3D MOVIE Reviews
Five Star Maximum
Until 2008 or so, 3D movies could only be seen (with film) in Theme Parks or IMAX.
Now digital theaters offer several options: RealD (by far the most prevalent in US), Dolby (Infitec) or XpanD active (among others)
One confession: I LOVE good computer graphics. The ability to create such very realistic worlds and creatures is unprecedented in movie-making... and the art of digital 3D animation is absolutely awe inspiring. Of course, the fact that CG lends itself to stereoscopic rendering is a major bonus! Hair, skin, fur, reflections, transparencies... all these subtle nuances are so much clearer and true to life in stereo (and are pretty much impossible to recreate in a 2D to 3D conversion!)... I may well be prone to grade CG films higher than live action.
Also: I really do not like the grossly violent films like Saw and other death porn. These movies do lend themselves to 3D treatment, but I'm likely to avoid them.
Another important consideration is whether a film has been converted from 2D. Live action is much more difficult to shoot in 3D than it is to render CG (computer graphics) into stereo. Therefore, conversion is an expensive ($100,000 per minute) and time consuming process... while it offers flexibility, it's rarely as magical as "real" stereo. (NOTE: The previous was written before Titanic's 3D re-release: incredible! Cameron said it was "2.8D") Conversions have now earned a legitimate spot on the Studio 3D 3D Movie Reviews... 2.8 is close enough.
DIGITAL - IMAX 3D - THEME PARK 3D - Blu-Ray DVD - Netflix
DIGITAL Theater Projection
All movies were seen in RealD, unless otherwise indicated!
(2005 NPR News story on the advent of digital projection 7mb mp3)
POMPEII Three stars - 2014 SONY Pictures
Liked the lead actor, even though he was prettier than the lead actress... Not much of a story here, though certainly some great effects (especially in 3D) and plenty of video game style violence (if you like that stuff. Why is it lately that we see heroes that can defeat dozens of bad guys single handedly? I do think video games are driving that phemomena). Expected more from this director.
THE LEGOS MOVIE Three and a half stars - 2014 Warner Bros.
Toys have long been created and marketed based on kid's movies, but here we have the opposite (brilliant) idea: take a well known toy and create an entertaining movie showing how much fun being creative with it can be! (Perhaps the Transformers franchise did something similar, but they weren't exactly toys in those movies). And it really is entertaining... smartly scripted and voiced, with many whimsical worlds made entirely of legos. Though this makes actual character animation virtually impossible, the Legos (and faces) were animated extremely cleverly (ocean waves!). 3D worked well, with an unexpected twist at the end.
THE HOBBIT: Desolation of Smaug Three and a half stars - 2013 New Line/Warner Bros.
Loads of stunning visuals, but throughout the adventure the dwarfs and the elves who are helping them manage to avoid and/or kill dozens of seriously nasty orks (as well as the giant talking fire-breathing dragon) with hardly a scratch or burn (yeah, one arrow hits- big story point!). Again, the characters are cool to look at but really lacking personality- not one adding sorely needed comic relief. The romance seemed improbable. Movie was long, and it seemed it... Loved 48fps smoothing out the 3D motion- wish all (3D) movies had high frame rates.
FROZEN Four and a half stars - 2013 Disney
The opening short was a surprisingly brilliant piece of 3D animation, worth the price of admission alone. The feature presentation's art direction was just spectacular, with ice and snow being utilized in stereo space like never before. Good writing, good (but not memorable, except maybe the comic relief snowman) characters, and well exectured songs and music. Though corny at times, this was certainly Disney doing what it should- quality animation that appeals to "young and old alike". I enjoyed a good number of laughs, as did the little girl in the seat next to me...
PLANES 3D One and a half stars - 2013 Pixar
It's sad to see the once mighty Pixar releasing a pablum like this as a feature film. The story is cliche, the writing has little heart or real humor, and the character animation is minimal: there is not much to animate on a plane (or truck or car) except the deflated decal eyes or anthropormophic mouth. The ocean storm scene was ok, but nothing new. Not a memorable scene in the film. Not even a short beforehand... Pixar? Is it just about merchandising?
PERCY JACKSON Sea of Monsters Three stars - 2013 Fox 2000
Percy Who? Turns out to be modern people living with mythical creatures. Percy is a "half-blood" son of Ocean God Posiedon and human... the actor was quite plain and forgettable (as were most of the cast). The dialogue was juvenile but the creatures were ok, especially the "transformer-like" bull (where did he come from??). Overall, the converted 3D was well done- the highlight was a short prophecy/fantasy sequence (also seemingly out of context) featuring what appeared to be animated stained glass. Beautiful! A memorable (but dumb) line from this 3D movie: Cyclops says "No one's ever trusted me with anything before"... female protagonist says, "Is that because you have no depth perception?" Duh.
WOLVERINE Three and a half stars - 2013 Marvel/20th Century Fox
These super-hero type movies succeed with a good lead character... Robert Downey Jr. does it for Ironman, I think Hugh Jackman does it for Wolverine. He's intense, and he's got the perfect physique to make it real. Jackman serves the story with human interest as well as hardcore fighting. Memorable scenes include the battle on the bullet train and Wolverine dragging dozens of corded arrows in his back- 3D worked beautifully. Lots of well choreographed martial arts and swordplay. StereoD conversion- excellent as usual. Enjoyed the movie, but do I want to see it again? Probably not.
DESPICABLE ME 2 Five stars - 2013 Illumination Entertainment
Perfection. Brilliant from start to finish... LOVED this cinematic animated masterpiece! Every element was superb! Great characters, story, design, sound, lighting, writing... I laughed 'til I cried- again and again (and again). A movie this good does not come around often- this may be the new benchmark! Great appeal for kids and adults- not to mention the stereo being absolutely amazing... with some wonderful final codas! There were just so many standout scenes... I could go on about specifics, but there are just too many. Superseded the great original. Kudos to all the fantastic filmmakers, and thanks for 98 minutes of 3D animated movie bliss. Wow.
WORLD WAR Z Three and a half stars - 2013 Paramount
Do I need a movie to spike my blood pressure? The insanity started pretty quickly and had me on edge through most of the film... the pacing was good and the characters well portrayed. The apocalyptic scenes were quite nightmarish, some spectacular. I'm surprised at the bashing of the 3D conversion- it looked quite good to me! Not sure how the final solution was "safe", so the end left a big question mark (details omitted to avoid spoilage).
MAN OF STEEL Two and a half stars - 2013 Warner Bros.
More disappointment~ I was a huge Superman fan as a kid, looking up to George Reeves as the Great American hero and reading the DC comics for years. In 1978 I was disappointed that Christopher Reeve checks out Lois's panties (the "real" Superman would NEVER have done that). I understand that storytellers have to move with the times- this new Superman is barely recognizable from the one I knew. The "S" logo no longer stands for Superman, it happens to be the Krypton symbol for "hope" (??). So his dad wore it, and somehow packed a uniform with it... very weird and scaley with a cape so long it drags on the ground. The actor, Henry Cavill, has got the perfect Superman look- but his character is quite sterile. I saw no chemistry with Lois Lane, in fact I didn't engage with any of the characters... the villians were certainly nothing special. The movie itself was super in spectacle, but lacked substance. Smashing through buildings is fun, but enough is enough! The most memorable scene was when the young Kent couldn't control his powers, and saw his teachers and classmates through to the skeletons (this looked fantastic in 3D). Conversion was done by Legend3D, and it was very good- but I'd say not up to StereoD quality.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY Four stars - 2013 Pixar/Disney
What an incredible treat for the eyeballs. I'm simply stupefied at the quality of art and craft that these Pixar people produce- always another level up in their mind-bogglingly beautiful animation. Wow. Not really a fan of the "let's scare the hell of of little kids to power our world" premise, but it was tons of fun being with Mike and Sully and all the great characters in their college setting. It's a real shame that there are people out there who don't (or won't) appreciate the stereo3D, because it's SUCH a treat (if I had to give up sound or 3D, it would be the sound!). Also got a wonderful bonus short "The Blue Umbrella" which brought to life many otherwise inanimate objects in a big city rain.
STAR TREK Into Darkness Two stars - 2013 Paramount
Some movies are little more than expanded tv shows, and since this one is based on a the Star Trek original tv show, I guess it's appropriate. I think it was Walt Disney who said a movie is only as good as its villain- this was the worst excuse for a bad guy I've seen in a very long time. They forgot to make him scary or at least scary looking (Kahn could have starred in a soap opera instead). visually I thought it was uninspired... Cool aliens? no. Amazing scenes? Missing. Acting? Story? The hybrid 3d was fine, but saw no instance of creative uses.
The GREAT GATSBY Four stars - 2013 Warner Bros
Very nice opening from scratchy old 2D morphing into glitzy modern gold standard of 3D! The stereo in this movie was well utilized, from fun use of snow and confetti to artistic use of text being written in space. Certainly lots of memorable scenes, including the incredibly extravagant parties and New York/Times Square in the 1920's. I was impressed that a passionate adult movie didn't need to show nudity and really little violence.
IRON MAN 3(D) Four stars - 2013 Marvel
It's getting to the point where being a conversion is no longer an detriment, especially when heavily CG (I'd call this a hybrid). Though you could find some anomolies if you were really looking, Stereo D provided lots of depth to the live action and the 3D VFX were spectactular. A fresh villainous twist, outrageous action scenes ("barrel of monkeys"!) and my favorite current superhero (the man and the suit). Nice touch adding the young boy with the potato gun... Only a few spots lagged, otherwise an entertaining 2+ hours.
JURASSIC PARK 3D Four and a half stars - 1993/2013 Universal
A classic Spielberg which looks spectacular in 3D. It was hard to concentrate on the movie however, since I was overwhelmed with wondering how in the world StereoD succeeded converting what may be the most painfully difficult movie possible! Unless you've actually converted a 2D image to 3D, you can't appreciate the work involved... Here you've got worst case scenarios: non-stop jungle foliage, lens flares, rain, light beams, reflections, water on glass, smoke, fog, screens- every conversion nightmare! How could they have converted the translucent hunk of amber?? There were some glass pieces (eyeglasses, candles, etc) that didn't get full conversion, but overall the quality was exquisitely detailed with generous parallax. The scenes lent themselves to stereo and the results are really just stunning. It will be interesting to look closely at the Blu Ray (I hope it doesn't revert to flat on still frames as some do!) when it comes out.
THE CROODS Four stars - 2013 Dreamworks
The art of stereoscopic computer animation continues to escalate in this visual feast by Dreamworks. How can one not be mesmerized by yet another masterwork which blends the best of so many different artforms into a 98 minute euphoric experience? Is this not magic? We see animated characters which seem so zestfully alive in the imaginary theater before our eyes. Yes, I love this stuff! That people would choose to see a 2D version is like choosing to turn off the sound (which was also well done, with a nice surround effect of unseen characters). At one point I actually gasped when at the top of the mountain the star filled galaxy of space unfurled. While many scenes were visually strong and there were some good laughs ("release the baby"), the characters overall were not that strong (with the exception of the daughter) and the story/script less than memorable. Still, the eye(s) candy was phenomenal. Not crude at all.
OZ The Great and Powerful Three stars - 2013 Walt Disney
Such high expectations... such a great opening... black and white old school aspect ratio... traveling circus with fire breather flames burning right through the window... so cool! Then, all went downhill when the dialogue began.. such drivel! The lead character, so unlikeable and unbelievable! I almost wished it was in another language so I could enjoy the spectacular visuals without the witless words. Speaking of words, who voice cast the flying monkey? What a horrific mismatch! Otherwise, he was an amazing cg character as was the China girl (especially the first meeting in the Teapot Town). The wicked witch just didn't seem that wicked... Wasn't there supposed to be some scary moments? None. Humor? I missed it. One can't help but compare to the original, but there is no comparison.
JACK the GIANT SLAYER Three and a half stars - 2013 Warner Bros.
$300 Million? The FX were great and the 3D was fine but the characters were mostly vanilla! The king and villian were good enough, but leads Jack and the princess just didn't connect (with each other, or with the audience). The action/adventure was not exactly "edge of your seat"... Dialog was not all that clever or interesting, so the visuals were really the star of this movie. I love the flat storybook pages melting into 3D, and the giants were fun to watch (but not one lady giant??).
ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH Four stars - 2013 Rainmaker Entertainment
Went in dubious, was very pleasantly surprised! Great use of stereo space, beautifully designed and even funny! Loved several references to animation (John Lasseter) and 3D (showed a drive-in with an anaglyph movie playing onscreen) "I thought this movie was supposed to be in 3D"? Also a nod to the famous paddle ball from House of Wax... Trailer park was fun... Great to see the frame being broken (I noticed it toward the end in confetti sequence- may have missed other spots). Generous amount of good, hearty laughs- Ricky Gervais was perfect as the sarcastic talking computer. Decent story, good characters, excellent animation. Congratulations to these new guys (Rainmaker). I can't understand why you're getting less than rave reviews.
HANSEL AND GRETEL: Witch Hunters Three and a half stars - 2013 Paramount
They're calling this movie a "hybird", as half was converted, and half was native (with stereo cg fx). There were a few spots where conversion was noticeable, but overall it was pretty seamless. Movie was surprisingly good, considering the genesis... not sure they had to make it "extra cool" by using unnecessary profanity. Interesting mix of action, horror and humor. Very attractive new "heroine" didn't hurt, either.
CIRQUE du SOLEIL: Worlds Away Two stars - 2012 Paramount
I love Cirque du Soleil- I've seen their live shows 7 or 8 times. And obviously, I love 3D. So why was this movie such a loser? For one, it can't decide if it's a documentary of various live performance fragments, or the story of a girl who falls in "love at first sight" with a circus worker/aerialist. Unfortunately, neither works. There is no cohesive narrative, and nothing really makes any sense- I saw a mashup of various stage acts that just weren't engaging on the big screen (ok, the Chinese contortionists final stack was astounding). The Beatles section was particularly disconcerted, with actions that had nothing to do with lyrics... and why was George Harrison not singing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"? Secondly, seeing these amazing artists executing spectacular and beautiful feats on their incredible stage sets is breathtaking and magical- but I just don't think that all translates to the big screen. I've seen Spiderman swinging on his web, doing incredible acrobatics over New York City... am I supposed to be impressed by guys in generic superhero suits bouncing off trampolines? The cinematography wasn't exactly impressive, there were no "wow" 3D moments in the entire film. Even the sound fx and music, which is a highlight of the live show, was just background or even overplayed and sometimes even annoying. With the right director, perhaps this could have been a beautiful tribute to this legendary troupe. I'm just glad I saw them before this movie...
HOBBIT: Unexpected Journey Three stars - 2012 Warner Bros.
