Saturday, June 15, 2013

How's the 3D in 'Man Of Steel'?


To date, despite owning DC Comics' entire catalogue of superheroes, Warner Brothers have taken a small-scale - or at least self-contained - approach to their big-screen adaptations. Certainly their DC films have not been as far-reaching or synergistic as anything from Disney's Marvel-verse. Warners, seeing Marvel's successes - and perhaps fearing a time when The Hobbit can't be split into any further films - promptly commissioned another blockbuster series from Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight team. Taking on the Man Of Steel himself is no small challenge. The brief Warners likely gave was that the film needed to broadly introduce aliens to Earth, show Superman punching bad guys, and earn big Dark Knight-sized blockbuster grosses. Some challenge! Nolan promptly recruited 300 and Watchmen "visionary" director Zack Snyder to helm the mayhem. The resulting film was released yesterday and 3Defence was there in a packed auditorium on opening night. How'd they do? How was Man Of Steel's 3D? Should you see it in 3D or 2D? Read on for the answer!

Post-Converted 3D:

Here's the thing with a tent-pole superhero film these days; unless it's directed by the 3D-averse Christopher Nolan, you'd best believe it will be released in 3D somehow. That's one cinematic trend you can literally bank on for the next few years, especially after the 3D-grosses were tallied up for The Avengers. Why then is Man Of Steel - from Nolan himself - being released with a post-converted 3D option? If they had to release the film in 3D at all, you'd think the picky creative team would've preferred to go 'all in' with a native-3D shoot, right?

In fact, they originally wanted to do just that. In an interview with Collider Snyder said, "we spent quite a while talking about shooting the movie in [native] 3D and we tested a bunch of rigs.  I said, 'Look, the movie’s handheld.  If you guys can give me a handheld grade that I think is viable, I’m happy to talk about it.' No one could find me a rig." Essentially, the shoot could take much longer than planned, or Snyder would have to film on a tripod; a total change of the visual language he needed for this fast-paced film. It's an interesting conundrum, that we've not heard articulated by other A-list directors yet. So, Man Of Steel is post-converted into 3D because native-3D rigs weren't ready yet to accommodate this particular director's pace. Adding to the intrigue, Snyder eventually shot on film - remember 35mm?

Does the 3D pop?

If anything comes beyond the confides of the screen in Man Of Steel, it's a few 'noise' elements; stuff like debris, sparks, steam and flames. Interestingly, we didn't notice the effect's absence while watching the film. Historically, we've criticised some superhero films (looking at you The Amazing Spider-Man) for being too timid with their usage of 3D's most outrageous effect. Man Of Steel though is no ordinary superhero film; it's borderline apocalyptic in tone. With the fate of multiple worlds at stake, and villains who can move at supersonic speeds, we're actually appreciative there's a clearly defined boundary between 'the film' and 'the audience'. The action on offer is laden with such an overwhelming surplus of visual information too much immersion would have been a bad thing!

How's the depth of the 3D?

Stunning. The depth effects used on Man Of Steel work on two levels (pun intended). On the one hand, the depth of the background adds visual clarity to the viewer. Because of the way the parallax effects are used, we're able to see how insanely fast Superman is moving, and how that might contrast to the speed of his adversaries. On the other hand, and in open contradiction to our earlier point, the depth employed adds a ton of chaos to the action. This chaos is consistent with the film's plot though and, we would argue, assists the audience's comprehension of the ridiculously high-stakes at play throughout the movie. You'll see vistas stretch into the distant horizon, and then be blasted to the limits of that horizon  in seconds, before being catapulted into space, and then back down into a suburban diner and then back into the skies again. This is easily the fastest-paced superhero film we've ever seen, and the depth added by the 3D here left us, entirely appropriately, reeling.

Did it make sense to add 3D to Man Of Steel?

Superman, brightly-coloured boy scout that he is, is a natural hero to cast in a 3D film. He's certainly not the brooding and nocturnal type that Batman is. So, on the surface, Man Of Steel's a dictionary-definition of a "3D appropriate" movie. However... 3Defence had a concern: all that motion-blur, and that aforementioned handheld camera. 3D films have yet to overcome the historic associations with nausea and headaches that were often caused by an unsteady stereoscopic image. Seemingly aware of this, the post-conversion team dial back the 3D effects frequently, to give your eyes a 'breather' in the more unruly scenes. There are broad stretches where you could take your glasses off without missing anything. This is one of the most focused and sensitive conversions we've ever seen, precisely because the handheld camera work was not an issue at all. The team involved has proven 3D projection is ready for any visual challenge.

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

From our perspective, Man Of Steel's 3D version is the definitive version. It's refreshing to say that too, because we've favoured the 2D version in several recent 3D films (so don't be accusing of bias, yo). Man Of Steel is a ground-breaking step forward for the movie business, seemingly decades ahead of 2005's staid and plodding Superman Returns. The flight scenes, with Superman soaring over Africa and the Arctic, are superbly executed and are light-years beyond anything offered from Marvel's stable. The fact the post-conversion team handled the handheld camera work so well is a giant evolutionary step forward for the 3D effects industry, and this arguably makes the film a landmark work in its own right. If you watch Man Of Steel in 2D, you're missing out on a chance to see history in the making.

