Monday, October 14, 2013

How's The 3D In 'Gravity'?


Background:

The best 3D film of the year? Ordinarily conservative critics have fallen over themselves to proclaim Gravity a landmark cinematic event, ranking it amongst distinguished 3D peers like Avatar, Hugo and Life Of Pi. James Cameron, the king of commercially successful 3D films, told Variety "I think it's the best space photography ever done, I think it’s the best space film ever done, and it's the movie I've been hungry to see for an awful long time." Riding a wave of breathless hype, Gravity broke US October box-office records, and is fast becoming the 'word of mouth' hit of the year. So... does it live up to the praise? Is Gravity a ground-breaking achievement in 3D film-making?

Post-converted / Natively Rendered 3D:

Modern-day 3D films are produced through three broadly classifiable means; 'native 3D' (where the majority of the movie was shot with stereoscopically capable cameras that have two lenses to capture the information in 'true' 3D), 'post-converted 3D' (where the film was shot largely in 2D by a camera that had one lens, and then later converted into stereo by a company that separates out layers of the 2D footage digitally) or what we at 3Defence call 'rendered 3D'. Often the latter might be a film like Toy Story 3; a digital construction where animated characters exist inside a virtual environment that has mathematically accurate axes, horizons and depth. Wall-E or Up's 3D effects are not automated by any means, but their film-makers do have a geographical point of reference when applying stereo to their rendered footage. Pixar's reconstruction team re-made Finding Nemo 3D in this way, modifying source elements to render out to stereo footage in a way that made sense physically... but in actuality differed from its 2D predecessor. It's all a little bit confusing, and is not nearly as straight-forward as you'd think!


Anyway, that's a gigantic tangent, but we bring it up because Gravity defies classification. The very concept of "post" production is moot; nearly every shot is a 'special effect' stitched together by talented rotoscopers, artists and technicians. When you see a shot of George Clooney's face, it was shot in 'mono' using a 2D camera rig, then post-converted into 3D by Prime Focus World. Complicating definition though is that this face was then superimposed inside a digital spacesuit, which was then placed into a virtual environment, such as the Hubble telescope or the exterior of the ISS. The resulting face is thus just another layer of a natively rendered output. Closer to one of Pixar's rendered 3D films than the post-converted 3D of World War Z. As fiendishly complex as it is to explain this, it must have been doubly more so to actually film it! Gravity was originally due for a November 2012 release date, but the film was granted another half a year to get its effects 'just right', and we can safely say you won't believe your eyes.

The only comparison in modern cinema, as best as we know, is Avatar. While Avatar is famed for being a 'native 3D' film, and indeed much of it was filmed with real 3D cameras on real sound-stages with real humans, a large portion of that movie was rendered through Weta Digital's server farms, with animated characters interacting with filmed ones, creating an 'informed' 3D post-conversion. Gravity, it seems, was made with a similar approach. We can therefore label Gravity as something of a 3D anomaly; a post-converted / natively rendered 3D film.


Does the 3D 'pop'?

Despite the title, there sure are a lot of scenes set in a zero-gravity environment. The possibility of things floating out towards the audience is endless, and doubly so because Gravity is a largely digital creation. The only thing stopping this from happening ad nauseam is Oscar-nominated director Alfonso Cuarón's curative tastes. Negative parallax effects in Gravity are used sparingly, but when they are used they are at optimum points in the narrative, with a pre-determined purpose. Cuarón deploys such 'popping out at the audience' moments in the same way that a master roller-coaster designer might give their riders a brief moment of respite... before then flinging them into an unforeseen and terrifying corkscrew. In Gravity, these 3D effects are therefore used as some sort of appropriately inverse cliffhanger; a second or two of levity before a new and even more dire situation is revealed. The overt manipulation of the audience's emotions is stunning in its simplicity. Cuarón giveth and Cuarón taketh away our movie-going delight in a way that hasn't been seen since the heydays of Kubrick or Spielberg.


How's the depth of the 3D?

The great thing about space is that it's infinite. The terrifying thing about it is also... that it's infinite. From a cinematic perspective, we've never seen that scale conveyed before. We've all seen space-walks on-screen, but we've never felt like one wrong move by an astronaut might send our favourite character spinning into an endless purgatory of relentless high-speed rotation. Space has never been as dangerous as it is in Gravity. Very quickly, you learn to fear "the blind" that exists outside of Earth's orbit, where stars stretch out into a distant blanket of darkness. Of course, you'll also learn to fear what lurks within Earth's orbit, hurtling around the planet at many thousands of miles per hour, approaching far too rapidly from a distant horizon. And you'll appreciate too that a hasty descent to Earth could kill a rogue traveller in their spacesuit, as the continents of our world loom discomfortingly large. Ordinary "Sci-Fi" genre pictures usually rely on exposition to explain all this to their audience, but in Gravity these chilling facts are often conveyed visually; we innately understand the primal fear of our heroes plight, by layers of depth masterfully created by Cuarón and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.


Did it make sense to add 3D to Gravity?

In the '90s and early 2000s, directors were ramping up excitement levels by shaking the camera and rapidy cutting from one high octane shot to the next. Gravity proves that cinema is able to move beyond such gimmicks, with its long, steady, shots and fluid choreography. Perhaps it might not have seemed the 'perfect' candidate for 3D a few years ago, but coming at the end of a Hollywood blockbuster season stuffed to the gills of shaky-cam 3D epics, Gravity's deliberate pacing and meticulous camera-work seem positively inspired. 3Defence was reminded (as we learned from The Wizard Of Oz recently) that audience's eyes crave the ability to rove around a stereo frame. There is a noticeable feeling of "immersion" when we are allowed to choose what to focus on within a deep-focus shot. More than anything, Gravity showed us that a new language of film-making is possibly still to come for "the best" 3D experience. This is a modern medium that is still finding its feet, and Gravity can rightly be considered a new touchstone for future directors to build upon.

The film itself

Gravity, at the time of writing, has an average rating of 96% on Metacritic. That's not to say the film is "perfect", but it does mean that hardened reviewers are imploring their readers to see Gravity on the biggest screen possible, at their soonest convenience. If it's not clear already, we at 3Defence consider this more of a 'thrill ride' than a cerebral and thought-provoking epic. We don't mean to diminish Gravity's impact in saying that though. We just want to warn you that this has more in common with Sandra Bullock's Speed than it does with Cuarón's thinking-man's sci-fi epic Children Of Men. From our perspective, that's a good thing. Provided you go in with those expectations, you'll have a white-knuckle thrill-ride, the likes of which you can usually only find in a theme park.