[First HFR,High Frame Rate, movie: 48 frames per second instead of 24! Having noted the problem in digital 3D projection with "juddering" (especially in scenes where the camera pans, though not so much with the SONY 4K projectors) I was really excited about this bold new technology. Before seeing for myself, I was surprised at so much negative reaction! It seemed to me that they're using the same camera systems that they've been successfully using for years- now the only difference is that we're getting more frames per second, which should ONLY affect motion smoothness! (A static scene should look absolutely the same!) Yet there was a huge amount of chatter that the movie was "too realistic", looked "slower, but sped up", and "like an old videotape soap opera". Upon actual viewing, I saw a 3D film with smoother movement- and NO downside! Perception is an interesting thing... for the life of me I can't understand why so many people actually don't like 3D movies... now people don't like smooth motion (complaints of headache? nausea?). Granted, there may be something related to less motion blur in HFR that reduces traditional "film quality" in motion pictures, but I sure didn't see it. For me, the new tech is a winner!]
As I did enjoy the Lord of the Rings films, I was also looking forward to the movie itself as much as the HFR 3D. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed! If a comedy doesn't make you laugh, it's not much of a comedy. If an action/adventure movie doesn't engage you, likewise! Yes, there were these very interesting looking characters, but they had little actual character (you'd think one out of 13 would be funny?... Snow Whites' dwarves had more personality)! They had a quest, but I really didn't see much of a story: get from A to B with a lot of obstacles. And they got through every difficulty "miraculously", including being rescued by giant eagles coming from ??? or Gandalf's power stick. Or the peacenik Hobbit slaying the nastiest monster. (Like a video game where you just could not be "killed".) Some of the scenes were gorgeous, and the villians rocked, but I was otherwise terribly bored. It's rare that I snooze during a $15 movie, but on this one I did go out for a bit...
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS Two and a half stars - 2012 Dreamworks
Very often trailers give a good indication as to whether I'm going to like a movie. I didn't have high hopes for this one, but I've been surprised before (like with Despicable Me, and Megamind). Unfortunately, no such luck here. With animations like this, it's all about the characters, and I didn't like them (with the possible exceptions of the Marilyn Manson-esque BoogeyMan and the tooth fairy). Santa Claus with full arm tattoos (naughty and nice)? No laughs or chuckles. Dumb story. There was, however, magical 3D: the movie was made for it, with wonderful frost and flying golden/black stardust effects. It's hard to imagine that some people would actually prefer to see this movie in 2D...
LIFE OF PI Four stars - 2012 Fox
Went in with very high expectations: The film opens with superb 3D animal shots mixed with clever and beautiful graphics... the movie is brimming with incredibly stunning, ground breaking stereo cinematagraphy. No question this film is a stereoscopic work of art, unlike anything ever done before... but the story unravels a bit for me (spoiler:). There's a huge emphasis on religion at the beginning, and the story will (supposedly) make you believe in God... turns out that the whole thing was made up! Unlike the fantasy of The Wizard of Oz, this seemed more like an astonishing adventure story rather than the embellished version of a (fictional) survival at sea. The anti-climactic ending soured an otherwise stellar movie... would I sit through it again on Blu-Ray? I think I'd probably just jump to the good parts. [Blu-Ray: Really enjoyable again on Blu-Ray, with a nice bonus feature showing the boat sinking in multiple stages. Also verified an amazing 3D effect (one of my favorite) with several of the flying fish breaking the frame edge! Happens for only a split second, love being able to freeze frame (in 3D!). Only happens (that I noticed) a few times during that short sequence. The movie was shot 1.85:1, while the image area is 1.77:1, so math tells me there's 42 lines of black non-picture area (likely 21 above and below). Rarely see this effect- fleeting, magical... like a shooting star.]
WRECK IT RALPH Two and a half stars- 2012 Disney
Luckily there was a really nice short before the feature called "Paperman": all grayscale, except for one important spot of color- also, the animation was very cel-like. Nice little story. Then there was the wreck: It's rare that I go to a movie without pre-conceptions... this one had every indication of being a clunker, but the reviews were generally positive. It was actually worse than expected! Certainly not funny, stale characters (except for the woman soldier) and a pathetic story. This from Disney! There were a few scenes that were graphically interesting, the stereo was ok, but overall nearly painful to sit through.
SILENT HILL: REVELATION Three stars - 2012 Sony Pictures
About ten minutes of this film were darkly brilliant, like Joel-Peter Witkin come to life (well, not quite- but as close as I've ever seen at the cinema). Unfortunately these strong artistic sequences were padded with useless storylines, dialog and acting. Stereo was mostly well done, but the director decided to poke a few weapons at you to remind you to be scared.
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA Three and a half stars - 2012 Sony/Columbia
This is a cg movie that should be very character driven, unfortunately the monsters were mediocre. It took some time for the fun to really roll- by the end it rocked pretty good. Some top notch stereo imagery and a few good laughs barely made up for the lack of story... surprised to see the Puss in Boots pouty big eye ripoff!
RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION Three stars - 2012 Constantin Films
Was a big Paul W. S. Anderson fan until he dropped the ball with this one. Ok, the monster was good, decent car chase and no problems with the 3D, but the constant, constant, constant shooting just became tedious- hundreds killed with barely a scratch on our heroes. The jaw-dropping scenes just didn't seem to be there this time... the clone factory could have really opened up some great possibilities, but we barely skimmed it. Most of the beginning was like a video game, but without the controls. And the end was looking promising, but it turned out to be merely a prelude to the next installment...
DREDD 3D Four stars - 2012 DNA Films
Wow! Didn't expect this good: Non stop action, futuristic good vs. evil with strong characters... and great 3D! Amazing how much acting the lead character (Dredd) pulled off with just his mouth (we never see his face!). Luckily we get to see the face of the pretty female rookie, who can't wear a mask as it would interfere with her psychic powers. The female villian was plenty nasty, and the slo-mo 3D effects (due to future drugs) were mesmerizing. A cross between an amazing shooter video game and a great graphic novel, the art direction and hardcore music/sound effects made this a guy movie I'd recommend.
PARANORMAN One and a half stars - 2012 Laika Entertainment
After Coraline, I had high hopes for this new stop motion effort. But it wasn't funny. It wasn't scary. It was hardly 3D... I'll start with what positives I can muster: Alvin and Mitch were nicely designed characters. 3D was utilized well in some of the witch scenes and in Mr. Prederghast's house. Otherwise, characters were uninspired and the dialogue moronic. Young Alvin lamented being stuck in Town Hall instead of the "Adult Book Store" across the street (who is this film for?). I don't remember stereo parallax this thin since Chicken Little (this may be worse)... the director hardly utilized the great potential here (zombies!!) Rather than laughing, I cringed... How hip and progressive when Mitch [spoiler!] reveals, at the end, to Norman's infatuated sister that he has a boyfriend...?
ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT 3D Three and a half stars - 2012 Blue Sky
Aside from some wonderful, fantastic scenes (mostly involving the siren/monsters) this installment was rather flat (not the 3D! that was good!) especially compared to 2009's Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Sid is always pretty hilarious, but the grandmother (and "imaginary" pet) and other characters were mostly pretty lame. The new pirate characters showcased Captain Gut, who seemed made for stereo- his closeups were magnificent. There were enough laughs to call it a comedy, but overall the writing was uninspired. We were treated to a nice Simpsons short before the feature... decent 3D, though based on layered cel drawings rather than modelled characters (as was the brilliant Homer³ (1995 Treehouse of Horor VI, re-released in stereo3D as part of CYBERWORLD compilation in 2000).
STEP UP Revolution Four stars - 2012 Summit Entertainment
Really surprised at quality of this live action, low (no?) special effects film! The opening is electric, and the subsequent "Flash Mob" dance routines are spectacular (especially at the art museum- brilliant)!. Not only was the stereo 3D a blast, but the choreography and direction was the best I've ever seen on the silver screen. (People seemed to love Pina, but to me it was a pretentious, fawning faux art film where moving chairs around a room is profound.) OK, the story may have been a bit contrived, but for raw, sensual, exciting and creative 3D dance, this one delivers.
THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN Three stars - 2012 Marvel/Columbia
First, the 3D: The live action conversion was not so amazing. The CG stuff had pizazz, but the live action barely showed parallax. I believe Cameron said Titanic (the best conversion I've ever seen) was to be considered "2.8 D"... in that case, Spiderman was more like 2.3 D. And, the movie: aside from the swinging Spidy action, the movie just seemed to drag for me. The convenient coincidences were almost painful- [spoiler!] the girl the Peter likes is not only to top intern for his dad's ex-parter (who also turns out to be the villain) but her dad is the chief of police who wants to jail Spiderman. That said, there were some beautifully choreographed web sequences, especially the coda. [NOTE: Subsequent to writing this review I found that the movie was natively shot in 3D! I'd guessed it was a conversion... Yikes. Apparently the interaxial was dialed down to the bare minimum! Which begs the question: is native necessarily better than conversion? Normally the answer would be of course, but not always is what I would now have to say.]
BRAVE Three stars - 2012 Pixar/Disney
Sorry to report another disappointing offering from Pixar (though, inexplicably, it will likely garner resounding accolades). Of course, the art was spectacular, but the story and characters were lukewarm at best. The star of the show was Merida's incredible orange hair, all the more amazing in stereo 3D. I also liked the bit part Stallone character... otherwise I was incredibly bored. Normally there's at least one chuckle, but I think the best I got was a half smile... I'm not even going to mention that I really don't like bagpipes. Even the short, La Luna, was pretty- but lame. Besides the Toy Story trilogy, the only Pixar work I would call brilliant would be the shorts Knick Knack and Presto... lucky for Pixar I'm in the minority.
MADAGASCAR 3D Five stars - 2012 Dreamworks/Paramount
It doesn't get any better than this. I LOVED this movie... A masterpiece of stereo character animation in every way. Most outstanding (besides being really, really funny) is the overall design as well as character design. So many characters, each one unique and exquisite, with wonderful, appealing personalities. The beloved main characters hook up with the new circus animals- an opportunity for wonderful scenes which Dreamworks fully exploited. The new seal (I mean Sea Lion!) character Stephano is brilliantly realized, and the outrageous French animal control agent Dubois will literally stop at nothing to get her prey (just the scene of her head coming out of the water was superb). There were dozens and dozens of non-stop animated scenes of artful perfection... so beautiful and funny and brilliant I caught myself in tears amid the laughter. Did I mention attention to detail (the little spark under the enchanting circus train coming 'round the bend) was beyond compare? Of course, the stereo 3D was just out of this world- at the end I felt as though I'd been on one of the best rides of my life, and I am looking forward to getting on again and again...
[Blu-Ray Postscript: Now that I can really savor this animated piece of art, I am more convinced than ever that this is one of the great animations of ALL TIME. It is just jam packed with ingenious sight gags ("which vents should we choose?") hilarious dialogue and consummate, classic characters. (I watched 10-15 minutes with the sound off while setting up a new 3D projection system, and still had a number of big laughs!) One of those few movies you delight in every viewing.]
PROMETHEUS Four stars - 2012 Fox
The art of stereography in cinema has been elevated yet again. The opening sequence of the humanoid and the falls was worth the price of admission... there were so many jaw-dropping, eye-candy 3D scenes that I couldn't help but feel bad for those who paid to see this movie in 2D. The most memorable was the floating graphics in the control room... mesmerizing! The story, characters action certainly had me engaged throughout the film (though following the various plot lines was not easy) but it may not be among Ridley Scott's best. Of course having a director of his stature take 3D seriously adds another level of credibility to this often criticized filmmaking component.
MEN IN BLACK 3D Three and a half stars - 2012 Columbia
Another hybrid (live action conversion with stereo cg) that was well worth seeing. The villian, Boris the Animal, (sorry, it's just Boris) was awesome- and the alien creatures amazing, fantastic, hysterical! Stereo 3D really made them so realistic- especially the creepy critter than crawls out of Boris's palm. The scene in the Chinese restaurant was a buffet of some very wild imaginations. Fun to see scenes from NYC, especially a re-created 1960's Coney Island (co-incidentally I saw the movie in Times Square). Josh Brolin was perfect as the young Tommy Lee Jones, and the Griffin character was quite amusing. Even an unexpected plot twist that was almost touching!
THE AVENGERS Two and a half stars- 2012 Marvel/Paramount
The Hulk and Ironman were sort of interesting characters- otherwise this movie generated very little interest for me. Dialogue, art direction and story I found bland- and the stereo conversion was really disappointing since it was the same team that did Titanic (and were able to utilize all the stereo cg assets, as well as shooting with 3D in mind!). A lot of backgrounds the were pretty flat, and overall limited depth. So much of the film was fighting, fighting and more fighting... seemed pointless, impossible and so over the top. I never felt like these guys were a "team" nor cared. A few moments almost elicted a wow (like the final serpent robot) but- not quite. However, once again, I'm in the minority...
THE PIRATES: BAND OF MISFITS Four and a half stars - 2012 Sony/Aardman
(Note: Again, I sat in utter amazement at the state of the stereo art: a beautiful 37' immaculate silver screen showing a wide clean, crisp stereo movie via Sony 4k projectors in RealD. I'm absolutely in love with this whole technology- and, of course, the ART): Was this just a case of the promoters doing a poor job? This was such a gem of a movie- and I really didn't expect it. First, the art direction was absolutely top shelf- the sets, lighting, composition (in all 3 axes) were superb. Second, it evoked laughter, and quite a bit of it (after "Arthur Christmas, I wasn't expecting that!). Engaging characters (though couldn't they come up with more interesting/memorable names for the leads than "Pirate Captain" and "Number 2"??) alive with slapstick (yet nuanced) animation that lifts the spirit... The entrance of the rival pirate in the whale's mouth? Totally wild! The "too loud" monkey sign? Quiet, yet hilarious! Overall, brilliant work- some of the best stop motion artwork I've seen, and all in succulent stereoscopic 3D. A treat for the eyes as well as the funny bones.
TITANIC 3D Five stars - 1997/2012 Paramount
[So, how freakin' amazing is this James Cameron guy? In 1984 he wrote the screenplay for a fairly noteworthy movie called The Terminator, and sold it for a dollar so he could direct (having never directed a major motion picture before). In 1997 he wrote and directed the most expensive (at the time) and subsequently financially successful film ever made: Titanic (which also won 11 Oscars). Cameron dove to the bottom of the Atlantic to get shots of the actual sunken vessel, which melded into the film footage seamlessly, breathtakingly. When I saw T2 Terminator 2 3D at Universal Studios Florida in the late 90's, I was floored by the innovative brillance of the live actor/3D film integration (a total must-see). He then goes on to painstakingly convert his Titanic masterpiece to stereoscopic 3D, released in time for the 100th anniversary of the sinking: absolutely the best quality conversion ever done, hands down. Oh, and did I mention that he also wrote and directed the film that beat Titanic in box office earnings and earned serious respect for the art (and profitability) of stereo filmmaking: Avatar?] Never did I think it would be possible to achieve such a feat as this... Cameron's team created a near flawless stereo coversion of a 3+ hour film! Having done the labor-intensive conversions on stills, I'd pronounced that it would be impossible to do the same for a motion picture. Boy, was I wrong... There has been decent work done, but Cameron has raised the bar sky high. I'm flabbergasted, truly... how is it done?? Smoke, water, reflections... perfect parallax... uncanny how well his 2D film translated to 3D! And, how much it added to my enjoyment of it! It was quite good in 2D, but this re-creation was just so incredibly engaging, intimate and scary! It seemed so much more like being on the ship with the actors... and I had a newfound appreciation of the incredible minute details in the film. At the end the audience broke out in applause... one other person stayed until the very end (I was curious to see how they handled the "extra" 3D credits). I was so blown away by the 3D, I had to ask how he liked it: "I didn't really notice it" was his unexpected reply. (!?) "Can you see 3D?" I asked. "Yes, but this wasn't like a movie actually shot in 3D". This statement didn't make any sense to me at all... nor does the review of critics who claim the 3D was "unneccesary" or "doesn't add much to the experience". All I can say is that stereopsis is a gift: some people get it, some really get it, and some don't get it at all. Thankfully, I'm one of the lucky ones. And so, obviously, is Mr. Cameron (who has worked so hard to share his gift... THANK YOU.)
