3-D Glasses Make A Comeback

The big feature at the movies this year is 3-D. Today's 3-D glasses are hard plastic, not the cardboard things of the past. Although they are built to eliminate eye strain and headaches, they still take a little getting used to.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

(Soundbite of movie, "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs")

Mr. JOHN LEGUIZAMO (Actor): (As Sid) I get it. You have your family, and I'm better off alone by myself. A fortress of solitude in the ice forever, a lone, lonely loner.

Mr. RAY ROMANO (Actor): (As Manny) That's a lot of aloneness.

Mr. LEGUIZAMO: (As Sid) Precisely.

BLOCK: That's Sid the sloth, his voice echoing as he recedes from the foreground. If you see "Ice Age" in 3D, it looks like he's getting farther away, too.

From New York, Jesse Baker reports on how 3D works, glasses and all.

JESSE BAKER: When I say 3D glasses, don't think about those flimsy, red and blue cutouts of the 1950s. Now 3D glasses are polarized and built to eliminate eye strain and headaches, but they still take a little getting used to.

Just ask Nazeer and Salena Griffin(ph) here. They just saw "Up" in 3D.

How were the glasses?

Ms. NAZEER GRIFFIN: Nice, but I didn't really see stuff, like, popping out, and I didn't want to put them on.

BAKER: How come?

Ms. SALENA GRIFFIN: 'Cause I couldn't see with them.

BAKER: Currently, there are two types of 3D glasses being handed out in theaters. RealD, the more popular option, are lightweight plastic glasses that you get to take with you when you leave. The Dolby 3D glasses have to be returned and washed in a giant dishwasher-thing before they can be reused. The type of glasses you need depends on the type of screen your 3D film is projected on.

How does 3D work? Amelia Bartolone will explain. She's an associate clinical professor at the SUNY College of Optometry in Manhattan. And she says 3D takes advantage of the fact that our brain doesn't want to see double.

Professor AMELIA BARTOLONE (SUNY College of Optometry, Manhattan): So the image that is shown is the same image, just displaced a little bit, and the glasses are a way of filtering it out so that the right eye sees one image, and the left eye sees another. And in order for the brain not to see double, it has to aim and focus in front of either the movie screen or the 3D test that you're doing, and that's how the object pops out.

BAKER: That's the technology, but the movie still needs a compelling plot.

Mr. GREG FOSTER (IMAX Filmed Entertainment): When you make a movie solely for the purposes of making a 3D movie, I can almost guarantee you it's not going to work.

BAKER: Greg Foster of IMAX Filmed Entertainment says the story needs to transport you somewhere.

Mr. FOSTER: That can be the top of the International Space Station, under the sea. That can be Hogwarts. That can be the North Pole on "The Polar Express."

Unidentified Man #1: Got your 3D glasses? Okay, and you're going up.

BAKER: In this New York theater, an adult 3D matinee is $16.50. Okay, kids, don't worry. I have an argument to get your parents to shell out those extra bucks.

Eye doctors say this 3D craze could actually do some good for your eyes. Optometrists use 3D effects to help children with lazy eyes learn how to aim and focus. So watching a 3D movie is kind of like spending an hour and a half doing eye exercises.

Clayton Bush(ph), Ariel Cundy(ph) and Shawnie Cuthry(ph) just finished their eye exercises.

Mr. CLAYTON BUSH: It was a little bit of hard to focus.

Mr. SHAWNIE CUTHRY: What did you think?

Ms. ARIEL CUNDY: 3D sometimes makes my eyes go, like, dizzy…

Mr. CUTHRY: It's hard to focus after awhile.

Ms. ARIEL CUNDY: Yeah. Because when things move really fast.

Mr. CUTHRY: Taking the 3D glasses off was tough, though, 'cause, like, everything else was blurry, but…

BAKER: So, judging by at least these three New York moviegoers, we might just be a nation in need of a national eye exam.

For NPR News, I'm Jesse Baker in New York.

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