As great as it might be to see, say, the mirror scene from "Citizen Kane" in 3-D, the film somehow has endured the last 70 years without any special effects – other than groundbreaking cinematography and direction.
While we don't expect the psychologically complex Charles Foster Kane to turn up in additional physical dimensions anytime soon, brace for a potential new spate of fiddling with classics, following the huge success of the 3-D rerelease of "The Lion King."
The new version of the Disney classic is a master stroke: The movie's visual majesty lends itself to 3-D treatment and the move gives generations too young to have seen the 1994 film in theaters an opportunity to catch it on the big screen, where it belongs.
But we're a tad concerned the success of the rerelease could beget a vicious circle where other films are hastily and unwisely converted to 3-D in grab for box office bucks. James Cameron, who used 3-D motion capture technology to brilliant effect in "Avatar," is converting "Titanic," which is at least his own film. Ditto for George Lucas, who is planning 3-D rereleases of the "Star Wars" films. Most fans will be probably be satisfied as long as he avoids any more pointless scene changes destined to make purists scream, "Nooooooo!"
We’re already seeing signs, though, of the trend toward 3-D conversions moving with an undue need for speed. The Los Angeles Times notes that "Top Gun" is slated for a 3-D do-over, which strikes us as odd for a 25-year-old movie whose lasting popularity likely has less to do with action sequences than unintentional camp.
The last-minute conversion of Tim Burton's visually arresting "Alice in Wonderland" didn't work as well as it might have because he shot the film with 2-D intentions. We cringe when thinking about a possible 3-D overhaul of his film’s most powerful influence, “The Wizard of Oz” (a movie reported to be due for a reboot or two). Would the Land of Oz loom any grander in the collective imagination if the Wicked Witch of the West seemed to ride her broomstick into the audience?
"Citizen Kane," of course, was at the center of the colorization battles of the 1980s. We expect – or at least hope – there will be similar debate as Hollywood studios dip into back catalogues for runs through the digital 3-D machine. There’s an art to filming in black and white as much as there is in making movies in a mere two dimensions. The value of introducing older films to new audiences and a given flick’s suitability for conversion need to be weighed carefully against possibly changing the movie’s meaning or impact, through a loss of subtly or a shift in emphasis of the visual storytelling.
We’ll humbly suggest that before taking on any more conversion projects, media moguls, our current-day Charles Foster Kanes, take a good look in the mirror.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.