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Nolan declines the 3-D trend for next Batman

John DeFore

Excellent news came last week when Christopher Nolan told the Los Angeles Times that his third Batman film, "The Dark Knight Rises," will employ the large canvas of IMAX photography (as his brilliant "Inception" did), but will be neither photographed in nor reformatted for 3-D.

That's good news from multiple angles. For Nolan, it means the series' success has persuaded his studio (Warner Bros.) to let him stay true to the visual style he has created for Gotham City — dark and gritty, employing an epic scale that isn't compatible with what the director describes as the "intimacy" 3-D sometimes suggests to the viewer. In other words, Batman's city is an artist-created world we're meant to marvel at, not a theme park we're invited to explore.

For me, it means not having to saddle this impressive saga with a disposable gimmick that never delivers what it promises.

In creative terms, 3-D is a wash: There has never been a bad movie made good by it, and never been a good movie that needed it. In practical terms, it never works well enough to compensate for the clumsy ritual of donning cheap glasses, finding a good seat (seats too close, too distant or too far to the side will kill the stereoscopic effect) and waiting for your eyes to accept the illusion of depth. I've tested many versions of 3-D in the best theatrical environments, and I'd still rather watch a movie in two dimensions.

Which is why I find it so nutty that studios and electronics manufacturers are trying to sell consumers on a new wave of 3-D home-video equipment. If the effect is underwhelming on an IMAX screen, using enough audiovisual firepower to level a small building, how could it satisfy in your living room — never mind being good enough to justify spending thousands of dollars on a new TV and disc player?

Dozens of 3-D discs will be released in the months to come, from recent hits such as "Avatar" (Fox) and "Toy Story 3" (Disney/Pixar) to baffling, who-would-watch-this stuff like "Garfield's Pet Force," in which the lasagna-loving cat reportedly fights aliens and zombies. Personally, I wish they'd all go away, freeing up studio release schedules for reissues in a new format that's actually worth the effort, Blu-ray. If there's a question of studios investing in publicity for "Space Chimps 2: 3-D" versus high-def remastering for, say, a "Miller's Crossing" Blu-ray, I know which side I'm rooting for.

All the 3-D hubbub brings to mind the hucksterism of William Castle, who made his name in the 1950s by using any gimmick he could think of to trick moviegoers into buying a ticket. Here I'm using "gimmick" in the fondest possible sense: Just as I grin at every new trick the Alamo Drafthouse invents to make moviegoing a participatory sport, I can't help but admire Castle's innovations — making horror flicks seem scarier by buying life-insurance policies covering death-by-fright, offering refunds for audience members who were too terrified to stay to the end, and so on.

The on-demand Warner Archive (warnerarchive.com) recently put out an exploitation film Castle made about little people, "It's a Small World," and last year Sony released a box set, the "William Castle Film Collection," containing eight of his best-known films. But those who know his rep might assume there's no reason to see the director's films stripped of the showmanship surrounding them.

That's not necessarily so. This summer, I was in New York when Film Forum held a fest of Castle's work and gamely re-created his every trick. Watching "The Tingler," whose famous gag was to have seats wired to vibrate at the climax, I was surprised at how enjoyable the movie itself was. Yes, I laughed during scenes that were supposed to be scary, but I sincerely enjoyed myself, and my pleasure wouldn't have been diminished by watching the movie at home on a non-vibrating sofa and a plain-old television.

That's something I can't say about recent 3-D duds like "Clash of the Titans" and "Alice in Wonderland."