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

It's hard to know right now if the hype for this film will last into the next few decades or not. It's unlikely that people in 3013 will look back at Gravity in the same way as they do for 2001: A Space Odyssey or Voyage Dans La Lune. But as of this moment in time, Gravity is a monumental success as much because of its usage of 3D as its taught plot or excellent casting choices. The 3D version is the definitive version as best as we can see, and - if for no other reason than an eventual curio in the ongoing development of modern stereoscopic cinema - the 3D version of Gravity is the one we'd advocate be archived. It's hopefully going to show the way forward for other directors who will build on the lessons taught to them by Cuarón and his team. It certainly looks like another 3D film that will reap Oscars and Golden Globes come early 2014!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

How's The 3D In 'The Wizard Of Oz 3D'?

Background:

Ask anyone of Generation Y "what's the oldest film you've ever seen?" and there's a very good chance that (after some prodding) the answer is The Wizard Of Oz. The Victor Fleming film was released in 1939, with World War II a month away from breaking out in Europe. Bizarrely - considering its legacy nowadays - Oz was something of a commercial misfire for MGM at the time. One of the studio's most lavish and expensive productions, it took a few re-releases for The Wizard Of Oz to fully recoup its costs and, more importantly, to be seen by subsequent generations as a landmark event in cinema. The better part of a century later, Warner Brothers now owns the film's rights, and Dorothy's had more "special anniversary box-sets" released than 3Defence cares to count. Warners probably figured out that, after fans have already bought the film on VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray in 2009, they needed to do something particularly special this time around. So, for a limited time only, viewers get to see the film on IMAX screens around the world, in post-converted 3D. How'd they do with the stereo? Is this re-release worth the trip to the big screen?

Post-Converted 3D:

This is actually the second 3D trip to Oz viewers get this year; Sam Raimi's native-3D Oz The Great And Powerful underwhelmed us in April. The Wizard Of Oz is a different beast entirely, because it's the oldest live-action feature film to be converted into 3D. It's much older than the likes of Titanic 3D or Jurassic Park, which both benefited from being originally filmed with cutting-edge 1990s technology. Put simply, getting any version of Oz onto the big-screen in a format that discerning audiences would find tolerable is hard enough; and getting a 3D version looking good seems nigh-on impossible. So, let's take a moment to discuss the restoration of the film, and then we can take a closer look at the technical feat of the stereo-conversion.


Filmed with a mixture of three-strip Technicolor and sepia-toned black & white footage, The Wizard Of Oz conformed to the original Academy aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (aka "4:3"). This means it fits better on the screen of your square-looking 1990s CRT TV than it does to your rectangular 16:9 LED TV from the mid-2000s. Likewise, if you project it correctly on a modern-day big-screen, the film will leave vertical 'letter-boxing' lines to the left and right of the image. It's unusual for 3D films to deal with this framing, though we've seen varieties of the square look in Katy Perry's 3D backstage footage and the Raimi Oz film's opening sequence.


The aspect ratio's reasonably easy to accommodate though. The real challenge for any team restoring Wizard Of Oz is the Technicolor negatives. The version you're familiar with of the film is actually an amazing combination of three strips of differently coloured images, layered on top of one another to form an image that makes sense visually as 'realistic colour'. Most Wizard Of Oz re-releases to date have been restorations of that 'end product': the original combination print. What makes the 2013 restoration different though, is that the studio restored and scanned each of the original three colourized layers again (cyan, magenta and yellow) then combined them again into a fresh combination print. The restoration team had a further challenge too - some of these negatives had shrunk to different sizes from one another! What was once "35mm" film was now 34mm in some cases! The team had their work cut out for them. Because of such quirks in this process, you're effectively watching a different film than audiences did in 1939. You're watching a sharper image than the original audiences ever had the chance to; processing these images digitally allowed the restoration team to precisely align each layer on top of one another, and removed the chance of accidental blurring occurring if a strip of film was misaligned.


After months of work, Warner Brothers were able to give Prime Focus World a 4K print that looked more crisp and detailed than any print of the film to date. As the firm's CEO put it, "to be trusted with one of the best known films of all time – an important part of American popular culture – is truly humbling." One challenge unique to this conversion is the average length of each shot in the film; being a 1930s MGM musical, the cuts from one shot to another are purposeful and at a much slower pace than the rapid-fire edits of a modern-day musical like Les Misérables or Chicago. As a consequence, Prime Focus World had to be just as purposeful with how they chose to use 3D in a shot that might run upwards of 30 seconds, lest audience's eyes wander about the frame and find gaps or errors in the chosen stereo effects. All up, the conversion took around 16 months to complete, which possibly makes it the longest conversion in film history.


Does The Wizard Of Oz's 3D 'pop'?

Warner Brothers' Chief Preservation Officer, Ned Price said to Variety “I don’t like 3D unless it’s really good 3D ... so I was probably a good pick to rein in the people we worked with. They’re very good people over at Prime Focus but I think I kept them honest.” Needless to say, Price largely avoided having flying monkeys pop out of the screen, or fireballs thrown at the audience. The few elements of the film that extend towards the screen are usually associated with the Wicked Witch, whose angular nose, fingers and hat occasionally venture outwards. However, the film is largely free of any "gimmicky" popping effects, and the 3D effects used are as conservative as Price's tastes allowed.


How's the depth of the 3D?

Until now, the backgrounds of The Wizard Of Oz looked either like very obvious matte paintings, or they looked like giant hand-painted backdrops that had reasonably obvious lines to the floor. Children might not notice, but adults surely did. In the 3D conversion process, Prime Focus World had to choose whether they made the backdrop look more 'flat' or if they enhance the suggested depth within it. They chose the latter, so the rolling green hills of Oz now look like they exist in three-dimensional space, albeit that they don't look like the pastures back home in Kansas. The effect of this is that the world of Oz feels more stylized than it did in previous versions, and now looks like a particularly fantastical land that feels effortlessly part-animated and part-photo-real. The effect is startling and breathes new life into each image. The haunted forests now stretch out for miles and you feel like lions-and-tigers-and-bears might actually lurk there. The witch's castle looms large over the landscape, as foreboding and terrifying as anything from The Two Towers. Munchkinland now seems brimming with more munchkins than ever before, because you can see how many dozens of characters are moving in the deep background of the wonderful sets there. The tornadoes in Kansas will seem more threatening than you remembered them, and more perilously close to the house Dorothy escapes to. Oz, for the first time in years, feels alive.


Did it make sense to add 3D to The Wizard Of Oz?

With its bright lights, vivid colours, inventive choreography, fantastical settings and varying planes of action (the Munchkins hiding in bushes when Dorothy first arrived were a real treat), The Wizard Of Oz is a natural fit with 3D. Many of the medium's current limitations are avoided thanks to the slow paced editing, locked-down camera work and artificially-lit studio sets. The only reason we can think of avoiding the conversion is that it would be very hard to pull off, and could seriously risk ruining the reputation of a beloved classic if done badly.

