Technological Advances in Cinema: The Similarities Between Fantasia and 3-D

Via: Trond Lossius (Norwegian sound guy)

Yes, I know, 3-D, ugh,it almost makes you want to puke just thinking about it doesn’t it? It does have its proponents though, and it seems that there is no stopping Hollywood in it’s unending quest to convince us that 3-D really is the latest and greatest advance in cinema technology (again).

Yesterday I was listening to the Fantasia soundtrack, which is really just a collection of the likes of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with classical pieces thrown in between, and it struck me just how badly they wanted people to realise that they were listening to a stereo, yes, stereo recording.

In this day and age, we take stereo for granted, it’s second nature, heck, I can listen to stereo music on my phone! Back then of course, people could still remember when Al Jolson told them that movies could have sound, so it was still a relatively new phenomenon.

So Fantasia was the first film to be released with stereo sound that was so new, there was no method for actually playing it in many cinemas, so a new system, called Fantasound was created but only installed in a couple of the large picture houses.

However, it is only on listening to the original, remastered score that you realise that the mixing is honestly, almost atrocious. Sounds pop up all over the place with little regard to their location in the orchestra. Today, recordings are mixed very much faithfully to the original recording session. In Fantasia, it looks like they hadn’t figured that out yet, so sounds whizz back and forth from one ear to the other so often that it nearly makes you dizzy.

Which is interesting because, you’d would almost swear that the sound engineers were trying to pound us over the head with the fact that the recording is in stereo. It’s as if they decided to use the extremes of their new discovery to tell us in a not-so-subtle way that we have two ears.

That sounds kinda familiar doesn’t it? What else do we have two of? Oh yeah, eyes! Is there a way of seeing two images with them as well? Why yes, yes there is! it’s called 3-D! OMG!!!! [The preceding paragraph may have contained sarcasm]

Can you think of any films today that seem to trumpet 3-D imagery as if it’s the latest and greatest thing ever invented? I’m sure you can, they’re all at it these days. The question is, why do they see fit to beat us over the head with the achievement when in reality, like Fantasia, it ends up being a whitewash of 3-D effects that are in reality, gimmicks that add nothing to the film.

With Fantasia, Walt Disney was not merely trying to beat it into everyone’s skull that his film had stereo, rather that was just part of his constant searching for the next technological advancement. Stereo in films is taken for granted now, heck, surround sound is taken almost mandatory for cinemas at this point.

The point is that the sound in films today is used in much more subtle ways than in Fantasia and it’s high time 3-D was handled the same way. There is no need to parade it from the rooftops. At this point, plenty of people have seen a 3-D films and are aware of it’s benefits and limitations, why not use 3-D in the way it is supposed to, add depth to every shot, not just the one of the missile flying towards the audience.