Every so often a film arrives that appears to both herald and summon the death of film as an artform. It emphasises the worst characteristics and then threatens to trump them in its disregard for the sacred. Instinctively, Jackass 3D seems one such film. The premise commands a knee-jerk reaction of venom from any self-respecting film critic and snob.
That such pointless, vulgar, and crudely sadomasochistic entertainment is receiving 3D treatment seems a crime against James Cameron himself, the sole purpose being to cash in on a willing mass audience. Then again, that has been Cameron’s career-long motivation too. Yes, it is explicitly commercial and exploitative. But so what?
When Avatar hit screens in late 2009 it captured and instructed the collective imagination of the world. Pandora, in all its magnificence, showed us, in vivid detail, the impact of technology on the human psyche.
More beautiful than the dreams of Tolkien, it was an unapologetic exercise in visual excess. Little thought to plot beyond a surface engagement, Avatar is Cameron’s essay on modern spectacle, a revelation as to its evolution, brought to us by the outspokenly spectacular technology he developed.
Such an impressive and equally unashamed moneymaking venture. Cameron made sure we knew it and planned a snap re-release to recoup box office takings that the film “lost” to Alice In Wonderland.
All the while it emphasised some of the problems with 3D, as it relates to the self-respect of the film medium. Notably it was only converted to 3D in post-production. Admirably attempted, but ultimately underwhelming. Particularly as one trailer was produced in 3D, disappointment was almost pre-determined.
Something worth doing is worth doing well, and this post-production practice suggests that Hollywood holds little regard for the worth of 3D beyond what is fashionable. The quality of the spectacle is unimportant, as its existence is what draws the crowds, and their hard-earned dollar.
Narrative too is irrelevant, with Hollywood yet to utilise 3D as an effective storytelling tool. Films have generally come off the weaker for dramatic use of spectacle to distract from narrative shortfalls. Tom Gunning’s cinema of attraction, adjusted for 21st century economic standards.
And then there was Jackass. US comedian Jon Stewart called it “the first film in 3D that makes sense”. Slapstick comedy at its crudest, virtually all humour and entertainment is derived from visual gags. It is the logical extension of the technological trend, not symbolic of its oversaturation. Without any narrative pretensions, Jackass is a film made for 3D.
Instead, the true tragedy of the medium is the way it enables filmmakers like Cameron and George Lucas to waste obvious narrative talent, retelling and rehashing past glories. Titanic and Star Wars 3D hit theatres in 2012.