Friday, May 4, 2012

How Good Is The 3D In The Avengers?

If the estimates hold true, half of the people likely to see The Avengers already have, and the other half are about to see it in the next 48 hours. It's an event film like no other before it; five films of build-up, followed by a massive pay-off. The Avengers has the world captivated, and there's hundreds of reviews out there that can help you interpret the narrative, its plot and its worthiness as 'one of the best superhero films of all time'. Today's post asks "should I see The Avengers in 3D?" and "How Good Is The 3D In The Avengers?"


The Avengers was shot in 2D, and converted in post-production. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that, as of April 2012, the gold standard in this process belonged to Titanic 3D. That film had a few awkward moments where some characters' eye-lines gazed in a different direction than you'd expect, but most of the time the work was flawless. Using Titanic as a yardstick, how does The Avengers fare? It's brilliantly well done. Having seen it twice now, I can confidently say this is the 'silver standard' in post-production 3D conversion. According to Marvel, despite being shot in 2D, "every shot was framed and designed to be able to accentuate the 3D process" that would be dovetailed in at the end. The basic approach seems to have been '20 minutes of high depth, followed by 20 minutes of low depth, followed by 20 minutes of high depth' etc. The technicians behind this are literally kind on your eyes, making sure they dial up the conversion only when it's absolutely vital to do so. Cynics may regard this as a money-grabbing ploy I suppose, but I prefer to think of the 3D application in The Avengers as they themselves think of The Hulk; a weapon capable of great impact, to be deployed rarely lest it runs away from your control.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Rarely, if ever. By and large, it feels like Joss Whedon and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey treat the screen as an unbreakable wall. Given the film was shot in 2D, this seems wise. Whenever the 'pop' effect was used in the recent conversion of Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, the background had to be warped in the background to fill the rest of the frame, and whatever was being stretched into the audience in the foreground had a graininess to it that felt like they'd zoomed too far. The Avengers resists this temptation, so if you're only keen on seeing shields and hammers coming out of the screen, perhaps you should save the money for Piranha 3DD.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Vertigo inducing. Seeing the 3D in The Avengers makes me wish Brad Bird would use the same team to go back and convert Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol; the techniques applied here redefine the sensation one imagine you'd feel hanging off a building, surrounded by bad guys. Much of the last half hour is set in central Manhattan, reeling from one skyscraper to the next. The 3D effect is the most noticeable in this section, because the action is staged in four tiers. There is the ground-based human team, covered by the sentry team several floors above, with everything fenced in by the aerial weaponry of Iron Man, and then there's the Stark Tower far in the distance opening a portal into deep (literally) space. In a stroke of genius, this is all staged in bright daylight, so we can see everything going on in each of these tiers at all times. The camerawork here is top-notch, and each shot seems to show off depth of a different kind, be that on a horizontal plane looking down a New York avenue, or the more obvious vertical plane looking down at the ground many stories below you.

Does it make sense to add 3D to this film?

Yes. The way the 3D has been used in The Avengers calls to mind the way depth has been used in the comic book medium for decades. Obviously it's impossible to make something literally pop out of a 2D piece of paper, but it's definitely possible to make each frame have something in the extreme foreground, stretching into the distant background to represent depth. In the case of this movie, the backgrounds are well rendered, and the characters (which are often front and centre, as they should be with this line-up of heroes) are all brightly lit, and at times it's like 'seeing' a living breathing comic.

If we had to archive only one version, should we save the 3D or the 2D?

The 3D, but - interestingly - for historical reasons. There's a good chance this film will have the largest opening of any film at the US box-office in history, and there's a good chance that audiences are going to collectively lose their minds for this film. Exhibitors are pushing the 3D prints much harder than they are the 2D ones, and as such it's probable that 80% of its audience in the next week will be watching The Avengers while wearing glasses. It's a great film, and as such it may have a 'halo effect' in restoring the community's confidence in both the concept of 2D->3D conversions and the 3D technique as a whole. There's also the argument that Marvel always intended for the film to be converted in post-production, so the 3D version's got to be considered the 'definitive' one.


  1. I'll be honest - going in, the 3D on this film was one of my biggest concerns. While I have managed to avoid pretty much all of the most horrible post-conversions, I was worried as to how this would work post-converted. Thankfully, it really really did.

    Having said that, I'm probably going to be seeing The Avengers for a third time at some point and I'll be doing so in 2D. Partly due to cost, partly due to the hell of it but also because, while the post-conversion was very good, I don't think the third dimension is entirely necessary to fully enjoy the film. And this is probably where I'm often going to take a contrary point-of-view to you sir :)

  2. I hear what you're saying. Cost is always going to be a factor, and we need to get theatres to lower their 3D tariffs.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on what it was like to see it again in 2D. I've rewatched it once in 3D and that gave me the conviction that the last half hour is a glorious application of the technique. I think they've done something different with the way they've staged the action, and that's great. I wonder if that might seem more 'flat' in 2D? Please let me know!

    At the end of the day, we've got a great superhero film released, starring fantastic actors. What more could we ask for? I look forward to telling my future kids "yeah, I was there on opening night... It kicked ass!"