WRATH OF THE TITANS Three stars - 2012 Warner Bros.
After the nasty backlash from a poor 3D conversion of the precursory "Clash of the Titans" (which I never actually saw), I was curious to see if they were able to redeem themselves. I was hoping there was enough CG stereo to make it worthwhile... Many of the visuals were pretty rich (the underground labyrinth, the monster villians), but the stereo conversion was often distracting. Aside from noticing some obvious anomolies, there were often sections that just didn't look right- passed by too quickly to discern. The huge finale showcasing the giant fire creature Kronos should have been a stereoscopic storm, but the effects were dialed way down.
JOHN CARTER 3D Two and a half stars- 2012 Disney
Such a huge production for a story that never really engaged... interesting to see this after Star Wars! The main character had little humor or charisma, but he sure could jump high. The visuals were admirable, but not amazing. I have to say the stereo was mostly really quite good- for a "conversion"! We're looking through glass, light rays/flares, electric arcs... All this stuff just had to be stereo cg, but integration with the converted live action was pretty much flawless. HOW do they do it? That was my main concern, much more so than how to save the city of Helium.
STAR WARS Phantom Menace 3D Two and a half stars- 1999/2012 Fox/Lucasfilm
Looks like they weren't able to dig up any of the original digital files or composites, so this was apparently a full conversion. Unfortunately, it showed: the "phantom" had spotty transparency and many scenes were almost flat (John Knoll, the stereo fx supervisor, admits he doesn't like hyperstereo). The most amazing scenes of the big cities and vast armies were disappointingly without depth. Some of the tighter shots were well done, one could see the telltale wisps of hair separated from the background (HOW do they do that?). The movie itself seems very tired, and the music was often just way over the top. One of the key moments which should have been very dramatic, the death of Jedi Jinn, I felt was poorly staged... This episode- to me at least- didn't withstand the test of time. (NOTE: I was pleased to see an ICE AGE "Scrat" short before the main feature! Always a treat!)
THE LORAX Two and a half stars - 2012 Universal
Had been really looking foreward to this one- a real disappointment. Supposedly done by the "Despicable Me" team, but there were no laughs, no amazing 3D moments, no great characters (I did smile once: "Well, we have a little time"). The look of the movie was often wonderful, and the stereo beautiful. Unfortunately the story and dialogue were flat, the villian was weak, the musical numbers were corny and the Lorax a borax. The kid's ride in his bed down the raging river was kind of fun, but little else.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Four stars - 1991/2011 Disney
Was going to pass this up, as I thought that a cel animation wouldn't fare well in 3D. The opening short, "Tangled Ever After" was just fantastic (as was the full length film) and alone was worth the ticket price. So was I suprised to see how beautifully "Beauty" transferred to stereo! I was just flabbergasted... so amazing, I wept. How did they do it? The rain and snow and reflections all looked flawless- they had to have gone back to the original composites. I never actually saw the original 2D movie, so was pleased to see that the backgrounds (all the non-animated elements) were gloriously, realistically rendered- and that the resulting stereo conversions were spectacular. The cel drawings looked better than expected: round not flat- but just not as clean as the rendered art. As for the movie itself, I found it a bit saccharine, the characters merely adequate... I don't remember any laughs. (After the film, I did some research on conversion process- and found this gem: a case study on converting the movie!)
(NOTE: I bought the 3D Blu-Ray to get a more detailed look at the work. I was amazed at how many stereo flaws were revealed in a frame-by-frame analysis that were totally missed at 24fps!)
UNDERWORLD AWAKENING Three and a half stars - 2012 Screen Gems
Similar in theme, I think, to the Resident Evil franchise- with the protagonist being a super-human gun-toting woman- but not quite as edgy. I did enjoy this film: the 3D was well done, and used to great effect, particularly when the werewolves were attacking, and when the werewolf poison silver particulates filled the atmosphere. The human-to-beast metamorphoses were brilliant, especially so in stereo. Though the acting was fine, I was never very involved with the characters- it was the battling monsters that made this film fun.
PINA 3D Two stars - 2011 Eurowide Films
It's not that I don't like dance... I haven't missed an episode of "So You Think You Can Dance" in years! I am often quite moved- even to tears- by the beauty and artistry of the choreographed vignettes. Unfortunately, I didn't get that feeling in this film... there were certainly sequences that were interesting, but over the course of the film, I lost enthusiasm and shifted to mind drift mode. I'd expected more- the 3D was fine, but wouldn't it have been so much better, for example, if there were some hi-speed camera/slow motion sequences in the water on stage? I noted one fun experiment: the dancers were miniaturized, dancing in a doll house box as 2 commented, looking in... I guess it's a fine line where the filmmaker exceeds the choreographer's original vision- but I wanted more interesting stereo treatments, and less static headshots with verbal off-camera accolades about Pina. (BTW, my wife- like many others- loved the film).
ADVENTURES OF TINTIN Four and a half stars - 2011 Paramount Pictures
(Note: I find it interesting that movie theaters charge the same price for huge, big budget, high profile films as low budget "B" movies. How about if concerts or plays- even at the same venue- were all the same price? I often think in terms of the actual value of movies... if the average movie is $12, this was a $30 movie!) From beginning to end I was awestruck at the immense intensity of detail in this new plateau of realistic computer rendering! WOW. Mind-boggling doesn't begin to describe this fully dimensional animated world (yes, all four dimensions) including mansions and docks and airplanes and cities and animals and cars and ships and people... people! Besides the odd facial features on some characters, these virtual cartoon actors were just amazing. So freakin realistic! we are so close to the real thing! I am so mesmerized by the genius of the art on so many levels achieved by these filmmakers: it's hard to fathom that nothing is real... every iota has been painstakingly brought to life through talent, hard work and "math"! The story is a fun action-adventure you'd expect from Steven Spielberg, and the stereo is well utilized. The directors really used 3d to great effect in water, bubbles, bottles, glass and mirrors... the reflections! Loved the clever 2D portrait of Tintin at the market and the way the camera followed the non stop action. What keeps this movie from getting all five stars is that I just didn't love the characters...
perhaps because I'm unfamiliar with the comic, or the translation to the 3d world was awkward. Still, a great work of animated stereoscopic art I look forward to seeing again.
HAPPY FEET 2 Two and a half stars - 2011 Warner Bros.
The good news is that there was a cartoon short before the movie, starring Tweety Bird and Sylvester- and the original Mel Blanc's song "I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat", modernized to full stereo cg. Lots of fantastic 3D and good fun- but there was a persistent highlight/backlight around the crazed cat that seemed very disconcerting... Then the penguin movie: was this lame film actually directed by George Miller of MAD MAX fame?? There was practically zero actual story and the characters held almost zero interest. (Penquins singing Queen songs??) Luckily there was the substory of the krill (which had about zero to do with the penguins) who at least had some character and humor... the swarm of krill looked fantastic. There were a good number of beautiful scenes, with the stereo sparkle of ice, water and snow- but it was difficult staying awake through the goofball dialogue and ridiculous plotlines.
HUGO 3D Four stars - 2011 Paramount
It was going to be hard to live up to the hype! I'd heard such accolades before going in, I was jazzed... Indeed, the film opens with the sounds of clicking and ticking all around, and the scene opens to active clockworks, which melt into a hyper overview of Paris: stupendous! Then the fly through the train station... incredible! The story unfolds, and it's beautiful- the station and the interior of the giant clocks were made for 3D. The art direction is exquisite, but the story was not quite was it should have been. The lead boy was fine, but I found him a bit stiff, and less than engaging. The station inspector seemed to be overly mean (shoving everyone in his way aside just to catch a little boy?). Ben Kingley's Melies was also too mean, "burning" the boy's precious notebook! Suddenly I found myself wondering if this is a true story of the famous filmmaker George Melies or half fiction... I still don't know. The automaton was beautiful, but it's drawing ability a bit too fantastic (and the coincidence of finding the key a bit too convenient!). With only a few faults in the stereo, it was a real treat for the eyes, and I have no trouble recommending it.
A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS One and a half stars - 2011 Warner Bros.
Yet another example of why I really need to be more discriminatory about which 3D movies I will see. The trailers looked like the film was going to have some fun with 3D, and may even be funny. I knew nothing about previous Harold and Kumar movies, so this was a venture into some new modern culture. Turns out these guys are the current “Cheech and Chong”, but have stepped up the irreverence to a frighteningly new low. How about scenes of a four year old girl “accidentally” getting high on marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy pills? Graphic scenes of Harold’s penis, stuck to a pole (like a tongue) being stretched and pulled? Topless nuns in the shower? And, most offensive: Jesus Christ at his rock club in “Heaven”- his 2 topless angels manually gratifying one of our protagonists. (This used to be called blasphemy, but today it’s par for the course) No wonder the movie only plays late shows in our area. I had high hopes for the 3D when the movie began, with the Warner logo and drummer boy in the snow looking so beautiful. But the stereo in the film itself was mostly terrible- many scenes had little parallax, some with none at all... 2D. There was a plethora of cg effects that utilized 3D very well, as well as a section of clay animation with very good stereo (the audience is treated to Kumar’s clay penis poking us in the face). I won’t be getting the Blu-Ray of this one.
IMMORTALS Three and a half stars - 2011 Relativity Media
I was told this was a "hybrid"... mostly conversion, but shot with 3D in mind (I believe separate composite layers could be separately converted). The stereo was not striking or particularly well utilized, but the conversion was really very good. The only anomoly I noticed was some water reflection (which, being cg, really should have been rendered in stereo!). One memorable scene featured a dissolve from a helmeted head lying in a pool of blood to a boat in the water. The film was certainly engaging: good characters, awesome sets, incredible fighting (and the trapped oracles scene... quite the shocker).
ARTHUR CHRISTMAS Three stars - 2011 Sony/Aardman
The stereo was gorgeous... you could practically feel the fuzz on Arthur's sweater, and the scene with him in his letter-filled room with lighting only from his electric slippers was one of the highlights. Unfortunately, the movie was stupid- and worse: not funny. Characters not engaging, designs uninspired. Struggle to stay awake... Luckily the movie was preceded by a nicely produced 3D music video starring Justin Bieber doing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town". Awesome drumkit!
PUSS IN BOOTS 3D Four stars - 2011 Dreamworks
The quality of CG animation just keeps improving. This offshoot was not quite in the SHREK league, but very entertaining with lots of laughs (the leche lick scene is a classic). The egg character (Humpty Alexander Dumpty) was good, but there seemed to be a lack of other strong characters (the villians were just not that ominous). The 3D was just right, and some scenes were exquisite.
The THREE MUSKETEERS 3D Four and a half stars - 2011 Summit Entertainment
What is wrong with critics? They loved Caves of Forgotten Dreams and hated this amazing film? Paul W.S. Anderson crafted an exciting, funny and visually stunning 3D film which paralled his great work with last year's Resident Evil. This director embraces stereo- his sets, action and props utilize 3D like no other live action director I've seen. From the opening title sequence over the dimensional maps, through the hyper-real hyper-stereo recreations of olde England and France, to the stunning airship battles- there was never a dull moment. Some scenes were so visually sumptuous, I can't wait to get the Blu-Ray 3D so I can linger longer (one particular shot with the heroine looking into multiple mirrors was especially memorable). The characters were really well done- the English king was hilarious, as was the servant Planchet... and Milla is amazing. Great sets, costumes, FX. Great fun.
DOLPHIN TALE Three and a half stars - 2011 Warner Bros.
OK, it was schmaltzy and predictable... But how can you go wrong with a dolphin, great kids and a very sweet story? Have to admit succumbing a few times to this tear-jerker. The 3D was fine, though I really noticed the beamsplitter rivalry issues. Some nice computer graphics were added to a sequence about designing the artificial tail, and the remote helicopter flying into the audience was fun. Overall, better than expected.
FINAL DESTINATION 5 Three stars - 2011 New Line Cinema
It's beyond comprehension how people can laugh when they see gruesome and graphic deaths. Even though these are "fake", we are still confronted with the most horrible human violence that the human mind can conjure. How is this enjoyable? How can we not be scarred by this pure bloodlust? Isn't there enough real horror? OK, rant over: My friend wanted to see it, so I went... The title sequence with the breaking glass was really fantastic, and the bridge collapse (don't think that's a spoiler!) was quite well done. Overall, the 3D was very good, and humor to make some of the deaths a bit less "real" (the movie is really about making each death as suprising and nasty as possible). For this genre, it was well produced, and the dialogue was not horrid. Aside from the vicarious thrill and disgust of watching someone viciously wasted, it was tolerable- and shot in 3D.
TRANSFORMERS: Dark of the Moon Three and a half stars - 2011 Paramount
Am I looking for a strong storyline in a movie like this? On the contrary, I expect a cinematic roller coaster ride, and I got it! The action was non-stop, the cg phenomenal. The scenes with the building falling over was mind-boggling. Rumor is that the live action was shot in 3D, and the cg was converted (the opposite of normal). I have a real hard time believing this- there was SO much stereo detail in the Transformer machines... They're certainly doing some amazing things with conversions, and maybe a lot of it is some kind of hybrid. Certainly looking forward to the "behind-the-scenes" DVD extras where the stereo work is revealed "in depth". But as each studio seems to have propriety workflows, I doubt this will happen anytime soon. But back to the movie: though it would have been hard to find scenes to cut, I think the film would have benefitted from a shorter than 2.5 hour running time. Just too much of a good thing! Nonetheless, the movie seems to have set some box office records and has bolstered studio confidence in the stereoscopic format.