The film itself

3Defence has seen The Wizard Of Oz on the big-screen several times over the years, projected in 2D using 35mm. We've obviously all seen the film on TV sets throughout the past few decades, in varying quality of restoration or bastardization of the film's ratios or technical set-up. Throughout every permutation though, the unmistakable genius of the music, acting, set design, costumes, make-up and directing shine through. It doesn't matter what mood you're in, you'll be hooked by the episodic nature of the film's plot, and constantly be surprised at how breezy the narrative is. It's hard to define, but The Wizard Of Oz is one of those films that can hook in viewers of all ages, at any time of day, at any time in film history since its release. It truly is a magical piece of cinema.

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

This question is one we ask for each 3Defence film review. Normally it's an easy enough one to answer, and we tend to side with the 2D version as often as we side with its 3D counterpart. Today though, we are asked to judge the nostalgic memory of a 2D cinematic classic, against the cold hard reality that no version of it exists that looks as detailed or as 'clear' as the 2013's version's remaster. This particular 3Defence reviewer has seen the film dozens of times, but has never seen it in such startling clarity as he did yesterday in IMAX 3D. The film's soundtrack and visuals have never been so lively, and you'll see details that enhance (rather than detract, like say the Star Wars Special Editions) a film that is already a masterpiece. The Scarecrow's makeup alone is worth the price of admission. In 3D, you'll pick up every texture available to be seen, and each detail adds to a more positive impression of the whole film. We're going to say "archive the 3D!" in this case, and we reserve the right to this opinion until an 8K (or suitably ludicrous) 2D remaster release is unveiled for the film's 80th Anniversary!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Gravity - the best 3D film of 2013?

Alfonso Cuarón's upcoming 3D film Gravity has critics spellbound, and looks to be this year's "Must-See 3D Film". Set miles above Earth, the film stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as a pair of astronauts who... have to deal with gravity after a high-speed encounter with space debris. Gravity premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month, and immediately started generating Oscar-buzz from the dumbstruck audience.


It sounds like cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's first 3D outing is a doozy, technically-speaking. Breathless reviewers have described long, unbroken, takes that last in the range of 10 - 15 minutes. HitFix's Drew McWeeny appropriately summed up most people's reactions: "It is increasingly rare that I look at an effects-heavy film and don't know immediately how they did it. With Gravity, I'm not even sure what was real and what wasn't." Indeed, if you watch any of the film's trailers or TV Spots, there's a good chance you'll have the same reaction:



So, what of the 3D? 3Defence hasn't had a chance to catch a sneak-peek yet, but we can report the media has spoken very favourably of the 3D effects used. Cuarón designed the film with an IMAX 3D release in mind, and has apparently made dizzying use of the medium, with epic shots of Earth set beyond the stratosphere. In these pictures released this week, you get a chance to see for yourself what the fuss is about. What do you think? Will this be another over-hyped release, or one that will help strengthen 3D's reputation in 2013?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

China's Love For 3D Kaiju, One-Eyed Monsters, And Stereo Raptors

As we enter a new season of movie-going, the Chinese box-office continues to buck worldwide trends in 3D movie attendance. A month ago, the industry had written off Pacific Rim as a well-intentioned exercise in geek-pandering. Jurassic Park 3D had proved that audiences were never going to go crazy for 3D re-releases. Monsters University was a middling Pixar effort. Midway through September though, China has re-written the history books for all three films, and again challenged expectations of the global audience for 3D.


Pacific Rim's experience was the most startling for the industry: a gigantic movie in every sense of the word, it was always destined to do earn more "internationally" than "domestically". It's reasonably common for big Hollywood action pictures to earn 60% of their total gross in the wider worldwide marketplace, and the other 40% or so of their gross comes from the avidly movie-going State-side domestic audience. What no-one expected to happen this year though? A case where a Hollywood tentpole earned less in the USA than it earned in China. At the time of writing, Pacific Rim has just pipped over the $100 million mark in the US... and in the People's Republic it has earned $111 million, with more on the way. In fact, Pacific Rim's opening weekend  was Warner Brothers' highest ever.


So, why did China go ga-ga for Pacific Rim? For one thing, the Guillermo Del Toro picture feels tailor-made for a global audience; it doesn't feel like an American-flag waving sci-fi pic in the vein of Transformers, and it certainly avoided the New York-set locations that giant monsters like King Kong, Cloverfield and 1998's Godzilla have already ravaged. In fact, Pacific Rim's largest fight scenes were set in Hong Kong, and that surely played a part in the Chinese audience's affection for the film.


Of course, the other thing Pacific Rim had going for it was Rinko Kikuchi playing a pivotal starring role. While she's not Chinese, she is an Asian woman cast as the main character in a film that would ordinarily been stacked full of Ben Affleck / Bruce Willis / Liv Tyler types. There is no doubt that this helped sell Pacific Rim as a 'different' feeling blockbuster. And if 2013's box-office grosses are anything to go by, people are actively avoiding anything that feels too 'samesy' these days. That's true no matter what country you live in. Worldwide audiences have passed on RIPD, partly because it felt too similar to Men In Black. Many avoided The Lone Ranger on the basis that it was Johnny Depp doing his usual schtick. Pacific Rim, to Western audiences at least, might well have seemed like more of the Godzilla / King Kong gimmickery they're accustomed to. But to China, it felt sufficiently unique to justify a near-stampede through their multiplex turnstiles.


That 'special difference', from their perspective? 3D, and some stunning CGI. China's certainly seen its fair share of kaiju films (which are historically more of a Japanese cinematic phenomenon), but there's never been one this expensive. There's a saying that you've gotta spend money to make money, and Pacific Rim's Chinese box-office grosses prove there's still some truth to that expression. Audiences there determined they weren't going to watch this on a pirated VCD or DVD: Pacific Rim in 3D was a family event that had to be experienced on the big-screen. Certainly the Del Toro film's outstanding performance proves that Chinese movie-goers still think that 3D elevates a film to 'event status', provided the film's content matches their tastes. On the basis of Pacific Rim's performance, you can expect to see fewer big-budget cowboy films in the next decade, and a much larger number of 3D monster films set in China!


