to enjoy this wild movie, even though I could feel the sides of the helmet tickling my hair. And my suit was probably running out of oxygen. Did they include some damned oxygen in those fancy glasses? Did anyone really care about me? Could someone- GET that branch out of my face, dammit! Argh!

I have, admittedly, only seen three of the Real3D films: Coraline, Up and Avatar. So far, Coraline was the only film that came close to doing it right. There were less things sticking in my face. There were things . . . out there. And I wasn’t being told that I had to look at them. All I had to do was pay attention to the story, regardless of the flourishes.

3-D has a long way to go. At this point, it is simply an occasionally nauseating gimmick. Eventually, someone will use it to make art, to truly explore the possibilities of telling a story within the depth of the z-axis. More importantly, 3-D computer displays will push the evolution of interface design. For now, though, we have things sticking in our eyeballs. And, of course, U2 is just as much a part of this as they were in the nauseation of stadium concerts. In the end, none of this is as exciting as watching Polyester with an Odorama card. Someday they will figure that out, and then I’ll be smelling Yoda.

[note: compared to many previous Megablog entries, the above yammering can, indeed, be considered “succinct”]

My New Year’s Resolution

Monday, January 4th, 2010

is to be succinct.