THE SMURFS 3D Three stars - 2011 Sony Pictures
Ok, I was embarrassed to go to see Smurfs. I was never interested in the comic, but am always interested in merging live action and cg stereoscopically. I was pleasantly surprised that the movie was better than expected... The stereo was wonderful, and I couldn't believe the live action was converted! There were so many details that seemed like they were impossible to pull off in a conversion. However, in reading up post movie, it seems they ran multiple passes on various scenes in order to be able to get reflections and other otherwise impossible stereo effects. I'm not clear on the technical details, but whatever they did was impressive. And the movie was actually tolerable, with Hank Azaria as the over-the-top villian. This is a movie that might be worth picking up on Blu-Ray 3D just to study the stereo more closely... how DID they do it?
HARRY POTTER and the Deathly Hallows Three stars - 2011 Warner Bros.
I had no plans to see this 2D-3D conversion, but somehow I missed the correct time for Transformers, and this was the only 3D option (CARS 2 is already gone!). I'd missed "Part 1", so some of the plot was a bit fuzzy, but there was enough magic and mayhem to enjoy. As for the fake 3D, it worked sometimes and sometimes not so much. The question is: is it worth seeing a fake 3D movie over a 2D version? I guess it is, though I'm constantly distracted by thoughts of how they did it: How did they separate the wisps of hair from the background? The computer graphics look really look, they must have been generated in 3D!? Why did they leave the background so flat in this scene? Is this stereo, or is my brain imagining the parallax?
KUNG FU PANDA 2 Two and a half stars - 2011 Dreamworks
How can I give a good review to a movie that seems to lag, that seems like it just won't end? Yes, the animation was beautiful and the stereo was on the money. But the characters were uninteresting, the "heroes" didn't feel like a team- the story/dialogue left me cold. (Gee, the goose is not the Panda's real father!?) It's always a bummer when a "comedy" is not funny, and this was not (ok, there was one line where I did crack a smile: "false advertising"). The main concept of the fat panda being a kung fu master is painfully dumb, so the entire premise just doesn't work. I did enjoy the dream sequences that were like 3D cel animation, and the peacock had some exquisite sequences. Though there were other moments of beauty, but I was glad when it was over...
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (4) Three and a half stars - 2011 Disney
Good to see JD in actual 3D (unlike Alice in Wonderland) alongside Penelope Cruz and Keith Richards! This may be the weakest film in the franchise, but the 3D is good (even some gratuitous swords in your face) but nothing spectacular. One memorable effect employed parting some giant leaves (which canvassed the screen), but overall the stereo was routine- even the end credits were fairly straightforward. However, several scenes were visually spectacular and the story and characters interesting enough... you can't go wrong with beautiful (and possibly deadly) mermaids in 3D! (Interestingly, I didn't notice any polarized retinal rivalry that I generally see with live action- due to beamsplitter... I wonder how they avoided it?)
CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS One half star - 2011 Creative Differences
Are critics insane? "A fascinating triumph"? "Blows you away with it's beauty"? This film is about a few dozen drawings, most of which are rudimentary sketches... we linger on these for SUCH a long time- not once but over and over. I understand the historical significance of these prehistoric cave drawings, but a little goes a long way! Add insipid talking heads jabbering on about artistic baloney... and an albino crocodile that may one day contemplate the meaning of the cave drawings (!?). Never mind the 3D, which was generally horrible! Seems most of it was converted, some painfully/laughably poorly done. Are people really so blind as not to see the backgrounds stuck to people's heads? Do we even know which cave painting walls show their true forms (which is the point of the 3D)? And much of the "real" stereo was way too strong- I saw headache inducing infinity separation of several feet on the screen in several shots. Even much of the "normal" 2D was dreadful! Outdoor footage (no excuse for non-professional cameras here) that were shaky, noisy and poorly hand held... I've never seen anything this bad outside of Youtube. Nevertheless, this is the film that the NY Daily News compliments "it's exquisite use of 3-D"? The Chicago Tribune exclaims "The 3-D is beautiful"? LAWeekly contends "One of the few justifiable recent excursions into 3-D". And the Boston Herald hails: "What 3D film technology was invented for". 95% critic approval (Rotten Tomatoes). Very bizarre. So, is this bad 3D movie that critics seem to love good for 3D? I guess we'll see...
RIO Four and a half stars - 2011 Blue Sky
Were there laughs? Yes, there were laughs! Was there great 3-D? Yes, it was utilized wonderfully with flying things, cages and doggie drool. The birds and other animals were beautifully designed, but the ICE AGE guys didn't do nearly as well with the humans- character design was pretty basic- even the clothing looked sprayed on and plastic. Otherwise, this was a colorful and fun romp though Brazil's party town during crazy Carnivale (and having been to Carnivale in Sao Paulo, I can say they did an astonishing re-creation of that fanatical celebration.)
MARS NEEDS MOMS Two 1/2 stars - 2011 Disney
The word that came to mind while watching this film was "convoluted". Oh, sorry... I should start with what I liked: the main character, "Gribble", was a really well-executed human cg character. And, there was one funny line in the movie, at which I actually "LOL" (laughed out loud) as did the one other adult in the audience (something about zombies). OK, now I can mention the inane story, inexplicable romance and mediocre characters. Oh, and not funny. If you're looking at your watch during a film, can't be good.
CARMEN 3D Two stars - 2011 RealD/Royal Opera House
Interesting to see that RealD is now producing films as well as the presentation hardware and glasses! This is not an easy film to review: basically, it's a recorded stage show. If you don't like this opera (turns out I didn't), how can you like the film? But even if you like the opera, we're reviewing a 3D movie here. Basically, it was a pretty simple capture from various angles. Not very interesting cinematography! And as it's a stage presentation, the sets are not nearly as detailed or interestingly lit or as varied as in a "real" movie. Technically, I saw some vertical misalignment right were the aligned subtitles were, which caused some discomfort in reading. Fellow stereophiles seemed to love this film, but I didn't.
GNOMEO AND JULIET Two 1/2 stars - 2011 Touchstone Pictures
How could I expect a good movie with such a terrible title? The trailers didn't look promising, but there were some good reviews... I hoped to be pleasantly surprised. I wasn't! The movie was pretty much as bad as expected. Character design and art direction were good enough, but there were no laughs, not even a chuckle. There was a groan, however, when the smashed hero was actually a smashed teapot! Duh! No great characters. The 3D was fine for the most part, but what's up with all the flat clips (mostly during the flamingo sequence)? And the Elton John songs seemed to be forced (oh, I see that he's Executive Producer! Duh!).
JUSTIN BIEBER Never Say Never Three stars - 2011 Paramount Pictures
Would not have gone to see this, of course, if it weren't a 3D movie- and even then it was iffy. But my friend Rob has a daughter who was keen to see it. Turned out, however, that it's really NOT a 3D movie. Maybe 5-10% was stereo (I'm not counting the flat shots with a floating caption!). We did see the "director's FAN cut" which added a lot of (2D) footage, but it was really fallacious to call this movie 3D. That said, I actually enjoyed the film since this kid is really pretty phenomenal and seems to be taking his total adoration and huge success in stride. The film nicely lays out his meteoric rise, and there was one really nice 3D segment involving hundreds of YouTube videos...
DRIVE ANGRY Three 1/2 stars - 2011 Summit Entertainment
Films seem to keep pushing the envelope... I was fairly surprised at the nearly hardcore sex and violence with "A-List" actors (Nicolas Cage mix those two at a level I've certainly never seen)! Can't say I was bored... I do have a special interest in "good vs. evil" stories. Fast cars, naked/fighting women and super God-Killer guns- how can you go wrong? Ok, so it was often over the top, but the action was non-stop and the characters were engaging. The stereo was fine, but nothing that really sizzled (other than one nice dissolve from a really rounded full moon to lit headlight which caught my attention).
CHRONICLES OF NARNIA Voyage of the Dawn Trader Three 1/2 stars - 2010 Walden Media
OK, I wasn't going to see any more "fake" 3D movies... but, like Alice in Wonderland, I thought the CG would be real stereo and I was interested to see if the conversion would be better if more time/effort was involved. The big problem is that I am constantly distracted from enjoying the film trying to figure out what 3D looks right, what's weird, and what CG looks like real 3D. There was quite a bit of live action that looked quite ok, most people would not notice the difference. I saw occlusion, which is good- but I also saw places where there should have been but wasn't. Not quite right 3D goes by quicky, so it's hard to nail down (until I look at the Blu-Ray 3D in slo-mo). Even well done, the fake 3D just doesn't have the magic that comes about in reflections and transparencies that just can't be faked. And it seemed that a LOT of effects (like the snow, and some mist shots) were added in post, in stereo (which is also good). In fact, in the credits I saw 4-5 people listed as doing stereoscopic work! In any case, it was an enjoyable film... the young boy actor was phenomenal, and the effects were good (especially the painting that becomes alive!).
YOGI BEAR Two and a half stars - 2010 Warner Brothers
Saw this right after Tron, and I was struck as to how much better the stereo was! Too bad it was such a dumb movie! One of those "comedies" which could not even crack me a smile (ok, there was one actual chuckle: the line was "He was open!"). I was really amazed at how well the stereo CG characters were integrated into the stereo live action... really quite seamless. The animation and art direction were good, and the characters were beautifully transcribed from the original 2D cels. Unfortunately, the story and dialogue were just anemic. The Roadrunner short before the feature was no rib tickler, either.
TANGLED Five stars - 2010 Disney
Disney has really outdone themselves with this spectacular re-telling of the Rapunzel story. Naturally the stereo was a huge advantage, but I don't believe I've ever seen a Disney film that I've enjoyed more. This is pure, classic Disney at it's best! The star of this movie, for me, was the art- it was just so perfectly realized in SO many dimensions. The design, the sets, the character work, the flawless animation- it moved me. Disney is not supposed to do that! It was funny, bright and sharp- not dumbed down. The bar scene alone was worth the price of admission, yet there were so many. The mime. The mirror. The detail! So rich in detail! You could pull almost any frame from this movie and have a beautiful still... but some were just exquisite. And a nice finish with the Ronald Searle- like drawings... Is this really the same crew that made the lame Chicken Little just five years ago? The only thing I didn't like about this movie was the title- feel free to fire that guy! Otherwise, a fine piece to add to Walt's legacy.
MEGAMIND Five stars - 2010 Dreamworks
I liked Pixar's (2D) The INCREDIBLES, and loved the recent (3D) DESPICABLE ME, but I really loved MEGAMIND! I went in skeptical, but was quickly won over by the hilarious gut-laugh script (improv?), wonderful characters, spectacular animation, meticulous art direction and, of course, world-class stereoscopic rendering. When a movie just fills you with joy for 96 minutes, how can it be anything but 5 stars? Often, the visuals would elicit an audible WOW- how about that water cascading over the nighttime city street? The invisible car (stereo made it brilliant!)? The skybound giant Megamind head made of balls? The water swirl complete with rainbow? Does superhero/villian flight look amazing in stereo? If there is art greater than this, I don't know what it is.
JACKASS 3D Two stars - 2010 MTV
I really didn't plan to go, but a really good review on one of the 3D Movie blogs as well as an A- rating on Yahoo (as well as a friend who wanted to go) prompted me. Stupid college pranks were expected, but I did not expect the crudity to sink to such gross levels. I'll spare the details, but farts, feces, urine and vomit were prevalent- as well as lots of testacle bashing. The fact that this "entertainment" is actually popular is shameful. The reason I gave it any stars at all is that the 3D in the beginning and ending sequences was actually spectacular, and included amazing slo-motion shots. The bulk of the movie had a variety of 3D quality (including a fair amount of 2D) but the content was the very definition of vulgar (and it wasn't fake).
SAW 3D unrated- 2010 Lionsgate
Piranha 3D was bad enough with the violence and gore, I really didn't need to subject myself to what is likely the ugliest of this genre. But it happened to (appropriately) be playing next to Jackass 3D, so I did go in for the first 10-15 minutes (as I was early for Jackass). The titles were well done, and I was treated to a pretty woman being sawed in half at the belly, with entrails flying out. The stereo looked just fine.
ALPHA and OMEGA Two and a half stars - 2010 Crest Animation
This was more like Saturday morning cartoon fare than theatrical release material. The stereo was ok, but not good enough to keep me awake during this predictable and unfunny animation (ok, some people in the theater laughed occasionally- what do I know?) I was not impressed with the character or set designs, though the end credits did manage to stir up some creativity.
RESIDENT EVIL: Afterlife Four and a half stars - 2010 New Legacy Film
Possibly the best stereoscopic camera work in a live action film I've seen. Seems every scene was art directed with 3D in mind, and there were lots and lots of great scenes! Memorable ones include the plane flying into the side of the mountain (in frozen bullet-time, which was used extensively and brilliantly throughout), the small plane flying through burned out LA, the big hammer zombie fight in the shower room with spray, the white pod room with flying sunglasses, aerials over Alaska, zombies lunging their quad suckers (lots of great zombie scenes) at us, and plenty more. The violence was non-stop, but it wasn't the nasty, gruesome type (see Pirahna 3D)... and the women, though sexy, weren't sexual. If there was a bit more character development and humor, I think this would have been a five-star film. Highly recommended for great real stereo.
PIRANHA 3D - 2010 Dimension Films
This film gets NO stars... not only is it not a real 3D movie, but it's a horrible movie. It's Girls Gone Wild meets Saw (ok, I haven't seen either of those, but... now there's a Saw 3D coming. Must I see it?) How low is it that we enjoy near and fully naked women being horribly maimed? Oh, I forgot... it's supposed to be funny! Yeah, the floating penis was just hilarious. (What is the target demographic, I have to wonder??) Probably the worst candidate for stereo conversion (crowds of beach goers, crowds of man-eating fish, bubbles, seaweed, etc) some of the 3D was passable, but so much was less, and much less. The sad part is that so many people are not noticing the bad stereo or the bad taste. (Currently at 75% on Rotten Tomatoes Toastometer, with Resident Evil at 22%. Go figure.)
STEP UP 3D Two stars - 2010 Summit/Touchstone
As big fans of the TV show "So You Think You Can Dance", my wife and I were looking forward to this film. Initially I had to wonder if it was a conversion, but I saw polarization retinal rivalry, so it had to be a beamsplitter rig (turned out to be a Cameron/Pace). But something(s) seemed wrong, and distracting about the 3D... mostly, I saw compressed heads/faces and lots of cardboard-y layering. Were there also sync problems? The high speed dance sequences were not smooth to me... frame rate? Though there was some interesting use of 3D in the dance contests, I would have to say overall that the 3D was not an enhancement, but an impairment. Was it the convergence? I did see vertical mis-alignment, but not horrible. A lame story and insipid dialogue added up to a movie I looked forward to ending. On the other hand, my wife enjoyed it- and didn't complain about the 3D. What do I know??