Speaking of 3D monster films... Jurassic Park 3D has exceeded all expectations in China. Its opening day was the fourth highest of the year (trailing only the 3D films Man Of Steel, Pacific Rim and the 2D Furious 6). The 20 year old movie has now ruled the Chinese box-office two weeks in a row. So, why the love for Jurassic Park? In the West, Jurassic Park 3D's middling success was considered by most to be fuelled by a general nostalgia for the film. It's a beloved classic these days, regardless of its flaws, and the re-release was generally well-received by Western media. In 1993, Western audiences were watching the film repeatedly, while China's movie theatres missed out on the Spielberg dino-pic entirely. There was no doubt a pent-up and long-held desire by many Chinese to see the film on the big-screen for the first time. Still, that doesn't explain why the film gripped their box-office for a fortnight. Hollywood explanation? Again, China's apparent love of 3D movie-going. It costs roughly $20 million to post-convert a 2D classic film to 3D, but given that China alone has earned Jurassic Park 3D $50 million+  (with more to come) then it's safe to expect more 3D re-releases that are targeted specifically for the Chinese market's tastes. Don't expect to see Saving Private Ryan 3D any time soon, but we at 3Defence wouldn't be surprised if we see a Jaws 3D conversion released soon!


And Monsters University 3D? Why does that warrant a mention? Well, in comparison to some of Pixar's efforts in China, the Billy Crystal-voiced effort absolutely dominated the box-office. It smashed the record for a highest grossing single-day of an animated film in Hong Kong, beating the tallies of several other 3D films, including Pixar's own Toy Story 3. In mainland China too, the film is on its way to surpassing Toy Story 3's grosses, to become Pixar's most successful film ever there. Traditionally, Pixar films have underperformed in China, especially when compared to their counterparts like Dreamworks or Blue Sky Studios. Most marketing in the country is handled by the same two firms, so advertising is usually not blamed for this phenomenon. Rather, the studio's films - that often praise rebellious and forward-thinking anti-hero figures - are considered the reason Chinese audiences don't gravitate towards Pixar films. Brave, Pixar's first film about a woman, was criticised there for being "too American", despite being set in Scotland and starring Billy Connolly! So why would Monsters University - set in a very American campus, rampant with variants of beer pong and college frat-boy hijinks - not suffer the same fate? Could we attribute that to a continued desire to see 3D films? Or is it just that Monsters Inc. was an already established brand in the country? It's hard to say. In any case, the prequel's performance this year is noteworthy, if only because the film itself is regarded much worse by Western critics than films like Brave and Up. If the next Pixar film outpaces Monsters' performance, then we'll know for sure that 3D is continuing to drive the Chinese box-office.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes' (literally) viral marketing

Over the weekend, Fox showed off 3D footage for X-Men: Days Of Futures Past, The Wolverine and Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. Most of that footage has so far remained in the San Diego Comic Con halls, but Fox did release this sneaky piece of - literally - viral marketing. It's a cute play on the recent Designed By Apple ad, with similarly noodling piano and swooshy animations:



I was a big fan of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and are hoping the team involved knock its sequel (which is technically also a prequel) out of the park. What do you think, are you ready for some damned dirty 3D apes?

Monday, July 15, 2013

How's the 3D in Pacific Rim?


Background:

Pacific Rim is Guillermo Del Toro's first film in 5 years. Much ink has already been spilled about his near-misses directing The Hobbit film trilogy and the potential James Cameron / Tom Cruise adaptation of At The Mountains Of Madness. Thwarted project after thwarted project, it seemed Del Toro just couldn't catch a break. Luckily, the big man had a big plan: direct a big film about big robots fighting big monsters. For all Pacific Rim's high-minded intentions, the movie's essentially Del Toro's love letter to the likes of Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla; his long-simmering kaiju vs mecha tale. So, how'd he fare? Was his 'boyhood dream' picture better than Peter Jackson's King Kong, or Spielberg's Jurassic Park? More pressingly for 3Defence, is its 3D any good?

Post-Converted 3D:

For a long time, Del Toro voiced a hedged opinion towards adding 3D to his films. In pre-production for his version of The Hobbit he started with a firm "NO" and ended with a potential 'maybe'. Likewise, in Pacific Rim's pre-production, he originally stated "I didn't want to make the movie 3D because when you have things that big… the thing that happens naturally, you’re looking at two buildings lets say at 300 feet [away], if you move there is no parallax." Later in the piece though, we eventually learned the film would be post-converted into 3D by ILM (who composited their own CGI shots) and Stereo D. The latter has been busy this Northern-hemisphere Summer, with Iron Man 3, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Jurassic Park 3D and many more titles on the way.


Pacific Rim was lensed by Del Toro regular cinematographer, the Oscar-winning (and similarly-named) Guillermo Navarro. The pair have had a long-standing relationship that has provided audiences with some of cinema's most enduring images. 3Defence is glad to see any work by Navarro on the big screen, and we were interested in seeing his first 3D film, regardless of how it came to get there. In the shooting of Pacific Rim, Navarro reluctantly shot digitally for the first time. He's been a celluloid hold-out, and his departure from 35mm is significant. The pair of Guillermo's shot using Steadicam-rigged 15 RED EPIC cameras, and they took advantage of that camera's colour-saturation to produce the images that Stereo D and ILM later post-converted. Apparently Del Toro then asked for an unusually long post-conversion period, so he could personally supervise the shots and get them looking as great as possible.

Does Pacific Rim's 3D 'pop'?

Frequently. Very early on, a fish swims out in front of the audience. It's one of those moments where kids and young-at-heart adults alike reach out to 'touch' a 3D creation. The effect is Del Toro's open invitation into his futuristic world. This is one of those 3D films you want to bring youngsters to, because they'll appreciate the pure visual magic on offer. Aside from fish, you'll see swords, sparks, dust, ash, snow, rain, fire, steam, tentacles and rockets breaking the 'fifth wall' of the screen. It's a loud-and-proud 3D that is refreshing to see embraced in blockbuster fare.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Kaiju have historically hated bridges
3D at the size of Pacific Rim's kaiju can sometimes leave us feeling like an image is oddly '2D'. To counteract this sensation, Del Toro usually places a dozen human-sized objects around the jaegers: helicopters dwarfed by the structures, a giant hand picking up a fishing trawler, or - more impressively - an oil tanker used as a baseball bat. So the 3D-added 'depth' is a sleight of hand. Just like the man-in-suit monster movies of old, your eye will be aware of a monster's size purely by what is small around it. Still, we've come a long way...


Did it make sense to add 3D to Pacific Rim?

This is where the wheels come off the giant robot-carried wagon. Pacific Rim features a couple of daylight moments in the jaegers, but the vast majority of the fight scenes are either set at night in the rain, or they're set in the Mariana Trench. Readers of 3Defence know the drill, but in case you're a newbie let's spell it out again: 3D (with glasses) usually makes the projected image darker. So, if a 3D film's set largely at night, the darkness gets really dark, and there's a possibility audiences will suffer some eye strain. 

