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Saturday, April 3, 2010

The 3D Upconversion Backlash?

NOTE: Weird Movie Village is now its own domain—the complete address to bookmark (and I hope you do) is now simply http://www.weirdmovievillage.com!

UPDATE: Clash trounced How to Train Your Dragon's opening weekend and was surprisingly well received, which bears the question: Do you want to see an animated film you really know nothing about unless you read the book (Dragon) or a remake of a movie you loved watching on VHS/DVD as a kid (Clash)? What about the 3D? Those moviegoers (and there were a lot of them) seemed to have no problem with the upconversion. Nevertheless, here are my two cents:

Are cash-hungry distributors going to sink the 3D juggernaut prematurely? That's what the wags have been saying. The Clash of the Titans remake has been slammed by critics not only for the quality of its filmmaking but for the quality of the 3D as well. It was shot in 2D and then upconverted to cash in on Avatar's success (both films star Sam Worthington). Evidently the quick, economical conversion to 3D is blatantly obvious—to the point that characters look like cardboard cut-outs set against the backgrounds, hairpieces appear to be hovering above some actors' heads, and you can't tell which wing is on which side of poor Pegasus. It's also dark and blurry. Roger Ebert, who gave the film a rather favorable review, recommends saving the extra bucks and seeing it in 2D.

I'm seeing it at a screening later this month (in 2D) and will provide my thoughts on it then. I hope it's more a campy disaster of the type we like to discuss here at WMV and not a snoozer.

When I saw Alice in Wonderland, I remember thinking that the 3D effects were surprisingly subtle. Lo and behold, it's also an upconversion, but there's an important difference. James Cameron and Michael Bay, two of the most prominent voices in the debate about 3D, say that a proper conversion can take six months to a year and cost between $100,000 and $150,000 per minute.

While Clash was quickly shoved through a computer, Alice was more painstakingly transformed. Since it was originally flat, it doesn't have the varied perspectives and planes that a film made for the process does, but it's not bad. Before I learned that it was upconverted, I kind of admired its restraint! My only complaint was that the glasses render it a bit dark. Again, since it's a Tim Burton film, maybe it's dark in 2D, too.

Cameron worried that the studios' rush to upconvert their existing product to 3D in order to bump ticket prices would result in a backlash by the moviegoing public. He drew a good parallel when he said that there were about 10 bad CG movies released after Toy Story hit it big in 1995, because cynical filmmakers thought the CG was the draw, not appealing characters and an engaging story.

Certainly 3D isn't enough to save a film. I know I'm in the minority here, but I saw How To Train Your Dragon at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood last week, and I thought it was awful. The story was cliched to the extreme and the titular dragon was a charmless black blob that acted like a cat. All the younger characters were caricatures of contemporary stars and styles while their equally stereotyped elders spoke in strange Irish/Scottish brogues. They're all supposed to be Vikings, but not only is the generation gap enormous, they don't even seem to be from the same culture.

Since it was made for 3D, it certainly was dimensional, but it was still a bore and didn't justify the $17.50 ticket price.
And compared to a contemporary classic like The Lion King, whose story and characters are still exciting and recognizable 16 years later, I predict Dragon is going to date pretty quickly. Remember Disney's Hercules? It was like an animated Seinfeld episode and I don't think anyone is clamoring for a sequel.

Cameron and Bay aside, a lot of studio people have pronounced that "3D is the future of entertainment." But who needs all movies to be in 3D? Animation, sure; spectacles, okay. But what would a film like The Hurt Locker have gained from an added dimension? It might even have worked to its detriment, lessening the intensity because of the distraction of tanks popping out of the frame.

I guess the powers in Hollywood are too young to remember the original 3D boom and burnout of the 1950s. I wasn't around at the time either, but I do know that it was one of the weapons the studios used against the booming popularity of television. Film of all types were quickly put in front of 3D cameras—John Wayne Westerns, jungle epics, dramas. Hitchcock even made Dial 'M' for Murder in 3D, but it has seldom been screened that way.

What the distributors back then didn't count on was how quickly the novelty would wear off, mostly due to the audience's hatred of the nausea-inducing red and blue anaglyph glasses—and t
he same thing could happen now. Although today's processes are much more comfortable to view, it's just not something that's needed for everything.

A good movie is a good movie regardless of how many dimensions it has. I saw the original Vincent Price House of Wax (pictured here) in 3D when it was re-released in 1983, and it was great funbut it's also fun on television in 2D, so there you have it.



1 comment:

Russell Adams said...

Agreed, on all points. 3D should be a tool and not a film's entire raison detre. Remember the rush to Cinemascope and other widescreen processes, and how that bloated marginal stories? Fortunately, colorization went the way of Smell-o-Vision. If the 3D craze continues with films that are dreary in any dimension, I will stay home with my Viewmaster slides!

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