DESPICABLE ME Five stars - 2010 Universal/ Mac Guff Ligne
Really didn't know what to expect, but was overwhelmed by this fun and different movie. For me, it had it all: sweet story, refreshing characters, great pace, fantastic stereo, superb animation! Where did these guys come from?? There was an avalanche of "WOW" moments, brilliant sets (the bank, the amusement park, both villians' lairs), and loads of laugh out loud lines. I had to wonder if I could give this the same grade as Toy Story, but I just couldn't think of any faults. The three guys that went with me also loved it- so I'm not crazy! We had to guess that the 2D version didn't include the fun "through the window" bits during the end credits~
TOY STORY 3 Five stars - 2010 Pixar/Disney
(Preshow! First, let me mention that this was the first time seeing RealD with the Sony 4k digital projection system... WOW! They've solved a major 3D projection problem: motion judder. Motion was so much smoother than standard 2k systems! Also, there were 3D ads for the first time- called "First Looks". The brilliant Samsung 3D TV ad we've seen on TV ["Dedicated to Wonder", where the guy takes a cube of water out of a huge aquarium] was here in 3D, even more brilliant!)
Pixar short: "Day and Night" Yet another wonderfully imaginative and unique animation, merging classic cel animation technique with modern cg imaging, beautifully capitalizing the stereo effect. Loved it. (Not to mention I did a live action stereo short about six years ago with the same title!)
Toy Story 3: I knew going in that this was going to be a Five Star movie, and they sure didn't let me down! Story, animation, lighting, color, character, humor, music, oh- and stereoscopy... ALL absolutely top-shelf. Did I say funny? Two routines that stand out were the Ken wardobe sketch, and the "El Buzzo" transformation. The only flaw I saw was the "2D" video setup at the beginning was a bit long... otherwise, Pixar managed to create yet another superb Toy Story for the ages. The detail and intensity of the "landfill from hell" was unexpected... I loved the resolution. Perfect! Thank you, Pixar, for lifting me so high for a few hours!
CLASH OF THE TITANS 3D (?)- 2010 Warner Bros
I believe this is the first feature film to be totally converted from 2D to 3D. The question is: should this even be considered a 3D film? If they "colorize" a black and white film, is it then a color film? Conversions are fake 3D, and though some can be decent, it's never going to be like the real thing... and all indications are that this one was particularly poorly done. Not worth a review as a 3D movie.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON Two and a half stars - 2010 Dreamworks
First, the story is inane: Vikings have killed and been killed by dragons for hundreds of years, but it turns out they're really docile and make really nice pets! It just took one kid who was able to hit the nastiest of them all with his first shot (even though it is so fast that no one had actually ever even seen one). And when we do see it, it turns out to be so cute! Then the boy fashions a mechanical tail to replace the piece he lost when the boy brought him down- which allowed the boy to ride the previously feared dragon into the sky (even though it's too fast to be seen). I could go on, but issue number two: not funny! Not a chuckle, not a smile cracked. Didn't love the characters (well, the female lead, Astrid, was ok) but there was plenty of visual interest (even though I spotted a 2D background in the gorge where the dragon went down). Otherwise, no complaints about the stereo!
A CHRISTMAS CAROL Three stars - 2009 Disney
Hard to imagine that a brilliant director like Robert Zemekis, teamed with the funniest man on the planet, Jim Carrey, could produce this mediocre film! It's always amazing to see the progression of state-of-the-art motion capture cg- I loved the opening sequence where the book illustration turns to stereo 3D and then to cg stereo 3D... beautiful! Unfortunately, it was downhill from there... I couldn't help but think of things that weren't working... Flying over the rooftops, the chimneys and ornaments seemed so real, yet we flew right through them (wouldn't it have been more effective if the camera veered around them?). Old Scrooge is able to grab the back of a carriage and slide on the snow like a kid? Suddenly Bob Cratchit starts talking to the camera at the end? Character design was not especially good- I did like the shadow of the Ghost of Christmas future morphing to 3D as well as the morphing of many faces of the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge's wife looked incredibly realistic as she was giving her parting words, but many characters still had a doll-like or otherwise odd appearance. Not sure why eyes so often looked crossed, and lip-syncing was not always on target. Compared to Polar Express, scenes were ho-hum (but that's a hard act to follow!).
TOY STORY and TOY STORY 2 Five stars - 1995/2009 and 1999/2009 Pixar/Disney
These classic, groundbreaking Pixar animations being re-rendered stereoscopically is an absolute dream-come-true. The third dimension (fourth, since the animation itself is the dimension of time!) brings even more life to all our beloved characters. Both films hold up incredibly well after almost 15 years. Toy Story was the very first feature CG film and is still absolutely one of the best on every level. I laughed solidly throughout both features, and relished every minute. That Pixar was able to dig up these now archaic files and match them to modern computers and software is nothing short of phenomenal. The only criticism is that perhaps they were a bit shy on the depth, but likely they thought it better to err on the conservative side. Considering these films weren't made with stereo in mind, some scenes seemed to be made for 3D- one that stands out is when Woody is being discarded, and falls into the pile of cards! Possibly since the 3D was an afterthought, it never felt gimmicky. We were also treated to a preview of TOY STORY 3 which looks great, but doesn't come out until June! Why they released both movies at once- and as a two for one, instead of spreading them out is quite a mystery. For most people, sitting through one 3D movie can be a bit of a strain. For me, it was a great treat! Thank you, Pixar.
CLOUDY with a Chance of MEATBALLS Three stars - 2009 Columbia/Sony
OK, I admit I didn't think I was going to like the movie before going in... didn't like the character design and I thought the premise was way too ridiculous. I know my sense of humor was intact, since I laughed at the (2D, unfortunately) trailer for Astroboy. However, I didn't once laugh at this "comedy" (though there was a clever pun about a meteor shower). The 3D was nicely done, with some excellent scenes: at the dock, the food avalanche and the Jell-O sequence. Hamburgers and hot dogs raining from the sky have got to look good in 3D! Hard to imagine sitting through this one in 2D...
FINAL DESTINATION 4 Two and a half stars - 2009 New Line Cinema
The good news is that the final destination in this film is a 3D movie! Unfortunatley, there's mediocre writing and acting in yet another piece that appeals to the basest instincts in humans by offering graphic scenes of grotesque mutilations and butcherings of fellow human beings (no matter how Rube Goldberg-esque or "humorous" the circumstances). The stereography and effects are generally quite good, especially the "x-ray" cg sequences at the opening and closing credits. I did notice for the first time, however, some polarization rivalry- likely due to the beamsplitter rigs used.
XGAMES 3D The Movie Three and a half stars - 2009 ESPN/Disney
Not having known much about these sports, I was really blown away by the BALLS these guys have! Absolutely, totally nuts. This has got to be exceptionally difficult action to follow- but they really did a good job with the 3D, despite what seemed to be some sync errors and frame judder. Much of the movie was intercut with 2D, but that didn't bother me much, it was almost a respite. The CG sections were imaginative and fun, and there were plenty of fun effects: slow motion, hyper, frozen multiple exposures, even floating x-rays showing the dozens of injuries sustained by one particular athlete. The film could have been a bit shorter, though the final skateboard competition didn't leave me sleepy at all!
G-FORCE 3D Two and a half stars - 2009 Disney/Sony
Forgettable and not funny, with characters that were less than cute (though the mole was, well, interesting!). Adequate 3D animation, but no laughs were elicited from this reviewer in this collaboration of Disney and Sony (soon to be a video game!). The live-action looked to be completely converted from 2D, and though I'm amazed they can do it as well as they do, it still never looks quite right (the average theater-goer will likely never notice). It's like colorizing a BW film: even though you can do a pretty good job, but it's not going to look quite right (and stereo is WAY harder to pull off)! Compositing had to be a nightmare, but was well-done... and a new, clever trick I'd never seen utilized was that objects would often "break out" of the frame top and bottom. Congratulations on some technical breakthroughs, too bad the movie was a bore.
ICE AGE: Dawn of the Dinosaurs Four and a half stars - 2009 Blue Sky
Started out slow, but turned into an hilarous, incredibly well-animated cg 3D film. The juggling choreography of Sid (one of the best cartoon characters in recent memory) and his eggs was spectacular, in the finest tradition of the master Warner Bros. animators. The scene going into the cave where they all breathe in the "vapors" (with very helium-like symptoms!) was brilliant. Scrat and his new girlfriend were funnier than ever in 3D (which was very well done, I saw no problems). Huge laughs throughout the movie, with the new (stereo-blind) character "Buck" adding a lot of hilarity. This was the first film I've seen with Master Image 3D glasses, apparently a Korean competitor to RealD...
UP Two and a half stars - 2009 Pixar
Am I a curmudgeon, like the star of this movie? Unlike the rest of the world, I really didn't like this Pixar release very much. The story was, well, schmaltzy. The characters were not endearing (the kid was ok) and character design was less than stellar (ok, I did like the "happy" dog, but the Ed Asner character's square head just did not appeal to me at all!). As far as the storyline being believable, it wasn't! OK, I can buy steering the house with sails, sort of... but after the little kid takes over, they somehow come down in the exact spot in South America (oh, the GPS!)?? The house somehow stays afloat even after a huge number of balloons are systematically popped (and with the huge bird on it), only to finally settle in the exact spot promised to the deceased wife? Dog collars that allow dogs to speak (and understand!) English? The old guy pulls up the dog, the bird, and the kid (though he needs a cane!)? I could go on... On the stereo imaging, I found no problems, but neither did I find any clever use of 3D... I'm not looking for "in your face" stuff, just some special moments which capitalize on the third dimension. I'm always amazed by the craftsmanship of Pixar animation, but this is probably one of my least favorite offerings. (It will probably get an Oscar!) Oh, the opening short "Partly Cloudy" was ok... it elicited a few laughs. My favorite part of the showing was the preview for TOY STORY 3!
BATTLE FOR TERRA Three stars - 2009 Snoot Entertainment
NOTE: This movie was viewed in the XpanD "active" glasses format. Only a handful of theaters are currently showing this system, which I found to be ghost and flicker-free and maybe a little darker than RealD... I also noticed some color desaturation, maybe 30%. The glasses were just covered in fingerprints, and I was told after the film that they just don't clean the glasses very much! Otherwise, the XpanD format works very well.
For a "no-name" computer animation production, I found a lot to like about this movie. Although the writing was barely tolerable and the quality of the animation merely mediocre, the stereoscopic aspect was done suprisingly well. Many of the scenes were very well composed for z space (certainly the flying aliens and spaceships had a lot to do with it, but even the views inside Mala, the lead alien's apartment, was nicely set). There were no "in your face" 3D effects (this was a re-render of a 2007 2D animation) which I didn't miss at all. Sound design was also suprisingly good, but cloth simulation was painfully non-existent!
CORALINE Four and a half stars - 2009 Laika Entertainment
Having done still stereo photography of stop motion sets years ago, I was really excited that someone was finally animating in 3D. Coraline utilized lots of digital post processing and some cg, and the results is one of the best stop motion animations I've ever seen. The sequences in the "other" world are just stunning- surreal and fun. Before going to the "other" world, I thought the 3D effect was quite thin, but once through the portal, the effect became strong, but not obtrusive (except for one shot of the "other" dad's hands off the piano, which was totally appropriate- and one good "in-your-face" shot in expected!). I wondered if it would have been more impactful if the real world was totally 2D (or if Henry Selick, the director, thought of that and rejected the idea). Though I really enjoyed the clean, crisp digital projection, I realized that I still prefer full computer animation. Though stop-motion has a wonderful, unique look, it is limited in what can be done compared to pure cg, which is practically unlimited. But what they did do, fantastic.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D Two stars - 2009 Lionsgate
The trailers and ads were brilliant, the live action 3D was decent, but I am not a fan of a film that is proud of it's "graphic brutal horror, violence and grisly images throughout"... especially potent in 3D. Isn't there enough murder and brutality in real life? (This was my first Dolby 3D film: the projection was quite dark- it wasn't just the movie).
BOLT Five stars - 2008 Disney
Is there anything better than a great stereoscopic cg movie, well presented? Just about every artform is represented: painting, sculpture, music, animation (dance), storytelling and if you're lucky- humor. There is so much to rave about in this film- from design to lighting to story to characters to action to... having fun with Hollywood movie making! And the breadth of detail is just astounding! The animal fur, the iridescent feathers of the pigeons, the iron bars on the bridge... the list goes on, and the digital stereo brings it all out so vividly. Disney finally got it right, with a lot of help from Pixar, it seems. 3D-wise, it was just great- with so many beautiful reflection/transparency effects... specifically the hamster "ball" (which was brilliant on so many levels)! "Rhino", the hamster, was utterly hilarious (whoever thought "I'll snap his neck" could be one of the funniest lines ever?!). The treatment of the travel across the Waffle map was a treat in itself. I enjoyed it just as much the second time I saw it, and I'm sure I would again.
FLY ME TO THE MOON Two and a half stars - 2008 nWave Pictures
Though there were some nicely designed CG sets, this movie would have been dreadful in 2D. Mediocre design/animation, lame script (one line was almost funny) and forgettable characters. The 3D looked pretty good throughout, overlooking the extreme parallax and infinity at the window. But the RealD system kept ghosting from being a problem at all. Images looked bright, steady, crisp. The recreation of the Apollo 11 spacecraft and moon landing were the highlights of the film (though the human characters were only tolerable).
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH Two stars - 2008 Walden Media/Warner Bros.
If this were a 2D movie, it would be among the worst movies I've seen. Luckily, the 3D was well done! As a saving grace, there was a funny antique stereoscope reference... too bad the scope was missing the crosspiece! Otherwise, amongst the awful direction and dialogue I did get one laugh, perhaps you'll know where. This was yet another 3D movie with a T-Rex for the kids... and several unnecessary "screen poppers". Those will look great on the 2D screens! I went on opening night, and to my surprise there was applause at the end... perhaps the 3D actually saved it.
U2 3D Four stars - 2008 National Geographic Entertainment
First time I went to a 3D film in two different formats... I'd already seen this in IMAX. There was less ghosting in the RealD version, but there was more ghosting in this theater (Woburn, MA) than the one that I'd seen Hannah Montana in (Framingham, MA). This screen was curved- not sure if the silver surface was less than optimal at this theater...? This time around I really appreciated the artistic use of layering compared to the Hannah concert. I had to go out twice to get the manager to crank up the music! Apparently in a multiplex the volume can be problematic if it bleeds into the next room! (IMAX doesn't have that issue.) There were a few spots of 2D I noticed, but it really didn't matter- with the myriad of layers, the 2D/3D interplay was just fine. Pity promotion is minimal, the theater was almost empty on Sunday night's showing. This is an historic 3D movie... very exciting, indeed.
HANNAH MONTANA 3D Three stars - 2008 Disney
This movie was not easy to sit through having recently seen U23D! She's cute enough, but the bubble gum music was appealling mainly to girls under 12! The stereo was well done, including a couple of really nice (cg?) effects- the guitar player throwing the pick at the camera, and the drummer bouncing his stick up to the overhead camera. Pyrotechnics and confetti shots worked great... nice opening credits as well. A few closeups of the star onstage exhibited way too much distance parallax. It was great to see the stereo camera rigs, especially the "spider boom". I didn't mind the 2D cutaways of the behind the scenes shots... made the concert seem more special (though I'm sure it was done purely for technical than aestetic considerations!). This film really showed off the quality of the RealD system- concert footage is going to be high contrast, yet I saw virtually no ghosting, as opposed to U2 at IMAX, where I saw lots of ghosting.
