Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How's the 3D in World War Z?


World War Z is (loosely) based on a 2006 novel by Max Brooks. The book is a cracking read, and we were hoping the film would be just as outstanding as its source-material. The production of the film encountered multiple woes, all of which are well documented, but the first few trailers successfully dispelled most audience's doubts about the film. Indeed, in its first weekend, World War Z mightily exceeded all box-office expectations. Critics are divided on the film, while audiences are more generally positive towards horror and action pictures, so have dished out a healthy B+ CinemaScore.

Post-Converted 3D:

World War Z was shot in 2D, using Alexa cameras, and later post-converted into 3D by Prime Focus World. The firm delivered 2076 converted shots, assisted by 400 artists. The firm's website goes into great detail about the conversion, and when stereo firms rave about their own work we tend to listen. We've seen several projects recently where there has been next-to-nothing released officially about the post-conversion process. In contrast, the team involved with World War Z are proud to show off the collaboration they had with the film's creators, and they're glad to talk about their unique approach to 3D film-making. They need not talk too much about their work though, because the proof of it is in the theatre, where their work looked absolutely stunning.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Like 28 Days Later and the Dawn Of The Dead remake before it, World War Z features fast-moving zombies. They're relentless in their pursuit of human flesh, and the undead have a nasty habit of popping at the living. The film-makers make full use of these jump scares, with teeth and clawed hands leaping out at their audience. The 3D effects used don't linger long enough to be hokey; instead they're employed to give you a good fright before the effects are dialled back down to 'classy' again. Between zombie attacks, 'noise elements' like lens flares or ash particles are layered enough to give the audience the perception they're really in the room with Brad Pitt.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Fantastic! The film is deceptively small-scale, and is focused (literally) on Brad Pitt's character throughout. Prime Focus World went above and beyond to map out Pitt's face in elaborate detail, so his character feels absolutely 'real' in terms of depth, even in close-ups. Their efforts pay off the most in dialogue scenes, where spatial integrity is maintained perfectly, to the point we'd swear some scenes were filmed in Native 3D. Often an 'over-the-shoulder' shot - where there are three planes of depth caused by an out of focus shoulder at the front of the shot - causes issues for post-conversion teams, sometimes resulting in obviously 'layered' visuals that feel artificial. In World War Z, this pitfall is avoided masterfully.

But you don't care about dialogue when it comes to a zombie film, do you? No. You care about the apocalypse! The damage wrought upon Israel, Korea and Philadelphia in World War Z is expertly staged by the film-makers, and their set-pieces are well designed to emphasise the magnitude of the unfolding disasters.  In 3D, the cataclysmic events seem that much more devastating, thanks to a large number of helicopter-based shots that help the audience contextualise and comprehend the undead chaos.

Did it make sense to add 3D to World War Z?

Not in the slightest. The major set-pieces are set in either cramped and dark areas, or dusty and monochromatic landscapes. The characters mostly wear plain looking clothes (which helps sell the realism of the situation) and the undead wear the same clothes too. Even the blood is neutered to be a digitally-altered black colour; presumably to reduce the rating to a PG-13 one that could help boost ticket sales. So, at face-value, this wouldn't be an obvious choice for a 3D film for us. We're happy the team at Prime Focus World proved us wrong though. Perhaps we'll have to revise what our criteria for a '3D-appropriate' film is. There are scenes set in pitch-black rain that work great here, with zero eye strain, and perfect visual clarity achieved. There are others that allow us to focus on one tiny detail amongst a sprawling mass of creatures. It's a great example of what 2013's 3D technology is capable of, and it's another film that proves that post-conversions are capable of standing toe-to-toe with Native 3D works now.

The film itself

Fans of the book's non-linear timeline and documentary style will probably hate World War Z. Likewise, true zombie genre fans. And it's possible those who wanted to see a 'world war' will be disappointed they're instead given a film about a UN health inspector... ha. For one final caveat, it's possible that Palestinian sympathisers will find images in the film unsettling, but then again the film deals with that issue directly and it's therefore hard to argue a sub-textual agenda. With all these caveats out of the way, we found World War Z a perfectly executed Hollywood disaster picture. This isn't a zombie film. Instead, it deserves to be compared to the likes of 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon and Deep Impact. In company like that, Z shines. It's far smarter than it deserves to be.

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

In case it's not been obvious enough yet, we'd recommend archiving the 3D version of World War Z. It's a great post-conversion, and you only gain appreciation for the film by seeing it in 3D.

Monday, June 24, 2013

List of 3Defence's Reviews

This is a compilation of 3Defence's 3D film reviews. Hopefully the table below provides a quick resource to see all of our reviews at a glance, and also shows we're not overtly biased in one direction or the other between 2D and 3D versions of films*. Enjoy!

Film Title What type of 3D? Which version to preserve?
Edge Of Tomorrow Post-Converted 3D 2D
X-Men: Days Of Future Past Native 3D 3D
Godzilla Post-Converted 3D 3D
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Post-Converted 3D 3D
Captain America: The Winter Soldier Post-Converted 3D 2D
Gravity Rendered 3D 3D
The Wizard Of Oz Post-Converted 3D 3D
Pacific Rim Post-Converted 3D 2D
World War Z Post-Converted 3D 3D
Iron Man 3 Post-Converted 3D 2D
Man Of Steel Post-Converted 3D 3D
Jurassic Park 3D Post-Converted 3D 2D
Oz The Great And Powerful Native 3D 2D
Life Of Pi Native 3D 3D
Bait 3D Native 3D 2D
Frankenweenie Post-Converted 3D 3D
Dredd Native 3D 3D
Katy Perry: Part Of Me Both 2D
The Amazing Spider-Man Native 3D 2D
Men In Black 3 Post-Converted 3D 3D
Prometheus Native 3D 2D
The Avengers Post-Converted 3D 3D

And here's a visual representation of whether we came down in favour of the 2D or 3D versions:

*Worth mentioning though, we tend to avoid writing reviews that explicitly urge you to spend your money in one way or another. Instead, we've preferred to opine on whether the 3D or 2D version of a film is the 'definitive' version that should be archived and preserved. After all, most critics and audiences would agree that the 3D version of Avatar projected in cinemas in 2009 is the version with the most historic significance. Likewise, most would agree Alice In Wonderland's post-converted 3D should never be seen again, and if we needed to archive anything we should archive the 2D version. If nothing else, we're hoping that this site can be a resource for future scholars, documenting what audiences responded to in the modern 3D era, and what we didn't.

Friday, June 21, 2013

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


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.

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.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

New trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Today Warner Brothers released the first trailer for their upcoming epic The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It's filled with dramatic wide-angle shots and sword-bearing creatures leaping towards the camera. Even when viewed on YouTube, the footage looks devoid of motion-blur, very much like the 48fps HFR version will in theatres. Check out the trailer below:

What do you make of the trailer? Are you excited to see an explosion of butterflies in 3D, or a waterfall scene at twice the frame rate of any waterfalls from the original trilogy? You'll be able to see the trailer in 24fps 3D this Friday, as it's likely attached to most Man Of Steel 3D prints.