Mindless Entertainment; 3-D: Distorted, dorky or dazzling?

Here's a riddle: What do you call something large and silver and technologically savvy all over? Give up? It's Hollywood's newest phenomenon: 3-D cinema.

Since its establishment in 1922 with the movie The Power of Love, 3-D has had a tough job breaking into the big time. For many years, through the 1950s, the art was considered little more than an amusing cinematic parlor trick, and a headache-inducing one at that.

Here's how the trick worked (and be forewarned - this mindless section is about to get brainy): The eyes see, at any time, the same image from two slightly different perspectives. Knowing this, filmmakers emulated, and then manipulated, this physical fact by filming, or animating, the same movie shot from two varying points-of-view, later projecting them onto the silver screen in two different colors.

While, normally, this technique would be responsible for seriously trippy cases of double-vision, filmmakers, through their scientific mastery, managed to avoid such problems with the use of the dorkiest pair of glasses ever created. Believe it or not, the red and blue of those hideous lens's did have a point; with their filtering, only one colored image was captured by a single eye, thus birthing some of the first 3-D effects.

Of course, these 3-D effects were terrible (the 3-D's being disorienting, distorting and discoloring) while the above anaglyph system was in play, 3-D remained an E-list actor and little more than a handful of 3-D movies were released even up through the 2000s.

Fortunately for us all, filmmakers couldn't let 3-D go. In the past few years, thanks especially to the efforts of James Cameron's Avatar, 3-D has gotten itself an approved new recipe: Just throw in one pair of snazzy recyclable glasses and a helping of circular polarization, simmer and let the ticket prices rise.

What do you get? For many, including myself, it is an endlessly immersive movie experience, full of wonder, beauty and the scent of new possibilities. Sure, 3-D still has its problems; many companies, seeing its popularity, arbitrarily switch the movie's format to utilize the market with mediocre results. I'm constantly afraid that, one day, I'll have to sit through a 3-D Jennifer Aniston romantic-comedy.

I am, however, still optimistic. With 3-D TVs coming out and rumors about 3-D video games, the world of entertainment, for the first time in a while, is a breeding ground for new ideas and excitement for the future of cinema.