MEET THE ROBINSONS Three stars - 2007 Disney
Spectacular 3D! Loved the opening Disney "signatures" and the rain sequence, but unfortunately I found the characters, as well as the character design, disappointing (with the exception of the villian). The cg models looked like talking plastic dolls complete with plastic hair and plastic clothes, and I found myself unengaged in the story. There were some bright spots, like the puppet wife (great idea, visually wonderful but not all that funny) the spray paintings and the dinner scene... but without the 3D I would have been seriously bored. (I think the last Disney movie that had a real laugh for me was Aladdin). One chuckle did escape over the hypnotized frog ("...master") but I was irritated by several references to the boy's invention being "all shiny", which it clearly wasn't...?? Disney's lame robot reminded me of the amazing Blue Sky ROBOTS- and how I'd wished that would have been in 3D! One odd tech glitch: during the food fight scene the entire pictue seemed to go very grainy for 30 seconds or so... Also, this is the third local RealD screen I've seen- the first not to exhibit the silver spray blothiness I'd detected on the other two.
MONSTER HOUSE Four and a half stars - 2006 SONY Imageworks
Great! A well done cg film that really shows off the quality of the RealD system. Much more parallax than the previous release (CHICKEN LITTLE) but not so much as to be uncomfortable. Even my wife enjoyed the entire film even though I had to drag her to see it! I saw zero ghosting and the circular polarizer freedom nails this stereo projection system as the best ever for large audiences. The movie was well written with excellent human cg characters... story lent itself beautifully to the stereo treatments. The script had plently of laugh out loud jokes for the adults and the visuals were unlike anything seen before in 3D. Sony scored big with this feature- I think they're certainly giving cg king PIXAR a run for their money!
NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS 3D One and a half stars - 1993 Disney/ 3D 2006
After seeing the 2D-3D conversion segments in the SUPERMAN film, I had hoped that this would be better. Unfortunately, the first feature length film digitally converted to stereo was woefully disappointing. On the other hand, it's quite amazing that they can do it at all! And my friends who came with me really thought the 3D was good! If there was some miracle conversion process that actually worked, the 3D could have been spectacular... but I just kept thinking how good it could have been. Like colorizing black and white, it's never going to be right, but a lot of people won't notice. And dimensionalizing is a lot tougher than colorizing! ILM did the conversion.
A few things they did well- a few minutes of teaser at the beginning, done in cg (not stop motion, as the original animation) that looked great. They also added cg snow at the end (how? did they paint out all the original snow??) that always works, and a "sparks" effect when Santa takes off. Luckily there was a PIXAR short to see: KNICK KNACK. I had seen this in 1989 (early cg!) at SIGGRAPH in Boston in STEREO and it changed my life! Great to see it in 3D again.
CHICKEN LITTLE One and a half stars - 2005 Disney
The first film released in the revolutionary single projector digital system! But- Little is right... that's how much "3D" there was in this movie! I also had little interest in the story... The GOOD news is that the system works beautifully! I was worried about ghosting (since what I'd seen of circular polarization exhibited more ghosting than linear) but high contrast areas looked very clean (though there were little high parallax instances to really test!). Bright, sharp and stable with good saturated colors and contrast ratio. The main complaint about the system is that the screen (which had been painted silver?) exhibited a somewhat mottled, uneven surface... I found this quite distracting in the brighter scenes.
As for the movie itself- I was quite disappointed in the amount of parallax allowed in this motion picture... during the film I just kept thinking that this might as well be 2D! Having done lots of kid shows in 3D, I know that kids LOVE strong 3D (it's only the adults that have objections!). DISNEY should know better- they have been running great 3D films at their theme parks for years! Absolutely no one stayed- except my friends and I- for the best 3D in the movie, an "extra" scene which was tagged on at the very end, after the long credits!) I did notice near the end of the film a couple of short segments where the parallax looked GOOD~ I have to wonder if these were the ones rendered last minute by Disney? This may have been my least favorite CG film... I didn't find the characters engaging, the jokes were flat, the story a snore.
With the right projection system, a 3D Blu-Ray can look really close to cinema quality (1080p is almost the same resolution)! Good 3D TVs can also look spectacular, especially the new 4k passive. Some 3D movies never got seen in the theatre, so reviewed here from disk. We may also review movies that were just missed (I'm going out to the theater less often, since I end up with the Blu-Ray anyway). Also- I've noticed that some Blu-Ray 3D DVDs will revert to 2D when paused! This is horrendous! Reviewing still frames or slow motion in 3D is a great treat! Blu-Rays without 3D pause will be tagged No stereo still frame.
SADAKO 3D Two and a half stars - 2012 3D Kadokawa
Luckily the lead actress is a stunning beauty, otherwise this "horror" movie would be hard to sit through. Not gory, but mostly reliant on sudden loud noises or 3D effects to invoke a jump from the viewer. Other than good 3D in said effects, most of the footage was exceedingly flat, I would say even 2D at times. I'm still trying to figure out the ending...
DESPICABLE ME 2 Five stars - 2013 Illumination Entertainment
Watched DESPICABLE ME 2 on 3D Blu Ray and loved it as much as in the theater. Brilliant on every level... Animation is character driven, and these are the most iconic and clever characters since TOY STORY. It's also just JAM packed with funny, gut laughs- which is true gold. I'm HAPPY to be one of the minions :) Extremely unfortunately, no stereo still frame.
HOLOTRONICA 3D One and a half stars - 2014 Holotronica Ltd
"See the music in 3D". If it was music that one really enjoys, that's one thing- but this electronic potpourri likely has a very limited fan base. Some of the animated/synced cg graphics are ok, but I'm not sure anyone could sit through the whole disc. It would be great if there was an app that generated interesting stereo graphics from your own music source (many music players already have 2D visualization).
STORM SURFERS 3D Two stars - 2013 Vitagraph Films
Unless you're a hard-core surf enthusiast, wading through these 95 minutes for the sake of the few spectacular "in the tube" and POV sequences is ill-advised. A lot of chat from the guys, weather reports, yada yada... Watched with a number of friends, some snoozed, one walked out. Others, however, seemed to enjoy the whole thing...
R.I.P.D. Two stars - 2013 Universal
Two stars is generous, and only because the 3D bullet time effect was great. Otherwise, what a poor excuse of a movie for Jeff Bridges to star in. His character was pathetic, the story imbecilic and the dialogue moronic. One of those movies which I felt guilty for wasting the time watching it to the very end. And to top it off, no stereo still frame.
LITTLE MERMAID 3D Two and a half stars - 1989/2013 Disney
Since I'd never seen it, I thought I would enjoy this Disney classic now that it's 3D. They did a great job with the 3D (HOW do they separate the bubbles? the rain??) as was the art direction and the character design. But the story was just lame! Dopey dialogue, and the "comic relief" seagull (Buddy Hackett) was pitiful. Again, as it seems Disney/Pixar Blu-Rays do, the pause shifted the image to 2D, so no still or slow 3D. Infuriating! No stereo still frame.
UPSIDE DOWN Two and a half stars - 2012 Millenium Entertainment
Convoluted sci-fi yarn with no real story and a wacky premise which serves to provide some interesting visuals. Otherwise dull with shallow 3D.
EPIC Three and a half stars - 2013 Blue Sky
Worth viewing for the stunning stereo visuals alone: the queen walking on converging lily pads, flying armies of good and evil creatures, dandilion haired ladies- beautiful. The star characters were the slug and snail team... amusing (though not laugh out loud funny) with stellar design and animation. Myriad good and evil tiny inhabitants of the woodland world kept my interest (surprisingly fun character voiced by Steven Tyler), but the story and dialogue were hardly engaging.
PAINTED SKIN 2 (Resurrection) Four stars - 2012 Chinese import
Visual feast in this Chinese fairy tale fantasy. The 3D and visual effects work spectacularly in this array of imagined images. The pace is not consistent, but the characters and scenes carry the movie. Martial arts, beautiful women and nasty villians.
SECRET OF THE WINGS Two and a half stars - 2012 Disneytoons Studio
The first Disney "direct to disc" 3D Blu-Ray I've seen... no wonder it's more suitable for Saturday morning TV! Although the story and dialogue was juvenile, there were some cute scenes (like the spring to summer bridge or the journey of the snow-making machine). (Did I say "cute"?) The characters were quite vanilla and there wasn't even a villian... I thought I noticed some mismatched shadings for right and left, but was frustrated in checking since pausing results in a 2D still! Infuriating! No stereo still frame.
SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL Three and a half stars - 2005 Columbia
Lavagirl's smile lights up the screen, and the scenes shine with imagination gone wild. The 3D was lots of fun, but matching live action to the computer sets proved to be more than the production folks could handle (likely due to constrained time/budget), though it was mostly pretty good. Loved the Mr. Electric villain character as well as the Ice Men. Sure was as a lot better seeing it in 3D Blu Ray than the original anaglyph! Several inexplicable 2D sequences... ?? Obviously a movie for kids, but dialogue was more juvenile than necessary... still, quite enjoyable.
PAT METHENY - ORCHESTRATION PROJECT Two stars - 2012 Metheny Group
In the early days I was a huge fan of the Pat Metheny Group, but not so much his later/solo projects. Of course I was willing to check out this 3D effort... unfortunately, the 3D was extremely thin and the concept interesting but ultimately monotonous. Metheny goes on and on, his guitar on each piece sounding so much the same, so repetitious- and soloing to mechanical musical devices he's programmed. Some nice sounds did evolve, but overall seemed tedious and self-indulgent. Sorry, Pat.
TOP GUN Three stars - 1986/2013 Paramount
Some classic movies hold up better than others... Top Gun not so well. The pacing seemed pretty slow for an action movie, and the romance, family, macho rivalry sappy (though refreshing to see guys being guys). Pretty predictable plot, but at least Legend3D did a really good 2D to 3D conversion. I am beginning to accept fake 3D as an art unto itself... it's getting beyond acceptable, becoming actually enjoyable. Though I can't watch without wondering how in the world they do it. No stereo still frame.
FINDING NEMO 3D Three stars - 2003 Pixar
Watched this on my Sony HMZ-T1 3D headset which was great. Certainly the stereo version is more enjoyable than the 2D version. But having just seen the Rainmaker 3D movie ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH earlier in the day, I could compare this Pixar offering. Seems to be one of their "classics", but for me it's not all that entertaining. Some pretty scenes and Ellen is drole in her way, but I wouldn't say this movie was funny. Not one real laugh, maybe a chuckle here or there. Certainly there is no story to speak of! This is one of Pixar's sugar-coated cute (blasé) family films... not so clever or engaging. (Note: one of my favorite things to do with a 3D Blu-Ray is stop the action and study the stereo. On this disc I noticed that when you pause the image goes to 2D!? What's up with that?? Never noticed that before. Why would that be? Calls for a new designation: No stereo still frame.)
SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD One and a half stars - 2011 Dimension Films
Ouch! After hailing Rodriguez as a hero on Spy Kids 3, I wasn't expecting something this horrible as a follow up! Missed it at the theater when I heard it was a conversion, but little did I know how BAD a conversion... many of the scenes were absolutely the worst I've ever seen! Nice thing about Blu-Ray is that a still can really see how bad the botchjob actually is: many heads glued to backgrounds... a small head in the far background sitting on a closeup shoulder... I actually had a laugh when I saw one guy's arm, supposed to be behind his body, sticking out from his chest. How could he let this happen? The marvelous huge clock could have rivalled Hugo's... very sad. A few clips with decent 3D must have utilized cg compositing, but overall, ecch! And the movie had no heart, no charm- but plenty of farts and dirty diapers. I'll say that Ricky Gervais's talking dog was mildly amusing, otherwise an unworthy effort, and a study guide for careless conversion.
SPY KIDS 3D: GAME OVER Four stars - 2003 Miramax
Saw this in the theater when it first came out, in anaglyph! Robert Rodriguez became an instant hero, having jumped into this incredibly ambitious 3D venture so early in the game- two years before the first digital 3D feature "Chicken Little"! He not only wrote, produced and directed, but also scored the entire soundtrack (which was great), shot and edited! His budget was "only" $39m, but it made almost $200m. (Compare to the 2012 lame Disney video game movie "Wreck It Ralph" with a $165m budget). Unfortunatly, Robert was in a bit over his head as a lot of the live action/cgi compositing was horrendous. Nonetheless, the movie was so much fun and family positive that I have to cut him some slack- the software support for stereoscopic production had to be virtually non-existant at the time! You could certainly see the anomolies much better in the full color Blu Ray version, but the star-studded cast and Robert otherwise made a really creative and fun movie that really toys with 3D.
FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGONS GATE Three and a half stars - 2011 China Film Group
First thing you notice is that the captions are in various places OVER the image (very distracting and disrespectful of the cinematography)! Seems they tried to set it either in an unimportant area, or over the actors speaking. Apparently for deaf people as well, since music and animal sounds are also noted! Interestingly, they did set the captions in the appropriate Z plane(s). The imagery and action was mesmerizing, but the plot was a bit difficult to follow... The stereo was excellent, with the expected full-blown martial arts effects totally enhanced by the 3D.
THREE STOOGES One star - 2012 3D Classics
Legend3D did the color and 3D conversions, neither worthwhile. The 3D was mild and with lots of artifacts (which may go unnoticed by most, so why work so much harder to get it "right"?) and the color garish. Also, there are 3 Stooges episodes that are actually funny, but these aren't they...
Best of the LITTLE RASCALS One star - 2012 3D Classics
This is in no way the best, or my memory is worse than I thought. You might expect some racism, but this was extreme, and really not the best choice for potential new and young audiences. And, the same mediocre conversion quality as the 3 Stooges DVD. A waste.
FLYING MONSTERS 3D Four stars - 2011 National Geographic
Outstanding computer graphics, mixed with some excellent live action 3D made for an interesting and visually exciting science show by David Attenborough on the pterosaurs which roamed our prehistoric skies. Most impressive was some really creative uses of 3D, including a fully dimensional "painting" (which the camera panned across) and a simply beautiful wireframe pterosaur model that crawls out of the computer monitor onto the table and into the room. Very well done! Bones emereged from fossil stones in 3D to create the full skeleton, and macro stereo really showed incredible detail in one of the well preserved fossils.
Looks like we can now stream 3D! Discovered this on my Playstation3 Oct 13, 2013- guess it's fairly new. I sampled a few titles: a few played fine, one played pseudo and one was seriously messed up (bad sync, jumpy, static). Guess there's still a few glitches to work out.
THE LITTLE PRINCE DQ Entertainment
I could only watch maybe 5 minutes, but the animation quality was low as was the stereoscopic rendering. For the night sky, it was a just a few layers of flat stars.
