No film has yet persuaded me that 3D is necessary in cinema. It was used well recently in Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk. It’s an interesting component in Gaspar Noé’s forthcoming Love (which I’ll be reviewing next week in the NS). And the best you could say was that it did not obstruct the pleasures of animated features such as Coraline, ParaNorman and Up. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big supporter of 3D in everyday life. Massive fan. Huge. What can I say? It works.
But nothing has persuaded me that its apparent permanence in filmmaking adds up to anything more than a tax – a couple of quid on every ticket bought to a 3D film. (Unless you happen to remember to bring your 3D glasses from the last time you bought a pair. Which I’m sure everyone does.)
So how, you might ask, did I find myself paying for two tickets to see Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension in 3D at the Showcase Cinema in the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent? Well, it’s called Having a Teenage Daughter. She wanted to see it. I wanted her to be happy. She was holding all the cards. I was holding my double-scoop ice cream with hot fudge sauce and white chocolate polar bears.
The film is the sixth in the Paranormal Activity series. Though I found the original 2009 Paranormal Activity to be scary and impressively resourceful, I somehow managed (or contrived) to miss parts two to five. No matter. The set-up is easily grasped. All you need to know is that this is the haunted house genre relocated to the “found footage” neighbourhood.
In the first film, a young couple, who suspected that they were not the only ones living in their new home, set up a video camera to shoot all the strange goings-on. It was running whether they were awake or asleep, with the finished movie cut together from the spookiest parts. Credibility was not a problem because there was a reason for the camera to be on at all times.
I can’t speak for the consistency of parts two to five, but this attentiveness to detail and plausibility has been jettisoned for part six. Not merely jettisoned but done so with such brazenness that it amounts to a libel against the audience’s intelligence and alertness.
I won’t trouble you with the plot – to even call it a plot would suggest something worked-out or thought-through – but the film shows three people videoing one another on a couple of cameras. The opening Christmas scene you can understand: people do conceivably get the camcorders out at Christmas.
But thereafter, they film one another doing things like clearing out the garage, going through old boxes, even watching videos – yes, they film each other watching videos. At no point does anyone say, “put down the camera, bro. You’re freaking me out.” When do they think they’re going to watch this stuff back? “Hey, let’s crack open a few beers and watch those old tapes of us watching those old tapes.” I can’t see it.
The only instances permissible in plot terms are the short sequences shot with a camera that supposedly picks up any supernatural presence. The ghosts appear to us as swirls of 3D dust. On occasion, they congregate into the shape of a face that lunges at the camera. These sequences amount to no more than 15 minutes of the film. So that’s 15 minutes of 3D in an 88-minute movie.
For the rest of the picture I removed my glasses and watched what was clearly a 2D movie, untroubled by any of the blurred or doubled images that would have made me put the glasses back on. What a swizz. I don’t even like 3D and now here I was being denied it. (Remember that joke from Annie Hall? First woman: “The food in this place is really terrible.” Second woman: “I know. And such small portions.”)
Afterwards I asked the Showcase Cinema manager if she had received any complaints about the 3D in Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. She hadn’t. “What do you mean?” she asked me. Well, that there’s hardly any in it. Shouldn’t there be a warning before people pay the £5 surcharge for two pairs of 3D glasses? Ah, the manager said, that would be down to the film company. Her colleague nodded sagely. “The film is definitely in 3D,” she insisted. “It’s just not-very-good 3D.”
What can you say? Everyone’s a critic. It’s certainly novel to find the cinema staff providing post-screening reviews of the movie. My worry is that they’ll put me out of a job.