While Avatar is smashing box-office records around the world, the 3D version of James Cameron's epic is making some people sick – and sparking a debate about the dangers of watching movies in that format, especially for those with eye problems.
In China, Cameron's movie has caused a range of side-effects including eye ache, dizziness and nausea and even vomiting, among a small section of the audience, according to China Daily.
Internet chat forums on the film's fan sites have been inundated with complaints from people who claimed the movie made them feel depressed and despondent. On one site, some bloggers confessed they felt repulsed by life on Earth after witnessing the beauty of life on the planet Pandora.
“I want to go to Pandora because life here sux [sic], with no sense of companionship, and because mankind has destroyed our planet,” one distressed soul vented on Naviblue.com.
The rantings of vulnerable, impressionable people? Maybe in part, but there are legitimate concerns about 3D viewing, experts say. “With Avatar, the technology has become so highly sophisticated that it makes the screen world seem more vivid than reality can ever be,” Michael Foley, author of the upcoming book The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy, told The Times. “The failure of primary experience means that the film becomes the reality instead ... The reality of the screen is infinitely more real than the reality around us.”
That view is shared by Dr Gordon Claridge, Professor of Abnormal Psychology at the University of Oxford. “The closer a movie gets to reality, the more it has the ability to move you,” he told The Times. “If something is written fiction you need to use your imagination to visualise it. But if it's 3D, and very realistic, it can become difficult to distinguish from reality in that moment.”
US experts warn that 3D viewing can be challenging for some people with glaucoma and other eyesight conditions. "The illusions that you see in three dimensions in the movies is not exactly calibrated the same way that your eyes and your brain are. If your eyes are a little off to begin with, then it's really throwing a whole degree of effort that your brain now needs to exert,” Deborah Friedman, a professor of ophthalmology and neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York, told Reuters. “This disparity for some people will give them a headache."
All of which may mean a health risk for a section of the population, particularly with the development of 3D television sets over the next couple of years.
According to Chinese media, a middle-aged woman in Hangzhou went to hospital after watching Avatar feeling, so dizzy she could hardly stand. Another viewer said in an internet posting he felt acute eye ache and had blurred vision. Doctors later found he had acute glaucoma
The sci-fi blockbuster may be causing some unintended grief overseas but it doesn't seem to be having any adverse affects here. I asked one of our major chains if they'd had any complaints from cinemagoers, and the answer was no.