The film itself

There's a funny critical reaction to this movie. The sort of reaction that is common when two generations are divided. If you grew up reading Silver Age Superman comics, or if your only memory of the hero is the Christopher Reeve movies, then you're going to be surprised by the angry Man Of Steel offered here. If you read the comics from the 80s onwards though, you know Supes is capable of being a Big-Brother-esque government lackie, or a vengeful God ready to wreak havoc if it suits his dogmatic needs. Hell, he even surrendered his American citizenship recently; he's not exactly the jingoistic patriot he once was. Man Of Steel embraces this newer, more nuanced, version of DC Comics' flagship character. 

This isn't a mid-20th Century version of a superhero film. This is a film that fully embraces the genre's Roman and Greek roots: when Gods and Earth mix, the results can be disastrous. The collateral damage is enormous. We at 3Defence have clamoured for years to see the full extent of Superman's powers on-screen and, for better or worse, Zack Snyder has delivered that with Man Of Steel. This is a case where fans should be careful what they wish for though, because the resulting film is essentially a chaotically paced and very long fight scene. There's not much room for character development. So, if you're pining for a world-leading Christopher Reeve-styled Superman, you'll be bitterly disappointed by the worldly and weary version Snyder has cooked up for you. Even if that's your take on the film though, you might forgive Man Of Steel's flaws, given its absurdly gigantic scope and ambition.

Looked at as a late-comer to the big-screen comic-book adaptation game, Man Of Steel could be described as a mash-up. It combines Batman Begins' franchise foundations, Iron Man's handheld effects and Thor's intergalactic derring-do. Cynics might go further, saying Man Of Steel feels like the dregs of those films, swilled together in a putrid and overblown mess. Our opinion though? Man Of Steel wildly exceeds the type of fight-scenes any child has ever dreamed up while clutching a Superman figurine. The film treats its modern comic-book fans with respect, and forces a different era of Superman fans to come to terms with a God who is capable of vast collateral damage if you get in his way. Man Of Steel delivers a full-on bombast unlike any other film ever made and, given the titular character's super-sized abilities, that seems entirely appropriate.


  1. James Cameron would disagree.

    I think I would too. MoS with all of the shaky cam and the use of extreme depth of field was too busy for the 3D to work its magic. Point me to one breathtaking 3D scene.

  2. Hi Utau-Inu, thanks for your comment. It would seem that James Cameron and 3Defence actually agreed! In both reviews for Man Of Steel and Iron Man 3 ( we stated they "should not necessarily be in 3D". 3Defence then slagged off Iron Man 3's post-converted 3D as being as muddled as the film's story, saying it was "poorly conceived for the 3D medium." So, we're not always going to say a film should be in 3D, and we're not always going to rave about its usage. Sometimes it's just not appropriate, and sometimes it either detracts from the viewing experience, or - worse - it doesn't add anything extra to it.

    As for Man Of Steel, have you seen an actual quote from Cameron about the conversion being outright bad? I've seen quotes saying he thought it didn't need 3D added, but I've not seen anything that said he disliked its 3D. That IGN headline isn't backed up with any quotes or links I can find.

    Bear in mind with Cameron that he runs a company called Cameron Pace Group, which helps productions film in Native 3D. So while he's post-converted Titanic to great success, it could be argued he has an agenda to push at tech forums and the like.

    As for whether MoS was spectacular, or breathtaking... a number of scenes come to mind. I was blown away by a few shots in Krypton, overlooking an abyss filled with noisy war scenes. I thought the 'learning to fly' montage was the best high speed flight I'd seen onscreen (and neatly improves on some of the footage from the Christopher Reeve films). I mean, we've seen great flying scenes in the past (even some of Spielberg's Hook looked photo-real, because it was filmed in-camera) but this was beyond 'real' and instead was purely 'fantasy'. As a fantasy picture, I thought it looked stunning. There were a myriad of other shots that took my breath away, like from the space station above Earth, or the animated history of Krypton's space travellers.

    But I see your point that some viewers will find the noise and crazy depth of field as a bad thing. In saying that, I think some audiences would say the same thing in 2D. And the ultimate reason 3Defence stamped MoS with its seal-of-approval was because the film's 3D succeeded despite the noise and complex battle scenes. This was the first time we've seen 3D so 'free' feeling. If you compare Avatar and MoS side-by-side, you'd find one has a leisurely editing rhythm with excessively smoothed movement, while the other is a frenetic and wild blast of cinema. Both seem appropriate for the film-maker, and both seem appropriate for the film they're telling.

    But, as I say, I see your point. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the film in 2D, if you get the chance to see it again. Perhaps you'd come to the same conclusion with or without glasses.

    Thanks heaps for commenting Utau-Inu, it's been great to see a strong response on this article. This review is quickly becoming 3Defence's most-read one we've ever done, and I've been keen to hear our reader's thoughts!

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