The Bigger Picture: In Glorious 3D!

200407955-001It is a time of economic turmoil. The markets are going berserk; reacting like the headless chickens we already knew them to be. Our nation faces numerous crises both domestically and overseas. And all the while, Hollywood is experimenting with a “new” trend to attract viewers, involving a pair of goggles that were only futuristic looking when Leave It To Beaver was considered edgy.

Remarkably, I took in my first 3D movie last weekend when I went to a late-morning showing of Coraline. 3D has been around my whole life in various other instances, but those glasses really haven’t changed much at all. Hey, it’s cool to be retro.

I recall getting those glasses with coloring books when I was very young. Even then I remember being very unimpressed. I always wondered if I was doing something wrong, sort of like those posters you have to squint at to see the poorly defined sailboat.

Flash forward to the beginning of February. 3D glasses we being given away in grocery stores for Dreamworks’ Super Bowl promotion of Monsters Vs. Aliens. I got my pair and headed down to a party thrown by a bunch of geeks who work for Dreamworks Animation. What better group of guys to be with to experience such a gimmick?

The second half ended and we all donned our dorky glasses and gazed into the screen. Ooh!  They started off with a paddleball flying into your eyeballs. The whole room reacted. Not a bad start. After this initial excitement, the air slowly seemed to be sucked from the room. The promo ended and the comments began. The general consensus was that it was unimpressive, and these were the guys who were actively involved in it. They all told me that the trailer didn’t use the technology as well as the feature will and that part of this was due to the cheap quality of the glasses. Then we heard another “Ooh!” as the TiVo in the other room finally caught up to the paddleball shot.

A few weeks later, I was sitting in the theater waiting for Coraline to start. The glasses were much fancier than the ones I had gotten from the grocery store, but these ones had the fingerprints of the previous viewers on them. I wondered if the experience would be any better than DreamWorks’ Super Bowl experiment. I looked around me to see the theater filling up with children and my hopes for a better experience were dashed. I like kids, but theaters filled with them never are enjoyable.

My other main concern for this new 3D push is that filmmakers will rely too much on the technology. This is a common problem any time new technologies are pushed. Remember how overused the rotating slow-mo camera of The Matrix became? The problem is that many films will likely use the 3D technology simply as a distraction. The paddleball flying out of the screen is cool and all, but somewhat shallow if it’s only done to impress the audience.

Coraline started and I donned my glasses. The first problem came immediately. I am a taller man, roughly 6’3”, and my head rests a lot higher on the seat than most audience members. I kept noticing that I had to tilt my head down to get the entire screen in the frame of my glasses. My neck started to ache almost immediately. Perhaps they could make different styles of lenses. A Kim Jong Il model would probably be large enough to cover the entire screen.

The movie went on, feeling more and more like some beautiful nightmare. For some reason, I never heard a peep from the children. My best guess is that they were too immersed and perhaps even frightened to speak. I also noticed that I was less conscious of the people around me because of the glasses. Whenever someone tried to pass me to get to the restroom, I didn’t even notice until they were tripping over my freakishly long legs. The creation of an immersive experience is truly a great advancement.

However, the actual 3D elements of the film were largely unimpressive. I found the visuals extremely rich and beautiful, but the 3D imagery rarely seemed to add too much. What impressed me most was the story, and herein lays the most important element of this process. The experience was immersive because it was a great movie both for adults and children, not just because of the 3D glasses. If filmmakers use the technology merely to show off their skills, it will ring hollow and the technology will probably disappear again.

I think we all know the true reason Hollywood is pushing 3D. It is so they can attract an audience for a marginally more immersive experience, sometimes charging an extra fee. Whether this experience is truly immersive really rests in the hands of the filmmakers. If they can use the technology to heighten the mood of a movie, 3D has a chance to really be adopted. If they use the technology merely to distract viewers from a paper-thin plot, 3D will once again end up in the waste bin next to the concessions stand. If the economy has not improved by that point, perhaps Hollywood will bring back Smell-O-Vision.

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  • http://jackfear.blogspot.com Jack Feerick

    I thought Coraline's use of 3D was impressive precisely *because* it was so subtle. There weren't a lot of “paddleball moments,” but I thought it was interesting how the depth of field would skew in the passage between worlds. The so-called “real world” was shallow, slightly claustrophobic, while the Other Mother's domain was deep and immersive. Even the kitchen seemed vast, enveloping… devouring, maybe.

    The same principle was in operation when The Wizard of Oz shifted from B&W to full-color as we went from Kansas to Oz – which, let's face it, is a pretty heavy-handed effect. In practice, though, the 3D in Coraline was more akin to the digital palette-tweaking used i many of today's films; if you're looking for the perspective shift (and I was), you'll see it; otherwise, you'll just absorb it subliminally.

    That's the real future of 3D, I think – rather than as an end in itself, it has the potential to become just another tool at a filmmaker's disposal.