Even in 2D, as a GIF, it's hard to make out what's happening here

Presumably Del Toro set Pacific Rim at night to save money in his effects budget. It's easier to fudge CGI if effects are obscured by noise-elements like rain, and artists can round off dodgy corners by cranking up the shadows. As far as 3D goes, Del Toro achieved a 'brightness compromise' by setting much of the nocturnal action scenes amid the bright neon lights of Hong Kong. He went above and beyond in other areas to add light to the frame too: there's approximately two million shots of holograms in Pacific Rim, and there's a lot of brightly-lit fire, lava, steam and sparks to compensate for the evils of wearing glasses in the cinema.

The film itself

A stunning character-focused flashback
It's a hoot. A good-natured, well-intentioned lark of a film that has moments of subtlety and warmth amongst a whole lot of monster vs robot carnage. It's hard to take seriously, but it's very easy to take as a jolt of big-budget Summer blockbuster fun. As per usual for 2013's tent-pole flicks, the third-act is a nonsensical race to the finish line, without much in the way of surprises or meaningful character development. We only mention it because, like Iron Man 3 and Man Of Steel before it, Pacific Rim gives you a great Act 1 and 2 before clobbering its way to the end credits in Act 3. Hopefully Hollywood will learn from this Summer's successes and mistakes. In the meantime, Pacific Rim is your most sure-fire ticket of fun right now.

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

This is a hard call. Pacific Rim's post-conversion was a great job. Stereo D and ILM exceeded their mandate by a kaiju-sized mile. Their work added visual depth that was thematically appropriate to the film, and added to the experience of watching it. Del Toro wasn't afraid to embrace the hokey aspects of 'fifth wall' breaking 3D either, and that also seemed appropriate given the fantastical nature of the film's visuals. But. Whoever it was in the studio that demanded Pacific Rim be converted into 3D should have been told "sure, if we get a few extra million to change the script to be set at day time." 3Defence can't abide a 3D film this aesthetically noisy (seriously, there's not a frame without sparks or rain) set at night, especially if there are hard-to-comprehend CGI creations running amock. Pacific Rim is a feast for the eyes, and you should see it in 2D, with as few layers as possible between you and Guillermo Del Toro's marvellous creations.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The BBC, In 2D

We don't talk about 3D TV much on this site, because we're technically a site about 3D Film. This week though, serious news broke that might very well have an impact on the future of both the cinematic medium and its televised equivalent. So, we interrupt usual film-based discussion to take a brief look into 3D TV and its - now somewhat perilous - future.

Post-Avatar, it seemed that movie theaters were guaranteed 3D movie-going successes. All eyes (literally) turned towards the home theater industry, to see whether TVs would be able to catch up. In the short-term at least, the holy grail was to get Avatar 3D into living rooms as soon as humanly possible. A deal was struck so that copies of Avatar would be shipped with a particular brand of TV. Other TV manufacturers were stuck hawking Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and a few made-for-Blu efforts.


The thing the TV industry neglected to mention was that you'd only get a couple of 3D glasses with your $3500 telly. And each additional pair of glasses would cost $100. Given that the nuclear-family is usually a home theatre system's target demographic, the limited number of 3D glasses pretty much doomed 3D TV from the outset. Mum and Dad could watch in 3D, while the kids watched blurry outlines. At least, this might be the case until someone eventually forked out for a few extra pairs of glasses on EBay.

The price of 3D glasses on EBay, July 2013

At first, there wasn't much in the way of content for 3D-capable television. Eventually this changed though, and 3D Blu-rays began to be released same day-and-date with their 2D brethren. Prominent 3D Blu-ray content like Prometheus and The Avengers shifted many thousands of units, and broke records for their market share of 'High Def' content vs 'Standard Def' mediums like DVDs offered in the past. If you consume content via Blu-ray, these days it's possible to build a library of a few dozen 3D titles (including a few X-rated titles too...)

Eventually, TV caught up too. ESPN and the BBC began providing programming that had been filmed natively in 3D. Viewers were able to see significant events such as Wimbledon championships, the 2010 FIFA World Cup and even Queen Elizabeth's Christmas message in 3D. ESPN's efforts were particularly noble, in that they offered a dedicated 24/7 3D channel. Sports were the most obvious type of programming to benefit from 3D; flattened 2D images cause issues for home viewers when you're trying to figure out if someone was off-side, or if a goal missed its posts by a few feet. For a time, things looked bright for 3D TV. 2011's Consumer Electronics Show (widely known as 'CES') prominently featured second-generation 3D TVs from major manufacturers, and even demonstrated a possible future of 'glasses-free' 3D. By 2012, there were 55 3D-only channels worldwide.


Just a year later though, 2012's CES big news story was... the absence of 3D TV. Much finger-pointing began. Some blamed the lack of quality content (there was content, but it couldn't stand toe-to-toe with the James Cameron Standard), others blamed glasses-dependent technology, and others blamed... the consumer's unforeseen unwillingness to upgrade their TVs. As the year wore on, it became clear that "3D-capable" was no longer a must-have selling point for a TV, and many manufacturer's marketing departments instead began to tout their TV's Wi-Fi capabilities and built-in web applications. By 2013, perhaps reading the tea leaves of customer desire, the industry considered "3D-capable" to be a mere checklist item; hastily written on the side of boxes, next to "2 HDMI ports" and "Batteries included with remote". 2013's CES featured 4K-quality TVs prominently instead, and paid nary a mention to 3D. 

This week, things really took a turn for the worst. After two years of its 'pilot project', the BBC announced it would wind down its 3D operations until 2016. For the time being, the Queen's next few Yuletide greetings will be back to normal old 2D. The head of the BBC's 3D programming described the viewing experience as "a hassly experience" but also hesitated to "call the whole 3D race." It's hard to say exactly why they've chosen 2016 as a date to revisit the 3D methods of broadcasting, but it's fair to assume that the number of 3D-capable televisions will have grown significantly by then. What will they watch in the meantime? That, it seems, is now down to Hollywood. ESPN is shutting down its 3D operations this year too, citing "low adoption" as their reasons. It all seems a bit chicken-and-the-egg; without an existing customer-base, we'll not get much more 3D TV content... and without any 3D TV content, there's unlikely to be much of a customer-base.


What's the solution then? Potentially, games consoles. The PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One get released this year, and both will sport Blu-ray drives. This is significant, because the previous Xbox iteration was limited to a standard-def disc drive, and this limited the potential for 3D content on it. Months out from the release of either console, both are setting pre-order records, and it seems likely that their successful launches will keep Blu-ray players in the living room for the rest of the decade. This is significant because, for now at least, there's not many other legitimate methods for watching a 3D film. iTunes and Netflix don't support 3D content, but these new games consoles' Blu-ray players will. If enough people can get acclimatised to seeing 3D content in the home, it's possible the likes of ESPN and the BBC will legitimately revise the viewing landscape in 2016. We may yet see the Queen in 3D once more, but we'd best hope that Microsoft and Sony succeed in their console launches this Christmas.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Is The Guardian Correct? Are Superhero Films Done For?


