On my birthday this year, Rottentomatoes.com released this short interview with Steven Spielberg, in which he suggests that "Jurassic Park" was a natural fit for 3D conversion, because "there was a lot of... subconscious 3D etiquette in my first approaching the material a long time ago."
What is "3D Etiquette"?
In the interview, Spielberg describes shooting the film with "a lot of visual background-foreground dynamics", and shots in which "creatures and people are running toward the camera" (he calls this the "Trombone Effect"). He's trying to do something that most major filmmakers are struggling with at the moment: he's trying to describe the vocabulary of a new dialect in the language of cinema.
A New Dialect?
Every time a major technology emerges in cinema, it challenges filmmakers to find new ways to incorporate it in to their storytelling.
When cinema itself was invented, it took more than a decade for a vocabulary of angles to fully form. Movies started out as 'moving snapshots', with the camera un-moving, set far enough away so the entire scene could be recorded without interruption. Soon, editing allowed filmmakers to show sequences from multiple angles, or to tell stories across multiple sets or locations. As filmmakers continued to experiment with camera placement and staging, they learned better ways to express meaning through the camera. Close-ups draw our attention to details or emotions. Low-angle shots express power, whether heroic or villainous. High-angle shots represent danger, vulnerability or isolation. These terms represent cinema's basic vocabulary, the nouns and verbs of motion picture expression. They tie in to cinematic syntax, developed and refined by editors who organize sequences in to subject-predicate systems that convey meaning by the careful juxtaposition and order of shots.
The introduction of sound in the late '20s forced a change in cinematic language. The building-blocks (the shots and angles) remained, but their meanings could be augmented by use of sound. At first, sound was used in its basic technical form - the audio parallel to the recorded image. In itself, it conveyed no meaning. Very quickly, filmmakers learned to utilize sound in less literal ways, with effects like voice-overs, sound-bridges and musical scores. Audio became a second layer of cinematic grammar.