Archive for June 25th, 2010

Roger Ebert in 3D

A few weeks ago, Roger Ebert argued in Newsweek that 3-D movies are a terrible idea, a waste of a perfectly good dimension.  Some of his arguments are technical (3D needs to be brighter), some reek of resentment that someone would make money on an idea (at least 2 1/2 of them), and some are things that people have been complaining about ever since “Jaws” (story is taking a backseat to gee-whiz).  His complaints about the surcharges for substandard product may have some merit. Audiences will get wise to this, and studios and theaters will start advertising “In Real 3D” to distinguish from multi-plane 2D.

Here’s the complaint that has merit:

8. I CANNOT IMAGINE A SERIOUS DRAMA, SUCH AS UP IN THE AIR OR THE HURT LOCKER, IN 3-D. Neither can directors. Having shot Dial M for Murder in 3-D, Alfred Hitchcock was so displeased by the result that he released it in 2-D at its New York opening. The medium seems suited for children’s films, animation, and films such as James Cameron’s Avatar, which are largely made on computers.

There is a risk that the technology becomes ghettoized, and that people simply don’t take 3D films seriously because they’re associated with pap.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the technology itself is flawed, only that, like animation, it develops a barrier to acceptance in serious movies.

Ebert’s enough of a historian to hark back to all the other advances in movie technology:

9. WHENEVER HOLLYWOOD HAS FELT THREATENED, IT HAS TURNED TO TECHNOLOGY: SOUND, COLOR, WIDESCREEN, CINERAMA, 3-D, STEREOPHONIC SOUND, AND NOW 3-D AGAIN. In marketing terms, this means offering an experience that can’t be had at home.

He then goes on to plump for 48 frame-per-second film, which apparently offers a transcendent experience.  I have no doubt that 48fps is much, much better than 24fps, and I’m all for fitting theaters with it and handing film out like candy to directors and cinematographers.  Although proposing another technical fix because you don’t like the one being handed out – one which would also, incidentally, command a surcharge of its own – seems a little peevish.

But the long list of technologies suggests another answer, which is that filmmakers just don’t know how to use 3D properly yet, so it remains a toy. 

Color required an adjustment, as well.  (Remember the controversy about Turner’s colorization, because the b&w films were shot with a certain depth-of-field, and colorizing them confused the eye?)  Casablanca didn’t need 3D?  Apparently, it didn’t need color, either, but Seven Brides for Seven Brothers would be inconceivable without it.

The eye can fill in the third dimension?  There’s plenty of evidence that audiences were expected to fill in the colors for themselves, too.   Any number of films contain references to the color of a girl’s dress or of a car.

Ebert argues that since all the planes are in focus, the eye isn’t sure where to go.  That’s a technique issue that directors can solve over time, also analagous to what happened to color.

I could easily see a war picture featuring a room-to-room search and clearing of a building.  You don’t think a scene like that would be enhanced by 3D?

We see in color, we see with the periphery of our vision, we see in 3D.  There’s no reason that directors can’t figure out how to use 3D properly, just as they have previous technologies.  We won’t get another Casablanca, but by the time Lawrence of Arabia was filmed, we weren’t going to get another Casablanca then, either.

No Comments

Another View on Bubbles

One of the topics we didn’t get around to on the air was the topic of today’s bubbles.  Eric Janszen’s article for Harper’s mentions what he thought at the time were a couple of possibilities, China and Alternative Energy/Infrastructure:

There is one industry that fits the bill: alternative energy, the development of more energy-efficient products, along with viable alternatives to oil, including wind, solar, and geothermal power, along with the use of nuclear energy to produce sustainable oil substitutes, such as liquefied hydrogen from water. Indeed, the next bubble is already being branded.


Since then, Janszen has backed off on that suggestion, believing that there hasn’t been enough self-generated investment to justify the term, “bubble.”  However, some VCs in the industry, also with Internet experience, beg to differ:

“There will be many decades of bubbles ahead,” he said. “There are people out there trying to outlaw them, particularly the sore losers. But they are accelerators to technology innovation.”

He argued that the history of technology is marked by bubbles of overinvestment, from the PC to the Internet, voice over IP, and others.

The same is happening in global warming. Concerns over global warming have spurred billions of dollars in investment from venture capitalists and government research to create low-polluting alternatives to fossil fuels.

“There is definitely a global warming bubble and one of the ways I know that is because the name Al Gore (is present),” Metcalfe joked. “Al Gore inflated the Internet bubble and now he’s inflating the global warming bubble.”

This was also about two years ago, but Metcalfe repeated the Gore joke at a recent VC conference in Boston, so it’s clear his thinking hasn’t changed on this issue.

The idea of bubbles as accelerators to technology and innovation is probably true, especially if they’re limited to equity bubbles.  (Debt bubbles are much more dangerous to the economy.)  Of course, remember that VCs, especially those who get in and out early, are usually among bubble winners, so there’s the issue of perspective in Metcalfe’s bubble boosterism.

No Comments

Financial “Reform”

According to the Wall Street Journal:

…Banks [will be allowed] to trade interest-rate swaps, certain credit derivatives and others—in other words the kind of standard safeguards a bank would take to hedge its own risk. 

Banks, however, would have to set up separately capitalized affiliates to trade derivatives in areas lawmakers perceived as riskier, including metals, energy swaps, and agriculture commodities, among other things.

At one level, this makes sense.  Banks can use the markets to hedge risk, but would set up separately capitalized companies to speculate.  But that isn’t what the article says, and it’s not clear that’s what legislators have in mind.  And it shows they still don’t understand the problem.

Classifying tradeable derivates on the basis of how lawmakers perceive their risk is like classifying road repairs based on how lawmakers perceive the sturdiness of the bridge.  Al Franken probably drove back and forth across the I-35 bridge all the time, never guessing that it was unsound, and I can guarantee you he knows even less about what constitutes a “risky” derivative.

I still think the proper distinction here is between hedged and unhedged risk.  If the bank is sitting in the middle between two sets of counter-parties, it’s at considerably less risk than if it’s speculating on a directional move, or if it could get killed by a large directional move.

The other derivative legislation largely mirrors what Eric Janszen talked about on the Bubble show:

Would for the first time extend comprehensive regulation to the over-the-counter derivatives market, including the trading of the products and the companies that sell them. Would require many routine derivatives to be traded on exchanges and routed through clearinghouses. Customized swaps could still be traded over-the-counter, but they would have to be reported to central repositories so regulators could get a broader picture of what’s going on in the market. Would impose new capital, margin, reporting, record-keeping and business conduct rules on firms that deal in derivatives.

This is a big change, and pardon me if I doubt the ability of regulators to actually understand what’s going on in the market in any way that lets them steer clear of crisis.  But on the whole, more transparency is better.  I am given to understand, however, that the exchanges, which are nominally supposed to adopt the underwriting risk of the contracts, would themselves be backstopped by the government.  So much for ending “too big to fail.”

Cross-posted on Backbone Business.

UPDATE: Additional thoughts here.

No Comments