Monday, July 15, 2013

How's the 3D in Pacific Rim?


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.