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Colorization, part II? Sony now plans to reissue some classic titles...in 3-D

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Would you like to see Men in Black in 3-D? Or maybe Ghostbusters, Spider-Man, or Casino Royale? While we’re at it, how about Taxi Driver or Gandhi? All of the movies above belong to Sony Pictures, which means that you may soon be watching them at home in glorious, eye-popping, headache-inducing, Travis-Bickle-with-his-Mohawk-in- your-face 3-D. According to a report by Bloomberg, Sony is planning to offer Blu-ray discs featuring newly enhanced 3-D versions of some of its vast archive of movies and videos as early as April 1, 2011. Just think of what that will mean! No more tedious, yawn-inducing flat images of goofy ghosts and secret agents and Spidey. If this works, the whole damn catalogue could eventually be brought up to full 21st-century visual speed.

Actually, let’s be honest: This sounds like a not-very-good idea, and potentially a mildly blasphemous one — even if no one is really talking about doing it to Taxi Driver. Personally, I don’t have much of a stake in what happens to Men in Black, which on some kiddiefied Jack-in-the-box level really did want to be a 3-D movie. But Martin Campbell did not direct the classically framed and exciting Casino Royale as some trivial zap-fest for the eyes. I wonder what he, or other directors, will think if their handiwork is suddenly converted into 3-D fodder for the new, imagistically advanced it’s-all-just-popcorn-anyway home-theater experience.

The whole experiment reminds me of an earlier adventure in taking the movie past and awkwardly retrofitting it for the brave technological future. Remember colorization? That was the fad that swept the home-video market for a mercifully brief moment back in the 1980s, when studios decided that the only way they were ever going to get “the kids” to watch boring old black-and-white movies was to turn them into…ugly, fake, Technicolor-throwup versions of boring old black-and-white movies. It didn’t work, of course. Up at the top of this column, that’s a still from the colorized version of Casablanca. Check out Humphrey Bogart’s Crayola-blue suit! Not to mention his Desert Adobe flesh tones! The paradox is that Casablanca looks more blah and fuddy-duddy in muted-crayon color than it ever did in sleekly noirish black and white. I suspect that doing the added-dimension equivalent to a movie like Spider-Man will not prove any less of a gilded-lily mistake.

Then again, the point of Sony’s experiment, assuming that it does come to pass, isn’t to sell movies; it’s to use the movies to sell the technology. That’s what the Michael Jackson tribute on the Grammys was really all about: The musical performance itself was stunning (I honestly never realized that “Earth Song” was quite so…celestial), but I suspect that out of every 15,000 people watching, 14,999 of them were staring at those blurry double images wondering, a bit aghast, if they were suddenly behind the curve on home-theater technology. I bet there were a lot of calls to Best Buy the next day.

Colorization never sold much of anything beyond the infinite zeal of contemporary movie executives to cannibalize the past as a way of marketing it. Will 3-D versions of pictures that never needed 3-D in the first place accomplish more? Or, in the wake of Avatar‘s acid-trip screen-saver visuals, will they only make the technology look and feel that much more like a ramshackle carnival contraption?

What do you think? Is 3-D home viewing the inevitable wave of the future? And, if so, do you have a true interest in seeing enhanced 3-D versions of classic movies? If so, which ones?

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