In a week's time, it'll be the first X-Men film's 13th birthday. The movie's critical and commercial success gave Hollywood the excuse it needed to revitalise the comic-book-movie 'genre'. X-Men delivered the industry a template of sorts that has largely remained unchanged in the decade that followed. That template required an ensemble cast, mixing up A-list stars with Academy Award winning actors, character veterans, relative newcomers and a few nerd favourites. X-Men also set a visual-effects precedent that eschewed the overblown Batman And Robin 'look' in favour of more modern effects in the vein of The Matrix. The revised superhero film template also required the X-Men ditch their traditional bright yellow-and-blue tights for... very Matrix-esque black leather costumes. And, just like that, a modern genre was born.


Or, rather, reborn. The superhero 'genre' had merely been laying dormant. In the decades since Richard Donner's Superman, we'd seen various attempts at Batman, Supergirl, Dick Tracy, The Phantom, The Shadow and The Rocketeer. Some of those films had a significant impact on pop-culture, but none rejuvenated an entire industry in the same way as X-Men. Why was that? 3Defence argues that it was X-Men's striking modernity that made it connect with film producers and audiences alike. This superhero film featured women kicking as much butt as their male peers did. It was set in the 'not too distant future', and had a hip bent towards sci-fi conventions that other comic-books had previously neglected. Crucially, X-Men had an interesting subtext; prominently featuring a mutant-superhero allegory for the Gay and Civil Rights movements. For the first time, Hollywood was presenting a superhero film that (successfully...) had something important to say.


Thirteen years later, we've seen 3 actors play Hulk, 2 actors play Superman, one actor play Batman 3 times, a former Hollywood punchline play Iron Man 5 times and we're about to see Hugh Jackman play an X-Men character for the 6th time. We've even seen two variations of Catwoman, and Ryan Reynolds (Blade 3Wolverine: OriginsThe Green Lantern) is days away from the release of his fourth comic-book adaptation! It's easy to feel over-saturated by it all. Of course, this is how it's always felt when you walk into a comic-book store: cross-over titles, mash-ups, alternate universes, one-shots, long-running series, and retrospective collector's editions... the 'comic' world of heroes has never been particularly shy about throwing any old thing against the wall.


Maybe it was that scatter-shot approach that erked The Guardian enough to write a recent piece entitled "Man of Steel: does Hollywood need saving from superheroes?" A fortnight later, The Hollywood Reporter released a piece condemning the genre's bias towards fight-scenes, entitled "Why Has Destruction Become the Default' in Movies?" Kiwi favourite Funerals & Snakes has a great write-up arguing the destruction in the genre has become an arms-race. Tech-focused Wired magazine has just released an article asking, "Is the Superhero Movie Genre as Invulnerable as Its Iconic Characters?" A quick Google search reveals a simmering 'genre malaise' from the media has been around for some time, and will likely be around for much longer. The Wall Street Journal supposed audiences were tiring of the genre in 2011. USA Today asked - amusingly, in retrospect - "Are Superheoes Done For?" in... 2008. So, The Guardian, Wired and THR's recent articles are nothing altogether new, but it's interesting they all use Man Of Steel as a divining rod for the fate of the wider genre.



***Warning! Spoilers within this paragraph about Man Of Steel! If you've not seen the film, then skip this paragraph!*** What is it about Superman's latest film that has convinced the mainstream press of the genre's imminent demise? Perhaps it's their expectations of Superman himself that's the cause of the issue. Historically, he's been considered the Big Blue Boy Scout of superheroes (even if that's not actually been the case in the last 25 years of comics). So, perhaps it was all a bit too shocking for average audiences to watch that Boy Scout break his nemesis' neck, after having levelled several dozen city blocks. Indeed, even many modern comic-book readers were shocked by this moment, and were outraged that Superman allowed citywide catastrophic damage to occur in his mammoth battle with Zod's troops. This was meant to be the most 'super' of heroes, but instead we saw an inactive character who was focused on fighting his adversaries in a retaliatory manner. ***Spoilers over now, continue***

More importantly though, Man Of Steel is a significant departure from the X-Men-issued genre template. The cast is hardly heavy-hitters like those seen in The Dark Knight or Iron Man series; Man Of Steel's veteran actors haven't anchored a film in well over a decade, and most have been involved in straight-to-video fare for years. Man Of Steel's special-effects aren't facsimiles of other industry benchmarks either. Superman embraces his bright blue & red costume too; no hip dark leathers here. And, most importantly, there is a dearth of subtext.


In the days since X-Men, critics have delighted in subtextual readings of superhero films. The Dark Knight series has been remembered as a commentary on the Bush administration's anti-terrorism tactics; Ang Lee's Hulk was a musing on Classical mythologyWatchmen was a cautionary tale about 'checks and balances'; V For Vendetta provided a big-screen adaptation of a comic-book interpolation of Orwell's 1984. Iron Man even spoke to the perils of the arms trade. So... what does Man Of Steel speak to? Being facetious, we could say the subtext is that it's rude to terraform planets that don't belong to you, and also rude to punch people. Being more generous (though still with a healthy helping of snark) it's possible to read Man Of Steel as a cautionary tale in the age of Big Data: keep your secrets to yourself, no matter what, or else the government will screw things up. But, yes, that's being generous. There's actually bugger all subtext going on in Man Of Steel. It's another case of too much plot, and too little story. And, as The Guardian points out, perhaps we're a little tired of relying on a bootstrapped operation to right the ills of government. Maybe the media are onto something, maybe there really is something broken with Hollywood's approach to the genre?

While 3Defence can agree with the media to some extent, we can't see much benefit in pointing out a whole bunch of flaws in currently released films. We don't need Hollywood to immediately stop making any superhero films. There's clearly still an audience for them, and there's a wealth of material to draw from to continue telling interesting stories for decades to come. The media needs to move away from posturing about the 'death of the genre' and instead focus on how to 'reboot the genre' successfully in a more palatable way. To do this, we need to study other successful genre 'reboots'.

Man Of Steel's incarnation of Superman actually has a few parallels with Jason Bourne; a peaceful soul who's unsure of his identity, yet miraculously trained in combat, and ready to fight anyone who threatens him. Of course, that's where the similarities end. Man Of Steel might well mark the end of its genre's era, while The Bourne Identity is rightly regarded as a landmark event that changed the fate of the 'action' and 'spy' genres forever.


