Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How's the 3D in 'Oz The Great And Powerful'?


Oz The Great And Powerful is Sam Raimi's first 3D movie. Having licked the wounds of Spider-Man 3, Oz marks Raimi's return to the land of gigantic budgets, tons of CGI and 'franchise friendly' material. Optimists viewed the release of Oz as an opportunity for L. Frank Baum's classic novels to be visualised in the modern age, leading to a series worthy of their reputation as American Mythology. Cynics viewed the film's existence as a greedy crash-grab by Disney, fuelled by the phenomenal +$1billion box-office success of Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland. Meanwhile, others fretted that the 1939 classic Wizard Of Oz was just as fresh today as it was then and, frankly, didn't-need-a-prequel-thank-you-very-much. So... having set the scene for audience expectations, let's dive into the 3D of Oz The Great And Powerful!

Native 3D

If you fell in the 'cynic' camp of the audience, you might be surprised how little 'cash-grabbing' was involved in the production of Oz. Despite being the first digital feature for either Raimi or his regular cinematographer Peter Deming, the pair decided to go all-out and shoot native-3D using Red Epic cameras with 3ality Technica rigs. They chose to mimic the 1939 Wizard of Oz film's colour and ratio shift between Kansas and Oz, with their own ratio change moving from an old-school Academy Ratio of 1.375:1 expanding outwards to an anamorphic 2.35:1. Shifting to the latter caused headaches for a few departments, who - usually out of self-interest because it requires less work - generally prefer a boxier frame. Of course the wider screen size also makes it harder for the human eye to focus on things in 3D, so more effort is required in the editing of the picture to make sure the audience doesn't suffer the crew's headaches.

Raimi also emulated the 1939 film by shooting entirely on a gigantic Michigan soundstage. Oz's crew constructed vast real-world sets that could be populated with actual props and hundreds of costumed extras. Given the busyness of the on-set footage, and the way Raimi likes his cameras to roam omnipotently, it probably appeared intuitive and cost-effective to film in native-3D.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Some reviewers of Oz complained the film-makers tended to throw things at the audience more than they'd have liked. Others appreciated the gimmicks, with Time magazine saying, "the 3D effects are plentiful — hats, lions and baboons jump off the screen and into your lap." Tonally, the film sets the stage well for this effect; it's a film about a wannabe magician who is desperate for gratification, and will resort at razzle-dazzle sleights of hand to affect a sense of wonder from his audience. Is this the first 3D film to be thematically ironic in its overt usage of 'shock and awe' 3D techniques? Is Sam Raimi implying he sympathises with the pretend-Wizard's plight; having to conjure effects out of thin air that rival those of his Houdini-like heroes? So, yes, the 3D pops. Frequently. This is done sometimes by using faux frames that are then busted out of (sort of like the fish in Life Of Pi) and with others it's done using a true stereoscopic effect that reaches beyond the confides of the screen. These effects suffer no lack of clarity, so they clearly made good usage of the Red Epic camera's amazing resolution, which apparently allows the effects team to enlarge footage 50% or so without any signs of degradation.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Interestingly, these thematic and visual considerations often don't reach much farther than the foreground. The background of Oz seems to feel... static. It's as if the effects and action are so startlingly in-your-face that the designers of the film decided to just paint the background in. That may well have been Raimi's intention. Notice how the 1939 film used stationary matte paintings to make the studio-shot background stretch into nothingness, and how Raimi has replicated that feel in his 2013 version. The Hollywood Reporter astutely pointed out "As professional and accomplished as the effects appear in 3D, however, there is something almost cartoon-like about most of the scenery and backdrops, which are mostly placid and benign rather than spooky or threatening." In sum, there's nothing particularly noteworthy about the usage of depth in this film.

Did it make sense to film in 3D?

It is historically 3Defence's strong view that 3D is  projected better when it features bright colours and light. We've seen it time and again - modern 3D effects that are remembered are the ones that are shot in daylight, or have a brilliant illumination in their night-time scenes. It's not that 3D can't be shot subtly, it's just that it's much more reliably impressive (and requires less planning ahead of time) if you go for the Whiter Whites Brighter Colours approach. Now, think of the key things to do with Wizard of Oz folklore: "the yellow brick road", "the Emerald City", "the green Wicked Witch", "the horse of many colours", "Munchkinland"... we'll let you be the judge if it made sense to film in 3D.

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

Save the 2D! This is a gorgeous film, and deserves to be seen as its maker, perhaps unwittingly, intended: fully aware of its soundstage-filmed confines, over-saturated in colour, over-acted, and over-blown without needing glasses as an intermediary. It's worth noting too that Oz The Great And Powerful might have been a better candidate to debut 48fps out on the world. Oz's staged feeling (or-might-it-all-be-a-dream) would have lessened the artificial feeling some felt from watching The Hobbit in that format, and it would certainly have done a lot to reduce motion-blur. Oz suffers from 3D-worsened blur worse than any film in recent memory. Sam Raimi's camera is too wild and active for your eyes to keep up with when they're splitting the difference of 24 frames per second. Unconstrained by budget, like Peter Jackson before him, he crams the foreground of every frame with CGI beasties and beauties that your eyes are frequently overwhelmed. In 2D, this film would be an absolute joy.

The film itself

It's fun. It's a true return to form for Sam Raimi, who's proven recently he can still direct horror with the best of them, and now that he can still create big-screen spectacle worth seeing. Spider-Man 3 is a distant memory, thanks to the wonder of Oz. A shame then we weren't as big a fans of the 3D as we would have liked to be.

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