Why Is 3-D Cinema So Dark?

Inception director Christopher Nolan has bellyached about it, and so likely have many moviegoers (we heard you). No, we're not referring to the tragedy of the Spider-man musical. We're talking about the unbearable dimness of a 3-D movie.

Where does 3-D dimness come from? Who created it? Will it go away? When? Does it have a soul?

In a nutshell ... According to the so-called father of 3-D cinema, Lenny Lipton, because it projects two separate pictures, viewers lose half their light (half to one eye and half to the other). Then, as we all know, the darkly coated polarized 3-D glasses that decode the images and give them depth dim the movie further. And (not all industry experts agree with Lipton that this makes a big difference), if filmmakers didn't plan ahead and initially shoot the feature in 3-D, allowing the director of photography to add light and optimize it for the big screen -- you guessed it -- darker. And none of the above factors in the projector, which is also wearing 3-D glasses (i.e. a polarizing filter). Better theaters compensate with brighter projectors but odds are your aging, butter-stained neighborhood multiplex doesn't. In Lipton's opinion it all adds up to 3-D films screening with one-third the light level of a 2-D film.

The solution? Lasers (of course). At least that's what Kodak's Laser Projection Technology promises to be thanks to its dynamic range, deep blacks, and bright 3-D image display. (Again, provided the theater that sells you your ticket uses it.) Toshiba thinks it has an even better idea: glasses-free 3-D. Last December they started selling their 3-D TVs, which utilize the latest 3-D hologram technology. Simply put, lenticular lenses produce a 3-D effect by generating multiple perspectives for each 3-D frame -- the variety of viewing angles our brains need to "see" in 3-D. You could surprise your movie-geek sweetie with one for a few thousand dollars (plus shipping from Japan). If successful, the technology could someday make it possible for us to shrug off our 3-D spectacles of oppression. Until then, you'll just have to choose your 3-D movies (and theaters) wisely. Weigh the ticket price hike against the likelihood that the Kraken's mythical artistry may be dwarfed by the fact that all you can make out is a shadowy blob with teeth.