  • http://jackfear.blogspot.com Jack Feerick

    That being said: 3D also makes sense for me in a film like Coraline, where you're looking at actual objects and sets that have an objective physical presence, in a way that's not true for a computer-animated movie like Monsters vs Aliens, where the depth and distance between objects is only a function of algorithms to begin with.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    All true, but I think there is a matter of source material to reckon with. Coraline was written by Neil Gaiman who works in adult and kid-lit, yet both sides are thoughtfully drawn out and equally known for being creepier than their standard bearers. With such stories to adapt, director Henry Selick would have made the cardinal mistake almost every other Hollywood production has made when approaching Gaiman's stories: going for the big bang versus the myriad, tiny and spooky ones.

    Meanwhile, Dreamworks has wrung out the Shrek towel once too often, is probably working on Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu Panda right now and have concluded their menagerie of Madagascar animal aren't funny and are all deserving of being stuffed with straw. Every one of them. Especially the Schwimmer. Monsters Vs. Aliens is all about grabbing kids by the decals and shaking the Garanimals to pieces. Expect very little subtlety, and a whole lot of detritus, whizzing by.

  • http://robertcashill.blogspot.com BobCashill

    In a nutshell–and this is very basic–there are two kinds of 3D. The red-and-green paper glasses kind (“anaglyph”), used for the commercial, a recent episode of Chuck, and I think the last Spy Kids movie, is old school, and not always very effective for color processing when done on the cheap. (But the 3D works surprisingly well on the new Friday the 13th III DVD.) Real3D, the current rage, uses the more comfortable “sunglasses” as a gateway to accurate color rendering of the image, besides the 3D. It's head-and-shoulders above its predecessor. (I'm taller than you are–there must be a height requirement in place on the Popdose film desk–and I've never had much of a problem with 3D, unless the quality of either the 3D or the film is lousy. You may adjust with repeated exposure.)

    The best effect in Coraline, as I mentioned in my review, is at the very end of the end credits. Otherwise, as you noted, its use is to enhance an already immersive environment. Some of the 50s features, like Dial M for Murder and Kiss Me Kate, pointed the way, but by that time the effects-oriented craze had run its course.

    I love 3D, and basically lived at Film Forum here in NY when they had a festival of 50s features a few years back–they proved to be better than their reputation. But I'm not really seeing it as “saving” an industry that at least now, after a torrid, recession-proof winter at the boxoffice, doesn't need it.

  • Arend Anton

    I think you're absolutely right, Jack, and that's the point I intended to make in my column. I think movie technology is best used when it is not noticed, because when done subtly it can really suck you into a different world. Coraline is simply a great movie, but the technology works because it doesn't shout, “HEY, LOOK AT THE 3D!” at the audience.

  • Pingback: Importance Of Film Trailers For Both Film Makers And Audiences | Ipod Movies, Music And Videos()

  • Arend Anton

    Yeah, the difference in 3D glasses is the main thing my Dreamworks friends were telling me. However, I really don't think it will make a major difference if the 3D effect is used unnecessarily.

    I was sitting towards the middle of the theater. Next time I take in a 3D movie I'll try sitting closer to the back. Maybe that will help, fellow giant.

  • http://www.lancereviews.homestead.com Lance Berry

    I've never been a fan of the 3-D experience, and avoid such films at all cost, preferring to see the standard versions(if one exists) instead.

    However, I gotta say…if you're going into a film which you KNOW is supposed to be a “kids' movie”, you can't complain about the theater filling up with kids! That's like going to the DNC and complaining “Where the f**k are all the Republicans?!”

  • Arend Anton

    First of all, “Coraline” isn't your standard kids movie and I wouldn't have expected as many really young ones as I saw. It's pretty heavy and dark.

    Secondly, I wasn't complaining about them. I love kids, but they have a habit of talking through movies. I was just stating the fact, but it's not going to deter me from watching a movie that I think looks interesting. Sorry if it sounded like a complaint.

    And regarding the DNC convention, the answer is that the Republicans are all around you. They're just wearing the Democrats' skin.

  • Arend Anton

    I think you're absolutely right, Jack, and that's the point I intended to make in my column. I think movie technology is best used when it is not noticed, because when done subtly it can really suck you into a different world. Coraline is simply a great movie, but the technology works because it doesn't shout, “HEY, LOOK AT THE 3D!” at the audience.

  • Arend Anton

    Yeah, the difference in 3D glasses is the main thing my Dreamworks friends were telling me. However, I really don't think it will make a major difference if the 3D effect is used unnecessarily.

    I was sitting towards the middle of the theater. Next time I take in a 3D movie I'll try sitting closer to the back. Maybe that will help, fellow giant.

  • http://www.lancereviews.homestead.com Lance Berry

    I've never been a fan of the 3-D experience, and avoid such films at all cost, preferring to see the standard versions(if one exists) instead.

    However, I gotta say…if you're going into a film which you KNOW is supposed to be a “kids' movie”, you can't complain about the theater filling up with kids! That's like going to the DNC and complaining “Where the f**k are all the Republicans?!”

  • Arend Anton

    First of all, “Coraline” isn't your standard kids movie and I wouldn't have expected as many really young ones as I saw. It's pretty heavy and dark.

