Film history books are going to point out the film Goodbye to Language as the first significant moment 3D stopped being a gimmick and started being an actual storytelling tool. Other films outside the range of action or blockbuster movies have tried the technology, but Goodbye to Language is a film from a respected director who inspired the great mainstream directors of our time. The film, being an experimental, abstract work, will not be accessible to the average film enthusiast, but the thought put into using the 3D technology to draw out the emotion of the moment should make the film a study piece for other filmmakers to examine and build on.
The film’s director, Jean-Luc Godard, came into his cinematic power in the 1960s and 1970s as part of an upstart movement of filmmakers referred to as “New Wave”. This movement rejected the technique of mainstream French and American (Hollywood) cinema. The feeling was that this type of mainstream film work focused too much on established technique and rejected innovation and experimentation. The most radical of his group, Godard’s films were unapologetic in their abstract and political nature. Because of this, his works carried power appreciated by many of the great filmmakers of the 1970s onward such as Martin Scorsese and others.
In a way, the push to bring 3D out of gimmickry could only have come from someone like Godard, whose drive to experiment would have allowed him to think of way to truly touch a viewer using the technology instead of using it to provide “wow” factor. Suddenly a drawn out shot of a woman clutching the bars of a fence has more resonance because we see the hand reaching out of the frame towards us. The direction towards the audience has more emotional impact. Long views of flowers in 3D make the viewer examine them more closely, pondering their significance in the film.
It doesn’t all work, of course. In particular once scene involved a merging of two different camera angles in one shot. The audience reaction was almost immediately one of confusion. People were trying to figure out if something had gone wrong with the projector. Further, while the film was shot entirely in 3D, it must be said that there was still the old issue of “forgetting” that the 3D was there. The technology simply became irrelevant unless a shot occurred that specifically relied on it.
That said, it’s clear that the technology was more than just a gimmick to the film. Godard has found a way to add to the visual vocabulary of the genre by using dimensionality to draw out emotion and attention to detail from the viewer, adding depth as it were, to the film experience. One hopes that other filmmakers are inspired to build on this further.