Sunday, June 8, 2014

How's The 3D in Godzilla?


Godzilla has been around for 50 years. He's been in almost as many movies. 2014's Godzilla is Hollywood's second attempt at bringing the monster to life. Thankfully, this version was guided to the big screen by Gareth Edwards, whose 2010 film Monsters went a long way with a very low budget. His skills behind the camera have been recognised already, with Disney shoulder-tapping him to helm the next stand-alone Star Wars film. So, how did his transition from micro-budget to massive-budget film-making go? More importantly, how is the 3D in Godzilla?

 Post-Converted 3D:

Godzilla was shot in 2D on Arri Alexa Studio 4:3 cameras, using Panavision C Series anamorphic lenses. Effects studios like Weta Digital, Moving Picture Co., and Double Negative provided the CGI, and The Avengers' cinematographer Seamus McGarvey lensed the action. The film was later post-converted to 3D by two studios, Vancouver-based Gener8 and Stereo D. Their work here is subtle, but effective. Where Godzilla's post-conversion really shines is in the interior dialogue scenes. Rather than flatten out the stereo in such scenes, the stereo compositors add several layers of depth. For example, a doorway might frame a shot, with a concerned child layered in front of it, while a distraught parent paces several feet away in an adjoining room. In fact, doorways are used repeatedly to block characters from one another, and the motif afforded the post-conversion team a great way to separate actors from one another in three dimensions. A lot of the film has a naturalistic 'hand-held' approach, which can't have made the post-conversion easy in shots like this (the doorways would be constantly moving, which requires a lot of rotoscoping). The teams did a great job.

Bryan Cranston's character, behind a door

How's the depth?

Godzilla is the second big-budget 3D monster movie we've seen from Warner Brothers & Legendary Pictures. The difference in approach between Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim and Gareth Edwards' is interesting. It's hard to know if Edwards was explicitly guided by the studio to avoid a similar aesthetic to Guillermo Del Toro's picture, or if he just followed his nose towards a different approach. Perhaps answering that question, Legendary employed their own 'stereoscopic consultant' (though that might have been a supervisory role between the two conversion studios). Del Toro was at pains to show the scale of his monsters, from the monsters' perspective; rearing above skyscrapers, shot from phenomenal heights.

Edwards instead shoots his monsters from the perspective of the panicked humans below them. He communicates this scale in several interesting ways. He places humans on top of tall objects like skyscrapers or bridges. He throws humans out of planes, wearing parachutes. He has awestruck humans at ground-level, craning their heads to see the monsters towering above them. He has humans descend into deep caves, and lean over the edge of craters. The effect achieved is that we feel engaged in each shot. The depth of field is appropriately massive, but with a human in the near foreground and a disaster in the distant background we are invited to feel 'like we were there', and wonder 'what would I do in this situation?'

Does the 3D 'pop'?

There are several inventive usages of negative parallax in Godzilla. The title sequence is a series of military records being redacted, over the top of World War 2-era footage that has been aged and scuffed. The redaction process reveals the names of actors and crew members, and occurs in the deep foreground, in front of the action below. Eventually, the title card of 'GODZILLA' disperses into ashes, and the debris floats out towards the audience. It's a nice way of breaking the 'wall' of the cinema screen, without also breaking the audience's attention from the narrative of the film.

There are other memorable moments where the 3D 'pops'. In the crowded theatre 3Defence saw Godzilla, several audience members ducked and flinched when objects hurled towards the screen. As buildings are toppled, a cloud of dust and debris inevitably follows, roaring from several hundred feet of the way to eventually engulf the audience and their movie theatre. This effect is used to particularly strong effect in a nuclear power plant's meltdown, where a group of scientists attempt to outrun a cloud of radioactive material.

Did it make sense to add 3D to Godzilla?

A post-converted movie, filmed hand-held, set largely in evening scenes, where the monsters are often off-camera? No, it didn't make much sense to convert this film into 3D. This film challenges a lot of our traditional definitions of what is 'appropriate' for 3D distribution. We're glad that the studio took the risk though, and that Gener8/Stereo D pulled off such interesting interior scenes.

The film itself

Your reaction to Godzilla will depend on the history you bring to the theatre with you. If you're a longtime fan, you'll spend the first half of the movie frustrated you're not given much monster action, but then love the last 30 minutes. If you're a casual fan, you'll chuckle at a few references and generally have a good time. If you're a novice to the world of Godzilla, the performances of the humans might grate, and the episodic nature of the film might wear at your attention span. Hopefully you're somewhere in the middle of these perspectives, but it's not likely that any one person will be entirely satisfied by their experience. We hope there's a sequel, and that it addresses a few of these concerns.

Should we archive the 2D or the 3D version?

This is a tricky question. 3Defence is going to side with the 3D version in this case, but after much consternation. The literal framing devices used - where doorways or humans are in the close foreground, separating us from the action far away - demand to be watched in stereo. In 2D, they look like the action is being obstructed. In 3D, they look purposeful, giving us a sense of scale. The actors have been positioned, just like they were in the original Godzilla films of olde, as proxies for ourselves. In 3D, this effect works. In 2D, it's annoying. See the 3D version if you can, on the biggest screen you can find.

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