    Secondly, I wasn't complaining about them. I love kids, but they have a habit of talking through movies. I was just stating the fact, but it's not going to deter me from watching a movie that I think looks interesting. Sorry if it sounded like a complaint.

    And regarding the DNC convention, the answer is that the Republicans are all around you. They're just wearing the Democrats' skin.

  • http://jackfear.blogspot.com Jack Feerick

    I thought Coraline's use of 3D was impressive precisely *because* it was so subtle. There weren't a lot of “paddleball moments,” but I thought it was interesting how the depth of field would skew in the passage between worlds. The so-called “real world” was shallow, slightly claustrophobic, while the Other Mother's domain was deep and immersive. Even the kitchen seemed vast, enveloping… devouring, maybe.

    The same principle was in operation when The Wizard of Oz shifted from B&W to full-color as we went from Kansas to Oz – which, let's face it, is a pretty heavy-handed effect. In practice, though, the 3D in Coraline was more akin to the digital palette-tweaking used i many of today's films; if you're looking for the perspective shift (and I was), you'll see it; otherwise, you'll just absorb it subliminally.

    That's the real future of 3D, I think – rather than as an end in itself, it has the potential to become just another tool at a filmmaker's disposal.

  • http://jackfear.blogspot.com Jack Feerick

    That being said: 3D also makes sense for me in a film like Coraline, where you're looking at actual objects and sets that have an objective physical presence, in a way that's not true for a computer-animated movie like Monsters vs Aliens, where the depth and distance between objects is only a function of algorithms to begin with.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    All true, but I think there is a matter of source material to reckon with. Coraline was written by Neil Gaiman who works in adult and kid-lit, yet both sides are thoughtfully drawn out and equally known for being creepier than their standard bearers. With such stories to adapt, director Henry Selick would have made the cardinal mistake almost every other Hollywood production has made when approaching Gaiman's stories: going for the big bang versus the myriad, tiny and spooky ones.

    Meanwhile, Dreamworks has wrung out the Shrek towel once too often, is probably working on Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu Panda right now and have concluded their menagerie of Madagascar animal aren't funny and are all deserving of being stuffed with straw. Every one of them. Especially the Schwimmer. Monsters Vs. Aliens is all about grabbing kids by the decals and shaking the Garanimals to pieces. Expect very little subtlety, and a whole lot of detritus, whizzing by.

  • http://robertcashill.blogspot.com BobCashill

    In a nutshell–and this is very basic–there are two kinds of 3D. The red-and-green paper glasses kind (“anaglyph”), used for the commercial, a recent episode of Chuck, and I think the last Spy Kids movie, is old school, and not always very effective for color processing when done on the cheap. (But the 3D works surprisingly well on the new Friday the 13th III DVD.) Real3D, the current rage, uses the more comfortable “sunglasses” as a gateway to accurate color rendering of the image, besides the 3D. It's head-and-shoulders above its predecessor. (I'm taller than you are–there must be a height requirement in place on the Popdose film desk–and I've never had much of a problem with 3D, unless the quality of either the 3D or the film is lousy. You may adjust with repeated exposure.)

    The best effect in Coraline, as I mentioned in my review, is at the very end of the end credits. Otherwise, as you noted, its use is to enhance an already immersive environment. Some of the 50s features, like Dial M for Murder and Kiss Me Kate, pointed the way, but by that time the effects-oriented craze had run its course.

    I love 3D, and basically lived at Film Forum here in NY when they had a festival of 50s features a few years back–they proved to be better than their reputation. But I'm not really seeing it as “saving” an industry that at least now, after a torrid, recession-proof winter at the boxoffice, doesn't need it.

  • Arend Anton

    I think you're absolutely right, Jack, and that's the point I intended to make in my column. I think movie technology is best used when it is not noticed, because when done subtly it can really suck you into a different world. Coraline is simply a great movie, but the technology works because it doesn't shout, “HEY, LOOK AT THE 3D!” at the audience.

  • Arend Anton

    Yeah, the difference in 3D glasses is the main thing my Dreamworks friends were telling me. However, I really don't think it will make a major difference if the 3D effect is used unnecessarily.

    I was sitting towards the middle of the theater. Next time I take in a 3D movie I'll try sitting closer to the back. Maybe that will help, fellow giant.

  • http://www.lancereviews.homestead.com Lance Berry

    I've never been a fan of the 3-D experience, and avoid such films at all cost, preferring to see the standard versions(if one exists) instead.

    However, I gotta say…if you're going into a film which you KNOW is supposed to be a “kids' movie”, you can't complain about the theater filling up with kids! That's like going to the DNC and complaining “Where the f**k are all the Republicans?!”

  • Arend Anton

    First of all, “Coraline” isn't your standard kids movie and I wouldn't have expected as many really young ones as I saw. It's pretty heavy and dark.

    Secondly, I wasn't complaining about them. I love kids, but they have a habit of talking through movies. I was just stating the fact, but it's not going to deter me from watching a movie that I think looks interesting. Sorry if it sounded like a complaint.

    And regarding the DNC convention, the answer is that the Republicans are all around you. They're just wearing the Democrats' skin.