Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How's the 3D in 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'?

Read about the poster here -


This April, Captain America: The Winter Soldier kicked off the 'Summer' movie-going season early. Its over-sized box-office takings match the muscle and reputation of the hero himself, and critics were quick to praise the film too. He's the linchpin for Marvel's Cinematic Universe, which is why it's the fourth time we've seen Cap in 3D. Is this the definitive Steve Rogers story? How does the 3D fare in comparison to the post-converted likes of Iron Man Three or The Avengers? Join us for this in-depth review of the film's stereo effects, and let us know if we've missed anything!

Post-Converted 3D

Marvel makes bold bets on its directors. In retrospect, many of their choices often made total sense; Shakespearean-influenced Kenneth Brannagh was well matched with Thor, as was the wise-cracking Iron Man helmer Jon Favreau. While some of their directors had previously made big-budget films, none had ever made a 3D movie. We assume that's why the studio's 3D output to date has largely been post-converted; why make a nervous director's job harder than it needs to be on set? The technology improves every day, but filming in native 3D remains a challenge for even the most experienced of directors. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was not filmed by the likes of Peter Jackson or James Cameron. It was filmed by the directors of TV's Arrested Development, Anthony & Joe Russo. As best as we can tell, Marvel never divulged the reason they chose to post-convert this movie, but we assume the directors' green-ness to big-budget movie-making contributed to the decision.

As a result, the task of manually post-converting this behemoth of a movie fell to Stereo D and lead stereographer Anjel Alcaraz. We've covered their work before. They do a fine job of subtly enhancing 2D footage. 3Defence takes the view that Stereo D are a reliable shop, generally churning out quality work that is worthy of your attention. Indeed, they won a 3D industry award for their work on The Avengers, and we expect they'll be seeking recognition for their efforts here on Captain America: The Winter Soldier too.

How's The Depth of the 3D?

Captain America can't fly like Iron Man. He can't soar through the air like Thor and his hammer. He is basically human-sized, unlike Hulk. He doesn't web-sling, use magic, and he's not even a pint-sized gun-toting racoon. His buddies in this movie are all human too: Black Widow, Nick Fury and The Winter Soldier himself. To put it bluntly; stories about Steve Rogers don't necessarily call for depth imbalances in the way that his Marvel buddies' movies do.

Without a depth imbalance based on character size itself, usually 3D movies convey depth by relying on an arresting visual. For example, a character overlooking a large vista (say Sandara Bullock's space-faring character in Gravity), or one placed atop of a large structure (say Will Smith on the Apollo mission's launch pad in Men In Black 3). For much of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this type of 'imbalance' is not achieved. The nearby landscape - low-rise Washington DC - is neither spectacular or noteworthy. The foes are identifiably human-sized, and generally fighting in close proximity. Indeed, the film is purposefully shot in a way that invokes the memory of paranoid and close-quarters 70s thrillers like All The President's Men. Much of the movie is also shot in a traditional way; a blurry object is in the deep foreground, while a mid-ground character commands a sharp focus against a blurry background.

There's an interesting opening set-piece, set on the decks of a boat. It's closest 3D peer is Life Of Pi's shipwreck scene. There, Ang Lee shot the action from close angles, as if the camera operator were in the same predicament as the protagonist. Captain America's seafaring battle is similarly chaotic, but is filmed more objectively. The film-makers are unafraid to pull back a long way, to show the full speed and agility of their hero. It's an interesting touch, especially in light of how few film-makers have filmed superheros this way recently. The Dark Knight, Spider-Man, Superman, Thor, Iron Man and a myriad of others have often been filmed 'just over the shoulder' in a way that makes the action seem more immediate, but also makes their heroes appear more human. There were moments in the opening battle where distance and depth helped convey how powerful Steve Rogers is, and how superhuman his abilities are.

Where the film really comes alive though, from a depth perspective, is its last half-hour. Set high in the air courtesy of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s helicarriers and accompanied by a flying Falcon, the super-sized action allows for an explosive finale. Still, there's nothing in this sequence that comes close to Iron Man Three's airplane freefall or even the skyscraper-soaring conclusion to The Avengers. The action here is also shot largely in the traditional modern superhero style of 'just over the shoulder', so you'll be disappointed if you're looking for new bench-marks in depth here.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

While objects don't fly out into the audience, objects like Captain America's shield regularly fly from the background right up to the edge of the screen. You won't spend much of the movie ducking for cover.

Did it make sense to add 3D?

Dark, gritty, political thrillers are not a natural fit with 3D. We weren't particularly blown away by the post-conversion used in this film's predecessor (Captain America: The First Avenger) either. Thankfully, someone in charge of The Winter Soldier made sure they catered many of the film's set-pieces with 3D in mind: the biggest action sequences all happen in broad daylight. Sunlight helps provide clear and crisp images to a glasses-wearing audience. By setting their fast-paced fight scenes in the afternoon the Russo Brothers made 3D easy on the eyes. We thank them!

The film itself

This is the easiest section to write for this review: it's a great movie. At the time of writing, it's firmly placed in the IMDb Top 250. The film's best watched with some beginner's knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it's definitely easy to keep up with for outsiders. Chris Evans nails his part, and Scarlett Johansson continues to play Black Widow with a surprising intensity (though we'd like her part more if she were filmed from the same distance as her male peers and if there were more meaningful female characters for her to talk to). The Winter Soldier himself is a meaningful 'bad guy' (particularly if you've seen The First Avenger) and his relationship with Captain America is pivotal to the story. You couldn't ask for a better comic book movie this early in 2014.

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

We hope this review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier's 3D has been regarded as largely positive. If anything, we at 3Defence are 'lukewarm' on the conversion. We're going to side with the 2D version. There's nothing to 'dislike' here, and 3D haters would struggle to point at anything that detracts from the movie-going experience. However, 3D enthusiasts would also struggle to find much that radically improves the movie-going experience in stereo. This is about as middle-of-the-road as it gets.


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