Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How Good Is The 3D in 'Frankenweenie'?


Frankenweenie is one of the more unlikely films to be released this year. Black and white, 3D, stop-motion animated, released by Disney, and an homage to 1930s horror films from Universal... you know, for kids! Bizarrely, this is the second time its director, Tim Burton, has tried to get the film made. Many years ago, the project was canned, after an exec realised that its subject matter might be a little, erm, off-putting. So, why has Frankenweenie been made now? We're inclined to blame Alice In Wonderland; after earning a billion dollars at the global box-office (despite its atrocious 3D effects) Tim Burton was probably in a solid bargaining position to get a few 'personal projects' made. But who cares about all that background info, you're here because you want to know... how good is the 3D in Frankenweenie? Should you see it with, or without, glasses on?

Post-Converted 3D:

Given Burton's history with post-converted 3D, we were worried how Frankenweenie would fare through the process. Luckily, the technology has come a long way since the release of Alice In Wonderland. The conversion was handled by Prime Focus World. Remember our glowing review of Men In Black 3's converted 3D? Prime Focus World were behind most of that gig too; they're fast becoming 3Defence's favourite post-conversion team. For Frankenweenie, they worked on 1500+ shots, and based themselves nearby the shooting locations, so they could confer with Burton and his animation team whenever they needed reference points for their work.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Yes. Though there's not a lot of shots that use the 'pop out of the screen' effect, the few gags that do are well-timed and designed to capture the audience's attention. Frankenweenie adheres to a common trend in 3D films from 2012: elements like rain and lightning are being brought forward in the 'mix' to seemingly occur in the movie theatre itself, as well as in multiple panes of depth around the film's characters. We're wary the effect could get over-used, but for now we think it works ok, if only because it feels like the real world: rain falls in unpredictable places, so it makes sense that it's allowed to transcend the boundary of 'screen' and 'theatre'.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Frankenweenie's stereographer, Richard Baker, summarises his approach to depth well, so we'll let him speak for himself: "3D for me shouldn’t be a window into the screen. You need to feel surrounded by the movie to become truly immersed in the story. This was central to our planning when designing the 3D and creating the depth script. We had the opportunity to exaggerate the scale and depth much more than we would on a live-action show to really heighten dramatic moments, and we were also able to combat the miniaturisation of the puppets by using depth as a creative tool." We're glad to report that he succeeded in his goals: despite being filmed on small sets, with tiny figurines as actors, Frankenweenie's locations feel cavernous, lived-in, and they reach into the distance in a way that the 1930s films it's riffing on could never have dreamed of doing.

Did it make sense to add 3D to Frankenweenie?

No! Not by any stretch of the imagination did it sound like a good idea to post-convert a Black And White, stop-motion animated, film referencing incredibly flat (the sets were often cardboard, with smoke effects to disguise the lack of a real background) 1930s horror films. Are we glad they did it anyway? Hell yes. This is the first time we've seen a Black And White 3D film in the modern day, and it looks glorious. If you take your glasses off during the film, you'll notice the screen looks fairly harsh, with big contrast ratios between the deep blacks and the bright whites. Put your glasses on again though, and then a world of deep grey is revealed; probably the best greys we've seen in a monochromatic film since the wonderfully shot Schindler's List. Normally 3Defence insists that 3D films need to be brightly lit, and vibrantly colourful... but Tim Burton and his post-conversion team have proven us wrong with Frankenweenie.

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

The 3D version must be considered the 'definitive' version of Frankenweenie. If you're wondering "should I see Frankenweenie in 3D or in 2D" and you can afford the extra dollar or so, you ought to view this film with glasses on. The 3D brings depth that doesn't exist to the shots, and makes the world of our titular re-animated dog come alive (pun intended). The editing deserves mention too: it's cut at a leisurely pace, which is appropriate for the 1930s-style genre, but this has the added benefit of making the 3D experience easier on your eyes than modern-day films that are designed for a 2D screen. We at 3Defence watch a lot of 3D films, and we're quietly confident that Frankenweenie will be considered the gold-standard in post-converted 3D films for a long time. 

The film itself

Make no mistake about it, Frankenweenie is a modern-day Tim Burton film. You can interpret that whichever way you please, but for us here at 3Defence that means; predictable character 'arcs', unusual preoccupation with genre conventions, amazing set design and stylistic flare, fantastically over-orchestrated music, and a rushed / borderline incomprehensible third act. Burton is in the business of world-building, and we'd love to see him work with someone other than screenwriter John August soon. Frankenweenie wreaks of 'pet project' (yes, pun intended) and that usually means "no-one said 'no' to the director at any stage along the way." Frankenweenie is a lesser film in Burton's filmography, but it's a long way from his worst. File this nearer to Mars Attacks than something like Planet of the Apes


  1. I've just discovered your website - and I'm loving your reviews and nicely articulated 3D film appreciation.. keep up the good work!

  2. My pleasure Jessy, thanks for reading! Feel free to drop us a line if you ever wanted a particular movie or topic covered