In 2002, The Bourne Identity removed wire-work and excessively balletic kung-fu from the action film. Instead of behemoths like Arnold or Sly, the averagely-built Matt Damon carried the main role. The Bourne Identity's set-pieces were staged in cramped European apartments, and cast an indie darling as the hero's love interest. Women in the series had realistic character qualities, independent lives of their men-folk, were placed in powerful positions, and ultimately became the series' moral guardians. More importantly than anything else though, The Bourne Identity and its sequels were action films that weren't afraid to embrace silence. Critics and audiences alike fawned over this breath of fresh air, and the action genre was revitalised enough to buy itself another decade in multiplexes. Single-handedly, the Bourne films also forced drastic revisions to stalwart espionage franchises like James Bond and Mission Impossible.

Not that we're trying to bash on The Guardian or anything (though we do relish taking a snipe at periodicals that hypocritically bash comic books as a "plebeian, populist artform") but in the early 2000s, The Guardian bashed on the Bond and Tom Cruise Impossible outings with all too familiar criticism. The World Is Not Enough "looks so weirdly dated" and "commonplace." MI2 was "devoid of real risk, real sweat or real danger." You can guess how The Guardian's Does Hollywood Need Saving From Superheroes article concludes, right? Yep, "it's the same movie – over and over and over again."


They've got several good points. Just look at the above image, where three superheroes essentially share the same pose. We just wish The Guardian hadn't been such snobs about it. It's not like they're also going to write an article bemoaning the sexism and monotony of the romantic comedy genre. Indeed, every article that's been written about the genre this month has had an air of 'this is kids stuff really, it's a bit beneath us adults.' And perhaps that's why The Bourne Identity is a good touchstone. Like the original X-Men film too, these two genre reboots were fearless in the way they embraced their particular genre's roots, whilst still subverting their genre-audience's expectations. People were sold a spy film with The Bourne Identity, but they also got Matt Damon having meaningful dialogue with Franke Potente (don't get us started on the 'relationship' between the era's James Bond and Dr. Christmas Jones). X-Men may have been marketed with its special-effects, but audiences were really given a film about the differing human rights concerns of adolescents and the generations that controlled their fates. Maybe the world was hoping Man Of Steel would provide a reboot in the same vein as these films, and the media has seized on the opportunity to bash it for being a merely serviceable evolution of a genre that's outstayed its welcome.


So what's stopping Hollywood from pulling a Bourne-styled rabbit from their hat? There's a few things working against them. For one thing, the vast majority of upcoming superhero films are coming from Marvel directly. They're not just licensing their comic-book content to another studio; they're becoming a fully-functioning studio themselves, in charge of their own film adaptations now. This is dangerous, because many (not all) of these comics have historically been aimed at men, and rarely feature self-contained narratives. If the studio churning out this product is left to its own devices, then it seems likely it will continue creating sprawling plots that take several films to resolve themselves, and attempt gender parity via a few scenes of a woman kicking or punching a male character.

Taken from here

The more significant thing holding Hollywood back is the financial imperative to not change anything. Films like The Amazing Spider-Man and Iron Man 3 see overseas markets double their US-based box office grosses now. This means that superhero films regularly make 2/3rds of their money in countries that might not necessarily have grown up reading the comics the films are based on, and definitely haven't grown up with Western humour or the mythologies the genre has traditionally embraced. By necessity, blockbusters on this global scale have to play broadly, and there's not much room allowed for genre subversion, societally contextual humour, political dissidence or familial unrest. When you factor 3D into the mix... things change even more. This article's already sprawling, and we're aware we've not discussed 3D at all yet, despite this being a site devoted to 3D cinema. Let's not mince our words: 3D grosses are slowly declining in the US and some (not all) of the Western world, but 3D business is still doing gangbuster business in places like China, Brazil and Russia. Indeed, 3Defence's incoming traffic sky-rockets weekly as people from these countries ask Google (and Baidu) "should I see X superhero movie in 2d or 3d?"


If you removed 3D box office 'extra' takings from the equation, then the distribution of box-office grosses would balance more favourably again towards countries like the US, UK and Australia. Two prominent 2D superhero films, Iron Man 2 and The Dark Knight actually earned more in the US than they did worldwide. So it's no mistake that the 3D Iron Man 3 doubled the gross of its predecessor. Doubled. As long as 3D has that kind of a result, Hollywood will continue paying the estimated $10 - $20 million extra it costs to add 3D to a film. And when it makes that sort of an additional investment, Hollywood expects its money back, and will advocate for playing broadly to guarantee that happens. When you go broad, you miss out on subtleties of the kind offered by Matt Damon's Bourne character, and you certainly miss out on a subtext about the rights of homosexuals in our modern society like X-Men offered.

We're not saying that 3D is the entire problem with the superhero genre, but it's one part of the problem. If you look at the types of genres that are still being made in 2D - such as comedies, detective films, dramas, thrillers - then you also start to see that these films are the ones that cost such a small amount that they're allowed to be edgy or outside of the mainstream four-quadrant blockbuster formats. A 2D $25 million film like Anchorman costs roughly 1/10th of the budget for the 3D $225 million Man Of Steel, and the lower-budget film has a lot to say about society's casual sexism while the big-budget film has basic thoughts on the evils of... terraforming.

When you start to truly look at the problems Hollywood faces, it becomes clear there is a solution, and it's right in front of their noses. Create superhero films that embrace actual genres. Get rid of the X-Men template, which has now been distilled to a meaningless 'superheroes for superheroes sake'. Instead, look to existing titles like Powers; a detective story that features a buddy-cop pairing of a talkative but capable young woman and a brooding hulk of a world-weary man. With the successful release of the (again, 2D) film The Heat, we know there's an audience for women in the buddy-cop / detective genres. And the great thing about Powers is that, because the pair usually investigate the deaths or crimes of superheroes after-the-fact, there's little need for flashy special effects or whizz-bang 3D gimmickry. You could make a taut film adaptation of Powers for $45 million, and critics would praise the way you'd dealt with the collateral damage and psychological impact recklessly wrought by caped crusaders.

Of course, there are dozens of other titles that are just as deserving of the big-screen treatment as Powers. Batman Begins could have been made for half its budget if they'd adhered more closely to the detective-thriller Batman: Year One comic. That might have allowed more room to talk about our society's attitude to criminals, beyond Machiavellian chemical-warfare schemes. There are decades worth of Iron Man comics that realistically deal with alcoholism, as real a worldwide issue as any, but we'd be surprised if Disney/Marvel ever sanctioned a low-budget rehab drama featuring ol' Shellhead (though watching Robert Downey Jnr. tackle that would be particularly interesting!).