CHAPLIN Three stars - DQ Entertainment
Saw one of the shorts available... low end simple cg animation, decent work. Stereo was shallow.
Turns out IMAX is putting small screens into some multiplex theaters and not alerting patrons that they aren't getting full size projection. Standard IMAX screen is 52Hx72'W. In NYC, the IMAX (some are calling "Liemax" or "IMAX-lite") screen at the Empure 25 is a paltry 28Hx58'W. The real IMAX screen in Lincoln Square is 76Hx97'W. Originally the small Imax theater projectors were 2k digital, while real IMAX screens used dual 70mm projectors. Real IMAX theaters are phasing in 4k digital, as film is totally phased out of the industry.
JERUSALEM Three stars - 2013 National Geographic
Certainly some stunning scenes of life in this spiritually central city, but surprised to see that quite a few clips were flat (I can only imagine the difficulty in obtaining much of the footage, but was conversion an option? Too costly?). Many of the aerial/hyper views worked beautifully, but would like to have seen more stereo cg modelling.
GRAVITY 3D Four stars - 2013 Warner Bros
More like an adventure ride than a movie, GRAVITY 3D was as close to a trip in space as I'm likely to get. If ever 3D was an essential experiential element, this was it! After all, what is 3D, but the illusion of space? The director was so intent on getting us the ultimate POV, he brought the camera slowly up to the floating astronaut- then actually into the helment, looking out into the void of space. Wow. Inside the space station objects floated, and the tunnels were extremely deep. I've heard complaints about lack of plot, but this was not a story movie. This was an immersive geospace expedition- especially if ridden in a giant IMAX theater (this one had "butt-kicker" seats, which vibrate at low the lower frequencies, adding to the virtual experience). I just can't imagine trying to appreciate these 91 minutes on a 2D smartphone...
WIZARD OF OZ Five stars - MGM/Warner Brothers
My favorite film of all time. Not only beautifully converted to 3D, but digitally restored from the original Technicolor negatives with enhanced sound. All on the huge IMAX screen! A fresh look at old friends. WOW. OK, I may have noticed a few stereo anomolies, maybe StereoD would have done an even better conversion, but no real complaints. Tears of joy, nostalgia, reverence... loved it.
PACIFIC RIM Three and a half stars - 2013 Warner Bros.
AKA Transformers meets Godzilla. Good sci-fi visual effects action flick, even some martial arts. Unfortunately the epic fighting just goes on and on... The scientist characters were amusing, and of course Ron Perlman was good, with a hilarious coda. Stereo conversion, mostly well done.
BORN TO BE WILD Three and a half stars - 2011 Imax/Warner Bros
You can't go too far wrong with a movie that features baby elepants and orangutans! Some of the footage is incredible, and precious- from baby elephants playing together (and kicking a soccer ball right at the audience) to an orangutan, fresh from captivity emerging from his transfer cage to the wild for the first time. Shooting this must have been incredibly difficult... there are some 3D problems that at times made the film hard to view. A number of scenes had just too much depth, and there were some painful cuts between close and far. Also, I was reminded how much film judder there is at 24fps, especially in 3D (Peter Jackson is said to be shooting The Hobbit at 48fps!). There was an interesting 3D shot of a plane over the landscape: it seems to have been done with a temporal delay (a la "Pulfrich") which put the shadow of the plane above the ground! Technical issues aside, there was some stunning stereo scenes that I may never forget (if I'm lucky).
TRON LEGACY Three and a half stars - 2010 Disney
Firstly, this movie was certainly the ultimate test for projection crosstalk (ghosting). Unfortunately, IMAX failed in this regard: the very high contrast lines ghosted badly throughout. (I did view several scenes in a RealD theater, and the crosstalk was about non-existent. Is this due to RealD's "ghostbusting" algorithm? Superior polarization? Both?) The film was enjoyable, but my friends and I agreed that the stereo was dialed way down, disappointingly so. Faces appeared quite flat, there seemed to be compression and subsequent layering. Were they worried about the high contrast ghosting? About appearing too "gimmicky"? I don't think there was a single scene that gave me a chill with an inspired use of 3D. Tron should have been this year's Avatar; suprisingly, Vince Pace (Cameron's 3D partner) is listed as "Stereoscopic Producer".
LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS Three and a half stars - 2010 Warner Bros.
NOTE: Interesting that my IMAX theater has decided sell glasses ($1.50) instead of handing them out (included in ticket price). They come in a resealable bag, and if you bring them next time there's no surcharge! This is brilliant: it's cheaper for the patron and they don't have to collect, collate and clean them. I've said this is what RealD should do, but they'd lose that revenue (they don't have to clean them, just keep selling more! Very green (for them!)
It's always fun to see a cartoon short... this was the classic Warner Bros. Road Runner vs. Wile E. Coyote, turned from cel animation to 3D models. Though nostalgiac, it just didn't seem all that funny or clever... just kind of ... old. The 3D was good!
The 3D in the feature was absolutely stunning! Stereo is really able to show off the power of cg imaging, whereby every wisp of owl feather and down is detailed and distinct. Highlights in the eyes glisten. Even particulates in the atmosphere hover in the air. Thankfully the visuals were such a treat since the story, dialogue and characters didn't grab me (well, maybe the little owl). Seems a couple characters were supposed to offer some comic relief but the jokes fell pretty flat. Like many 3D movies, they got very creative with the ending credits, which offered some cut-outs and shadow play silently retelling the story.
SHREK FOREVER AFTER Five stars - 2010 Dreamworks
How can I give Shrek Goes Forth (aka Shrek The Final Chapter) five stars and Avatar 4 and a half? Well, some things could have been better in Avatar, but this Shrek was just perfect! Laugh out loud comedy is rare, and this movie had me rolling. Great writing, hilarious sight gags, classic characters, spectacular visual design... it's all there! And of course the stereo was perfection (or as close as it gets!). I was hooked at the very opening, when we went from the storybook to the horse drawn wagon coming toward the viewer in amazing 3D! There were just so many scenes of artistic wonder, I mean I just loved it. From the spectacular scenes in Rumpelstiltskin's castle, to the sight (less) gag of turning the blind mouse around because he was applauding in the wrong direction, this was what an animated family movie should be.
HUBBLE 3D Three and a half stars - 2010 IMAX/Warner Bros.
There are some simply mind-boggling shots in this film: seeing men floating in space above the Earth, working on the monstrous Hubble telescope, way bigger than life, was way worth the price of admission. A good chunk of the film, however, was lower res video and was certainly converted to 3D (which is fine, just not as compelling... obviously there was older footage that wasn't 3D, and maybe the interior shots were just too tight for the IMAX 3D camera). The cg scenes of going to the outer edges of space and seeing the web of galaxies in 3D were pretty awe-inspiring. This film should be a manditory field trip for all school kids!
ALICE IN WONDERLAND Three and a half stars - 2010 Disney
Expectations were high, of course- Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and 3D! Then the bad reviews, and rumors that the entire film had been converted to 3D after the fact. I'm not a fan of fake 3D, so I was apprehensive... The beginning of the film, mostly live action, was not looking so good- very little parallax and a slow start. But once into the rabbit hole, things started picking up: Tweedle Dee and Dum were fantastic, as were most of the CG cast. When I saw the smoke from Absolem the Caterpillar, I was sure that the CG was rendered stereoscopically! The fur on the rabbits was much too detailed to have been converted, as opposed to the hair on the lead characters, including Depp's Mad Hatter. Probaby the most disappointing character was Alice herself- the actress just wasn't engaging enough, though adequate. That said, I enjoyed the film more than I expected to- I think if the live action had been shot in 3D it would have been much better... (But how difficult was that have been with all the digital post done on the characters? Really, really difficult, I think. Probably better to just go full motion capture? On the other hand, who but hard-core stereophiles even notices this stuff? Is it worth it?)
AVATAR Four and a half stars - 2009 Fox Entertainment
Of course, there was an immense anticipation for this film from the man who made the (5 star) TERMINATOR 3D in 1996 (not to mention the biggest selling movie of all time). James Cameron promised something special to his fans and his investors... and he delivered! I waited for the crowds to die down a bit, but the Tuesday evening IMAX show I attended was sold out, over 3 weeks and $1 billion after the official opening. This was a make it or break it 3D movie, and thankfully it's a winner. The 3D was not overused- some scenes actually appeared nearly flat. You don't want to overdo it in a 3D film that's almost 3 hours long (headaches aren't good)... I've not heard complaints. Though I liked the film very much, and was filled with wonder and awe at many of the fantastic places and incredibly human-like aliens, it didn't hit all five stars for me. Perhaps it was impossible to live up to the hype- perhaps I expected too much. I am thrilled that the movie that was destined to change the mind of the world about whether or not 3D is just a gimmick had done that very thing. Hallelujah!
UNDER THE SEA 3D Four stars - 2009 Warner Bros
My first thought was, "Not another underwater 3D film!" But this genre is not only perfect for stereoscopic cinematography, but the amazing variety seems to be endless! Howard (and Michele) Hall managed to get more mind-boggling footage in this follow-up to "Deep Sea 3D", proving again that the natural world is so much more spectacular than any fiction. Describing the creatures that were captured by the huge 1300 lb. camera system is an exercise in futility- this is a film that just has to be experienced. Parallax was often overly strong (even at the very back of the theater) and some of the cuts are rather jarring, but just about this entire film is priceless... we are lucky to have this technology and these filmmakers who are able to share this wonderful hidden world with us. And we're lucky to have Jim Carrey narrate!
MONSTERS vs. ALIENS Three stars - 2009 Dreamworks Pictures
I have no doubt that this was the most highly promoted 3D movie of all time, but was it worth the hype? Though the 3D was spectacular, overall the movie itself was a disappointment. There was a chuckle or two at most in this flat comedy... the writing was lame, and the character design mediocre. Visually it was a treat: several scenes, including Susan growing larger at her wedding, and the fight at Golden Gate Bridge, were lots of fun. The opening sequence of the flat 2D Dreamworks logo (as film) melting away to reveal the awesomeness of (3D!) space was brilliant. Unfortunately, this was a case of 3D saving an otherwise dull film... I wouldn't recommend it in 2D.
GRAND CANYON ADVENTURE River at Risk Three stars - 2008 MacGillivray Freeman Films
A respected 3D friend loved this film, but I had little to love about it. I thought I would be awed, but the cinematography was ok at best. The opening with CG splashes were fun! There was a guy shooting dual Hasselblad stills which was great to see, and a comparison of stereo images from 1873 and current times worked well. The aerial shots of the canyon, dams and cities were flat, I'd hoped for some hyper treatments. It looked like some of the rafting sequences were 2D! I thought overall the colors were muted and the lighting undramatic. Even putting the IMAX camera on a raft wasn't all that exciting, a bit too bouncy to enjoy on film. Add some jarring cuts and I left disappointed.
WILD OCEAN 3D Four and a half stars - 2008 Giant Screen Films
OK, I think underwater is a prime subject for stereography and there have certainly been a lot of 3D films done in the deep. This particular film, however, had such an incredible segment of "bait balls", shoals of sardines and the birds that dive into the water to feed on them along with the dolphins, sharks and whales. This was a spectacle of nature caught in IMAX 3D and edited to a symphonic soundtrack which had me weeping in awe... The schools of fish were mesmerizing in themselves, but the gannets darting into the water like cannonfire and the explosion of hungry sharks was just mind boggling. There were other nice touches- like kids in a sand castle shaped like a sardine can, the African villages and the boy who carved the fish from wood.
DOLPHINS AND WHALES 3D Two and a half stars - 2008 3D Entertainment
More like a classroom treatment of these "cetaceans" than an entertaining documentary, Jean-Michel Cousteau simply presents the species- one at a time. Some nice closeup footage of these beautiful mammals, especially the manatee... unfortunately the parallax on much of that footage was way strong! Pretty straightforward film with no cg, but including the usual preaching about how these creatures may soon be history unless we all work together.
U2 3D Four stars - 2008 National Geographic Entertainment
An incredible concert film on a huge screen showcasing one of the best bands in rock history... how can you go wrong? The producers did an amazingly seamless job weaving this film together from multiple nights of footage. This is the first live action 3D in quite a while, and it executed beautifully. The cameras moved well, with a great mix of closeups, long shots and mingling with the sea of the energized, crazed crowd (I'm glad I could fly over the entire arena from the comfort of my IMAX chair, without tiers of frenzied fans blocking my view!). Composite layering was used extensively to great effect, including 2D segments. The filmmakers only touched upon some cg effects... the first one that really worked was when Bono drew in mid-air... loved it! Later came some text, actually lots of text- too much text. One sequence of raining letters worked, but overall that segment was just too distracting. Unfortunately, in this IMAX showing (where the smallest 3D lenses I've seen were introduced! Just barely covered the screen) ghosting was quite prevalent due to high contrast. At the credits there was a nice scene: a quick fly-through a loose wireframe city. When one thinks of the creative music videos that have been done in 2D over the years, one can imagine the potential for music and 3D. Hopefully this is just the tip of the iceberg.
SEA MONSTERS Three and a half stars - 2007 National Geographic
Computer stereo continues to push the boundaries of realism... many shots in Sea Monsters are just spectacular. For 3D, it's hard to beat the "monster" splashing out of the ocean with a fish in it's mouth toward the audience. The aerial shots viewing the fish through the water's surface were so realistic, I have to believe it was live footage cleverly composited with the fish swimming below. Unfortunately many of the shots seemed quite similar, and there really is no story- it's no more than a drawn out vision of what prehistoric fossils might have looked like back in the day.
BEOWULF Four stars - 2007 Paramount Pictures
I was incredibly psyched for this... Robert Zemeckis again directs, utilizing absolute state-of-the-art motion capture/computer animation in stunning stereo. The visuals were spectacular! While the human characters weren't quite perfect, it was often so close as to elicit total awe and sheer amazement. Closeups of faces revealed unprecedented detail and complexity... Anjelina Jolie was stunningly accurate, and the male leads superb. The bodies and hands were also exquisite- I'm just astonished at how far this marriage of art and technology has come. Mind-boggling! As close to recreating humans as humans have ever done. The stereoscopic aspects were handled well, with a few more "comin at you effects" than maybe were necessary (the exagerrated spear in my face was a bit much!). The story was ok, and as good as the human replication was, in some scenes it just didn't work. But the woman scrubbing the table, she was pretty convincing! (I'm pretty sure at least some of her was animated by hand!)
Now that 3D films are coming out in multiple formats (this is the first!), shall I review the film in each??
DEEP SEA 3D Four stars - 2006 Warner Bros
There have been more underwater IMAX 3D than any other type, but this one is certainly the best. With the help of Warner Bros. backing, the production quality was top-notch, including a spectacular soundtrack. Not only was Danny Elfman's score wonderful, but the effects were sparkling and even funny! We meet some fantastic creatures and the moon jellyfish school is unearthly! The cleaning stations are wondrous... the sea turtles having their shells detailed by colorful fish is an unforgettable treat. Unfortunately the film suffers from excessive parallax in many scenes, which is nearly unavoidable in this environment... sit in the back. The last scene, with the right whale, was enlarged from a 16mm film and converted to 3D!
