Friday, June 21, 2013

How's the 3D in 'Iron Man 3'?


Background

Obviously the third film in the series, Iron Man 3 is actually the fifth time we've seen Robert Downey Jr. play the role of Tony Stark. It's also the second time he's collaborated with the film's director, Shane Black. For the latest Stark instalment, the pair have conspired to chop the titular hero's ego down to size, perhaps hoping to provide a more likeable character arc than what Iron Man 2 offered us. We'll discuss plot points later though, for now, let's have a look at the third film's usage of 3D! How was it? Should you see it in 2D or 3D? We'll investigate below in our usual template-driven style, in the hopes you'll be able to make an informed movie-going decision.

Post-Converted 3D

Like The Avengers and Thor before it, Iron Man 3 was shot digitally, and post-converted into 3D. 3Defence's view of The Avengers was that the film greatly benefited from an extra dimension, and the movie-going public appeared to agree. Have you ever wondered why Disney & Marvel have been so gung-ho to post-convert their films to 3D? Maybe it's because they're hiring directors like Kenneth Branagh, Joss Whedon; veterans, but rusty or inexperienced when it comes to helming A-list, tent-pole, action blockbusters. In Shane Black's case, his sophomore directing gig is also the follow-up to the third biggest film ever! To make the film's production relatively smooth-sailing, we can understand why you'd want to film in 2D. The firm StereoD was brought in to pick up the slack.


StereoD are quickly carving out a reputation as the 'benchmark' firm when it comes to post-conversion. They've handled other well-respected conversions like the ones from The Avengers and Titanic 3D, and they no doubt put in a lot of effort to the work done for Iron Man 3. We've had uncharacteristically bad luck when it comes to researching the "hows" and "whys" the production took for the 3D used, so we're left to suppose a bit of conjecture here. Perhaps Mavel/Disney still think that post-conversion is frowned upon by audiences, and were loathe to reveal how the 3D was added afterwards? Is it possible they're burying news of post-conversions? That's definitely speculation, but the total radio silence on this conversion rang alarm bells for us.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

As is becoming a theme for superhero films, 'noise elements' like dust, snow, debris and sparks happily fly out of the screen. There's a lot of holographic images that buzz around the screen too. Characters don't break this 'fifth wall' of the screen though, they stay safely behind it. The mantra in Hollywood continues to be "classy" instead of using overt 3D effects on actors.

If I had a dollar for every comic franchise to use holographic 3D effects...

How's the depth of the 3D?

Iron Man 3 shines when it comes to depth. By far the most effective 3D sequence is a prolonged aerial free-fall, where Stark attempts to save several people plummeting to earth. Thanks to the stunning usage of stereo depth employed, we're constantly aware of how fast the ground is approaching. This sense of impending doom heightens (pun intended) the tension of the scene significantly, and will likely give viewers a real sense of vertigo. It probably helps that, for this scene at least, the crew filmed dozens of real-life skydiving jumps to capture the kinetic feeling of a free-fall. The 3D effects added in post-production enhance the feelings of immediacy for the viewer, so we'd consider them worthwhile and consistent with the story being told. It's a stunning piece of action, and fantastic 3D cinema.


Did it make sense to add 3D to Iron Man 3?

Superheroes and 3D generally seem a natural fit. Iron Man 3 is no Man Of Steel though. Take a look at the posters: they're set at nightfall, grimly lit and generally projecting more darkness than we'd like from a 3D film. Indeed, most of the pivotal action scenes are set at night or indoors, in dull offices and neutral corridors. The film's villain, The Mandarin, is lit and dressed like an Al Qaeda-issued video: shot in a cave, wearing camouflaged clothing - hardly the type of footage we'd normally advocate for in a 3D film. Even Iron Man's various Mark suits have had their colour vibrancy dialled down, and that's before 3D glasses added another 'muting' layer! The final image is muddy and, it would seem, poorly conceived for the 3D medium.

Dimly lit, boring background, neutral colours... not a good 3D mix

The film itself

Make no mistake about it: Iron Man 3 is a muddled mess. The first two acts are great fun, while the third act is a hastened and bombastic explosion of nonsense. The stakes are significantly lowered by the reveal that Stark owns autonomous suits that can do his bidding. This has the same effect that the droid army did in the Star Wars prequels - we have no emotional investment in the robots, so our engagement is significantly dialled back. To some extent, Marvel has been guilty of this for some time. They've regularly provided literal cannon fodder for their heroes and villains to dispatch without requiring a harsher rating. The Chitauri, the Frost Giants, the HYDRA agents, and now the spare suits of Tony Stark... all relatively faceless fodder for CGI-laden battles.

I have no idea what's going on here, even in 2D

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

In this case, we're going to side with the 2D. With glasses on, you'll spend much of the last act wondering what the hell is going on. There's so many dark-coloured suits flying around, at night-time, for some reason in a shipyard, that your eyes will struggle to decipher meaning from the noise. Save some money and save your eyes the effort.

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