So, yes, you're reading this right. 3Defence is advocating more 2D superhero films, for at least as long as it's cost-prohibitive to make a 3D version of a movie. But then, we're cinema advocates here, not just 3D ones. A 'holy grail' situation is obviously a time when movie production and distribution costs are lowered significantly, and producers can begin releasing more 3D dramas, 3D comedies and 3D crime films. When that happens it's likely that Hollywood will finally wise-up and start inserting their A-list superheroes into these genres. When The Bourne Identity equivalent of a superhero film comes along, it's going to change everything overnight... just like the bite of a radioactive spider or a sudden burst of gamma rays. Next time you catch your favourite publication ranting about the low-brow nature of a populist form of entertainment, ask them how they suggest improving things. They have great power, and they should start taking that responsibility seriously.

Monday, July 1, 2013

New Wizard Of Oz IMAX 3D trailer

In September, for better or worse, we get our second 3D trip to Oz for the year. Warner Brothers and IMAX have teamed up to re-release The Wizard of Oz in post-converted 3D for a limited one week release. It's hard to know how big an audience there is for this type of retrospective; Jurassic Park and Titanic 3D re-releases have been doing fine business at the box-office, but no-one's attempted a post-conversion job on a classic this old. In fact, most kids' grandparents weren't even born when Wizard Of Oz was originally released, so if there's a nostalgia ticket to be sold then it's likely on the basis of a VHS copy or TV re-runs! For many, it will be the first time they've seen Dorothy's ruby slippers on the big screen. Check out the trailer for an insight into how Warners are pitching their marketing:



With its school-choir revision of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, it would appear Warner Brothers are borrowing a play from the The Social Network's marketing play-book. It's no mistake that they've done this. Both trailers capitalise on a 'global' feeling of connection to the material, and they work hard to captivate as many generations as they can. Whatever your original connections are to the source material though, it's hard to avoid the feeling this trailer was whipped together on-the-cheap, with trite fonts in front of stock footage backgrounds feeling all a little 'straight to video'.

Of course, the impact of this trailer is dramatically reduced in 2D. It's easy to imagine that this footage pops off the screen in an IMAX theatre. The trailer labours how expansive the film's backgrounds feel (most were achieved with the help of some stunning matte paintings) and how vivid the Technicolor is. If the 3D post-conversion has been handled tastefully, we think the Wizard Of Oz re-release could look better than some of the other 3D product being shifted around multiplexes this year. What do you think? Are you tired of these re-releases, or do you relish the opportunity to see a beloved classic on the big screen again?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How's the 3D in World War Z?

Background:

World War Z is (loosely) based on a 2006 novel by Max Brooks. The book is a cracking read, and we were hoping the film would be just as outstanding as its source-material. The production of the film encountered multiple woes, all of which are well documented, but the first few trailers successfully dispelled most audience's doubts about the film. Indeed, in its first weekend, World War Z mightily exceeded all box-office expectations. Critics are divided on the film, while audiences are more generally positive towards horror and action pictures, so have dished out a healthy B+ CinemaScore.


Post-Converted 3D:

World War Z was shot in 2D, using Alexa cameras, and later post-converted into 3D by Prime Focus World. The firm delivered 2076 converted shots, assisted by 400 artists. The firm's website goes into great detail about the conversion, and when stereo firms rave about their own work we tend to listen. We've seen several projects recently where there has been next-to-nothing released officially about the post-conversion process. In contrast, the team involved with World War Z are proud to show off the collaboration they had with the film's creators, and they're glad to talk about their unique approach to 3D film-making. They need not talk too much about their work though, because the proof of it is in the theatre, where their work looked absolutely stunning.


Does the 3D 'pop'?

Like 28 Days Later and the Dawn Of The Dead remake before it, World War Z features fast-moving zombies. They're relentless in their pursuit of human flesh, and the undead have a nasty habit of popping at the living. The film-makers make full use of these jump scares, with teeth and clawed hands leaping out at their audience. The 3D effects used don't linger long enough to be hokey; instead they're employed to give you a good fright before the effects are dialled back down to 'classy' again. Between zombie attacks, 'noise elements' like lens flares or ash particles are layered enough to give the audience the perception they're really in the room with Brad Pitt.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Fantastic! The film is deceptively small-scale, and is focused (literally) on Brad Pitt's character throughout. Prime Focus World went above and beyond to map out Pitt's face in elaborate detail, so his character feels absolutely 'real' in terms of depth, even in close-ups. Their efforts pay off the most in dialogue scenes, where spatial integrity is maintained perfectly, to the point we'd swear some scenes were filmed in Native 3D. Often an 'over-the-shoulder' shot - where there are three planes of depth caused by an out of focus shoulder at the front of the shot - causes issues for post-conversion teams, sometimes resulting in obviously 'layered' visuals that feel artificial. In World War Z, this pitfall is avoided masterfully.


But you don't care about dialogue when it comes to a zombie film, do you? No. You care about the apocalypse! The damage wrought upon Israel, Korea and Philadelphia in World War Z is expertly staged by the film-makers, and their set-pieces are well designed to emphasise the magnitude of the unfolding disasters.  In 3D, the cataclysmic events seem that much more devastating, thanks to a large number of helicopter-based shots that help the audience contextualise and comprehend the undead chaos.


Did it make sense to add 3D to World War Z?

Not in the slightest. The major set-pieces are set in either cramped and dark areas, or dusty and monochromatic landscapes. The characters mostly wear plain looking clothes (which helps sell the realism of the situation) and the undead wear the same clothes too. Even the blood is neutered to be a digitally-altered black colour; presumably to reduce the rating to a PG-13 one that could help boost ticket sales. So, at face-value, this wouldn't be an obvious choice for a 3D film for us. We're happy the team at Prime Focus World proved us wrong though. Perhaps we'll have to revise what our criteria for a '3D-appropriate' film is. There are scenes set in pitch-black rain that work great here, with zero eye strain, and perfect visual clarity achieved. There are others that allow us to focus on one tiny detail amongst a sprawling mass of creatures. It's a great example of what 2013's 3D technology is capable of, and it's another film that proves that post-conversions are capable of standing toe-to-toe with Native 3D works now.

The film itself

Fans of the book's non-linear timeline and documentary style will probably hate World War Z. Likewise, true zombie genre fans. And it's possible those who wanted to see a 'world war' will be disappointed they're instead given a film about a UN health inspector... ha. For one final caveat, it's possible that Palestinian sympathisers will find images in the film unsettling, but then again the film deals with that issue directly and it's therefore hard to argue a sub-textual agenda. With all these caveats out of the way, we found World War Z a perfectly executed Hollywood disaster picture. This isn't a zombie film. Instead, it deserves to be compared to the likes of 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon and Deep Impact. In company like that, Z shines. It's far smarter than it deserves to be.

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

In case it's not been obvious enough yet, we'd recommend archiving the 3D version of World War Z. It's a great post-conversion, and you only gain appreciation for the film by seeing it in 3D.