Perhaps more so than any other creative endeavor, moviemaking is in a codependent relationship with technology. The milestone advances in film technology over time – color, Kodachrome, stereoscoping, analog special effects (rear screen projection, etc.), THX/Dolby, CGI, "bullet time" (a modern version of the old time-slice photography trick), and now plug-and-play 3D rigs like RealD – have unavoidably changed movies by altering what is possible. They are part of the numerator in the fraction of a director/producer's vision that makes it onto the screen. Each leap forward has provided us with stunning new films taking advantage of technology to do things that have never been done before…and each has also been an annoying fad in the hands of hacks who don't know what to do with new sounds or special effects except to lay them on thick to overstimulate the audience. Loud noises! Bright colors! Epic battles! Unfortunately a shit movie with incredible technology behind it is still a shit movie (see: every summer blockbuster action movie of the past 10 years).
We all remember the first films to use these tricks to memorable effect: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (and to a much less deserved extent, Gone With the Wind) for color, Return of the Jedi for THX/surround sound, King Kong for stop-motion and rear screen projection, Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 for CGI, The Matrix for a whole shitcan of audio-visual indulgence, and…as best I can tell, there hasn't really been such a movie for 3D yet. The post-2008 resurgence in 3D has been, in my view, a big scam desperately trying to make crappy movies interesting (Green Hornet, The Last Airbender) and to extract more per-ticket revenue from audiences, justifying an upcharge with claims of added value in the final product. 3D seems to have potential in the right hands, but it does not appear to have found them yet. Compare what George Lucas did with CGI in the christ-awful Star Wars prequels to, say, what Peter Jackson has done with it; unless I've missed something, 3D is still waiting for its Peter Jackson/Lord of the Rings moment.
I must admit that I am incredibly biased and heavily predisposed to like this film from the outset, but I have high hopes that Prometheus might be that movie. Reviews, which have criticized the predictability of the script (Charlize Theron appears to be little more than Paul Reiser's character from Aliens but with boobs, for example) have universally praised two things: Michael Fassbender's android performance and Ridley Scott's use of 3D. By using it mostly to enhance the depth of scenery and backgrounds as opposed to using it to make things explode out toward the audience every 10 seconds, the critics seem to believe that Scott has finally managed to use 3D to make a film better and more compelling than it could have been without the technology. I don't know if this is true, but I've read it consistently enough from reviews of varying tone to believe that it might be. I'll find out on Friday evening.
On a side note, I rarely get excited about movies. In the past year I've probably been to the theater twice. The last movie I couldn't wait to see (to the point of distraction) was The Watchmen, and that was simply because I liked the book so much. But I have had Prometheus-related ants in my pants for weeks now. I was a late bloomer who did not come to appreciate the Alien franchise until I was in my twenties, but I really appreciate it (at least the first two installments) now. The ability of the directors to create fear – not horror, but actual fear – and suspense is remarkable. Anything built up to this extent is bound to be a little disappointing, but I'm really looking forward to seeing if 3D can finally add something to a movie other than nausea and $5.