IMAX COUNTDOWN Five stars - IMAX
It's just a very short promo for IMAX 3D, but like nothing I've seen before! Starts with a standard "Academy" countdown (small), then goes to FULL SCREEN as the countdown continues sucking you completely into it's vortex of space! This is genius- if you're not convinced after this, you'll never be!
ANT BULLY Three stars - 2006 Warner Bros.
Yet another insect cg movie... too bad the story and characters weren't really worth it. The lead humans were tolerable, but the other "kids" were awful! The ants and other insects were nicely designed, but the story was so lame I can't imagine sitting through a 2D version. There were some really nice stereo scenes involving reflections (one in particular that was like a house of mirrors) but overall the parallax was a bit too strong (and we were sitting all the way in the back). I expected better from a film that got decent reviews.
OPEN SEASON Five Stars - 2006 Sony Imageworks
Another GREAT 3D movie from SONY Imageworks... they are blowing away Disney and Pixar! The CG is mind-boggling, and the stereo 3D makes the incredible hair and texture renderings so much more tangible! The anthropomorphic animal characters are extremely well done and likeable as are the cartoon humans. Check out Beth's hair! Never mind being laugh out loud funny! After having seen the lame attempt to convert 2D to 3D by ILM (Nightmare Before Christmas) the night before, it was a thrill to see how remarkable REAL stereo can be! I loved this film- actual tears of joy.
ALIENS OF THE DEEP Three and a half stars - 2005 Disney
The second Cameron IMAX 3D film was better than the first ("Ghosts of the Abyss") but again way too many bad 3D shots! Seriously nasty window violations that were painful and embarrassing! I kept wishing he just did those shots flat instead... Luckily there was enough amazing 3D footage of incredible creatures in beautiful 3D to keep my jaw dropped for a good chunk of the film. The underwater heat vents crawling with life was mind-blowing! Computer graphics of aliens of the deep space looked great in 3D of course.
MAGNIFICENT DESOLATION Walking on the Moon Three and a half stars - 2005 IMAX
The recreation of the lunar module and the astronauts bouncing around on the moon's surface was quite entertaining on the huge 3D Imax screen. I also enjoyed the amusing section where a roll down (silver?) projection screen appears with lots of 3D graphics (crude but fun) appear on the myths of the moon... kid's space drawings turn to 3D as well. A bit cutesy with the little kids who are going to be astronauts when they grow up...
WILD SAFARI Two stars - 2005 nWave
It's hard to believe nWave has the gumption to put the audience in the back of a bumpy jeep looking at the back of the driver's head for about half the movie! Not only that, but as a cute "effect", they decided to FLASH the audience with a bright white light when the jeep driver is "taking photos" of the elephants at the beginning of the film. Thankfully they didn't continue that painful device throughout the movie! Some of the graphics were way too far out... On the bright side, there was some nice footage of the animals, especially the leopards. Unfortunately, since the cameras cannot get close, long lenses are utilized which tends to compress depth... so the environments exhibit great 3D, but the animals are a bit flat.
POLAR EXPRESS 3D FIVE stars - 2004 SONY Imageworks
Another amazing CGI stereo film- I believe this is the best 3D feature ever made. The movie may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the 3D is awesome, incredible! And when is the last time you saw a 3D movie as a top box office draw? Granted, most people are only seeing the film in 2D- which means that the film holds up quite well even without that amazing third dimension! This film was chock full of spectacular 3D scenes, as well as the most imaginative 3D thrill rides I have ever enjoyed. This wasn't a movie, it was an experience! I was riveted throughout.... Yes, the not-quite-human aspect of the characters was a little hard for many, including myself (a huge cg fan), to digest... but so easily forgivable, considering the spectacular 3D effects! What I witnessed going on up there on that gargantuan silver screen was absolutely mind-boggling. It's hard to believe the film was done in 3D as an afterthought~!? A local radio personality here in Boston who never liked animation or Tom Hanks was raving about the film... the 2D version! And I have never heard so much positive word-of-mouth about a 3D movie... people are talking about it as a must see! Sold out shows! This has got to be a major turning point in the history of stereoscopic filmmaking... the public likes it! My wife really liked it! And I loved it. A MUST SEE! (note: apparently the IMAX version of “The Polar Express” grossed $45 million, meaning that 35% of the film’s revenue came from only 2% of its screens!) NOTE: After seeing this film for the second time, I'm still amazed. For me, this is the most incredible marriage of art and technology EVER CREATED. Stunning.
NASCAR 3D Three and a half stars - 2004 Warner Bros
I didn't think I was going to like this film, not being much of a racing enthusiast (quite the opposite, really). But it actually turned out to be pretty good! Shots inside the car during a race, behind the scenes (including the incredible truck that takes the car on the second level with the service tools on the first level), and time-lapse photography all were pretty interesting. Quality of the stereography was quite good. My favorite part was the pit crew in 3D! Those are the guys that should be getting trophies!
SHARKS 3D Three stars - 2004 3D Entertainment
Another underwater adventure from the same French guys that did Ocean Wonderland. What is up with the talking sea turtle? Apparently they didn't figure out the first time around that it's really lame, the narration is awful. The music is pretty overdone classical. BUT, there is some absolutely spectacular footage of schools of fish! And jellyfish! And even hammerhead sharks! Though I found it odd that in the middle of the hammerhead sequence the movie reverted to 2D (2 same eye views) for about seven minutes. I talked to the supervisor who talked to the (weekend) projectionist- no one noticed or complained in 8 months. Guess I'm just a troublemaker! Oh, also some amazing shark "feeding frenzy" footage...
BUGS! Four stars - 2003 SK Films
Incredible macro stereo makes these tiny creatures seem gargantuan! There is an incredible sequence showing hundreds of baby praying mantises being born... they come down little strings hanging from a huge leaf. Absolutely fascinating! Apparently the spider coming down the web at the audience is a little much for small kids... my 6 year old niece and nephew hardly wanted to put their glasses back on after that!
OCEAM WONDERLAND 3D Two and a half stars - 2003 3D Entertainment
More underwater 3D... normally you can't miss with swarming schools of fish in 3D- and there are some good clips in this film- but there were so many seriously bad parallax / alignment problems in many scenes that it took away from comfortable enjoyment. The "host" sea turtle was pretty corny! One memorable scene of golden fish within an anemone, but overall less than exciting.
GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS Three stars - 2003 Disney
Disappointment from James Cameron after the incredible Terminator 3D offering. There are some high points- they are all digitally enhanced or generated. Some of the cg room recreations are fantastic, as are the 3D conversions of the old black and white photos (apparently intricate depth maps were created from 3d models made to simulate each scene). Unfortunately, some of the interior scenes of the sub were hard on the eyeballs due to extreme window violations. I know there are some restrictions for a 3d camera in tight quarters, but this was too much.
SPACE STATION Three and a half stars - 2002 IMAX/NASA
Some extreme parallax, but it's amazing how much they were able to pull off in the IMAX format out in space! Shots of crew members floating in front of you in 3D made you really feel like you're inside the shuttle along with them. The closest we'll ever be to being up there.
HAUNTED CASTLE One and a half stars - 2001 nWave
Computer animation, but not nearly as evolved as what we might expect from Disney, Pixar, or PDI. There is very little semblance of a story- really an excuse for a ride-type 3D experience.
CIRQUE du SOLIEL Three and a half stars - 2000 Sony Classics
An excellent subject for 3d, this was not a documentary of regular performances but a narrative specifically written for the IMAX 3D vehicle. The narrative was a vague and somewhat corny story that provided an excuse for various scenes in which the troupe could show their costumes and aerobatics. Some highlights include a beatiful underwater sequence (a natural for through the window effects) and a scene of "living statues" that were floating on a giant leaf on a pond. One overhead shot was particularly effective, as the screen became the water surface and the statues jutted out into the room. I also liked the scene deep in the woods with very colorful characters in the misty rays of the sun. Unfortunately some scenes dragged, but it could be that European circus style~
CYBERWORLD Four and a half stars - 2000 Wireframe Films
This is what I want to see in 3D! The computer has allowed incredible freedom for fertile minds, and stereo is a natural by-product of 3d animation. Showcases of short films like this are the perfect outlet for creative pieces that might never otherwise be seen. In this grouping there is a wide variety of styles, highlighted by a sequence from the cg animation ANTS (by PDI, the same people who did SHREK) with Woody Allen and Sylvester Stallone re-rendered in 3D, and the absolute BEST 3D animated sequence ever (also by PDI): HOMER SIMPSON goes from the 2D cartoon world to the 3D cg world! It was originally done for the television show, but was re-rendered in high resolution and stunning stereo 3d! Not only is it one of the funniest Simpsons sequences ever, but the transition from 2D to 3D is a sight to behold. And when the 2D Professor Frink tries to explain what happended to Homer and speaks of "the hypothetical z-axis", it's the zenith of 3D hilarity. A MUST SEE.
GALAPAGOS Four stars - 1999 IMAX
Despite some heavy parallax in some land close-ups, we are treated to lots of great 3D footage on this lost island, as well as underwater scenes. The schools of fish work really well with this fish-eye underwater rig. Loved the shots of the submersible (how did the camera shoot it at the bottom of the ocean?), especially the "sucking up" of never before seen specimens. Film is dedicated to Noel Archambault, who died in a helicopter crash making this film. Noel was a great asset to the 3D community and a great guy. He is sorely missed.
ENCOUNTER IN THE THIRD DIMENSION Four stars - 1999 nWave
High rating mainly due to the 3D background and history... though there are some nice 3D effects and some pretty remarkable compositing effects, the storyteller is painfully unfunny. There is a particularly good effect where Elvira gets zapped and turns 2D (horrors!), falling down to the ground as a cardboard cutout.
SIGFIELD and ROY Four and a half stars - 1999 IMAX
Excellent vehicle for stereo presentation, the film includes scenes from the stage show as well as home life with the tigers. But most impressive are the computer graphics which work incredibly well and are very creative.
T-REX! Back to the Cretaceous Two and a half stars - 1998 L-squared
Story is a bit goofy, and who isn't tired of dinosaurs? The computer graphics are fine, but this seems to have been made as a cash in on Jurassic Park. Now if only Spielberg had directed it...
L5 First City in Space Two stars - 1996 IMAX
Lame story with uninspired effects. Disappointing.
ACROSS THE SEA OF TIME Four and a half stars - 1995 Columbia/Sony
Stereo fans should really like this film, which features a boy looking for his roots through his grandfather's stereoscope! He travels to New York City and there are many old stereo views blown up to IMAX proportions that hold up incredibly well.
INTO THE DEEP Three and a half stars - 1995 3D Sea, Inc
Underwater is such a great venue for stereo! This one is done particularly well, highlights include beautifully lit schools of fish and a lobster shedding it's exoskeleton.
THEME PARK 3D
TRANSFORMERS: THE RIDE Five stars
Universal Studios Hollywood
WOW. The Amazing Spiderman has to step aside: Universal has again set the GOLD standard for theme park rides! The rider is taken from one breathtaking 3D screen to another, each screen melting seamlessly into the surrounding infrastructure, in a non-stop flurry of action that is as close to being inside a movie as one could imagine. Lucky I had a VIP card, I went on at least 6 times in a row, and it's still way too much to take in. We are sucked into a giant spinning vortex, hurled in and out of a skyscraper office building and dropped off the edge. The length is perfect- not too long, not too short but definitely leaving you mesmerized and wondering how all that just happened to you! The design, timing, mechanics and audio were just brilliant. Going to be very hard to top!
TOY STORY MIDWAY MANIA! Three and a half stars
Disney California Adventure
Cute 3D ride, easy to have fun playing the interactive game of using the little "pop" cannons that shoot virtual ammunition at various targets in a number of screens. Not super exciting, but really quite clever in how well the games acutally work, then adding the total score on boards for you and the person next to you in the car (which makes for some competition! I thought I did pretty well until the high scores were shown on the final tally board!). Simple, but nicely designed for the whole family.
KING KONG 360 3D Four stars
Didn't realize this was part of the "Studio Tour" until they handed out glasses on the tram... Certainly an unusual way to "enter" a ride: with glasses donned we roll into a building/tunnel which leads us to what looks like rear projected scenes of "Skull Island", a jungle scene that really seems to wrap entirely around the tram... dinosaurs are doing nasty things to each other and finally King Kong arrives, very perturbed, and starts Ultimate Fighting! He jumps "on" the tram (with the appropriate tram jostling) and the audience is truly immersed in the conflict- especially when it looks like one of the cars ahead has been abducted by a tRex. Lots of intense action, with air and water effects, but quite short (2.5 minutes)... projected on "the world's largest digital 3D screen" (2 @ 40' tall, 180' long).
STAR TOURS 3D Four stars
3D Star Wars ride simulation where you feel you're part of the action on screen... The feeling of riding the open "spaceship" right into the movie was very strong, with excellent 3D effects (especially the shattering glass bit at the end). The stereo 3D worked quite well in this new digital version, which utilized Dolby/Infitec glasses with Mylar lenses. (This is the first time I'd seen "soft" dichroic filter lenses- they worked suprisingly well. I didn't notice any ghosting even with contrasty space scenes.) My understanding is that there are many different versions of the ride, so one is unlikely to see the same scenes multiple times.
PHILHARMAGIC Four and a half stars
DisneyWorld Magic Kingdom
Dual 5p 70mm film 30x150 screen. 6k xenon lamp Projectors at 90 degrees.
The theatre features a beautiful gold procenium embossed with dimensional musical instruments. As we don our "opera glasses", the curtain opens. Shortly after the film begins, Donald Duck loses control of the musical instruments- suddenly all goes to black: Big eyes open and a 3D match lights, and we are treated to a Beauty and the Beast rendition of "Be Our Guest" in PANORAMIC 3D! (Actually, the wide center of the screen is stereo, the extreme sides are 2D... the film seams show, but not terribly). The procenium has discretely disappeared as have the side curtains. This clever format eliminates the stereo window problem (at least on the edges, where it really matters)! The entire film is computer-generated in flawless Disney fashion. When an apple pie flies into the audience, we also SMELL the pie! (This is the only olfactory effect I know of at any 3D film). There is a lovely underwater scene with Ariel, a Lion King sequence featuring some imaginative 3d animated design, and a flying carpet scene with Donald jettisoning through the villas. There are the usual spritzings, which people seem to like, but I can do without them! I was surprised that they went with film for this very new attraction... there were already several sections that exhibited extreme wear. I'm a sucker for good cg, and the 3D is used very effectively in this film.
HONEY I SHRUNK THE AUDIENCE Three and a half stars
DisneyWorld Epcot Center
This film tries to make it appear as though the 3D image is a real stage set up for an Inventor of the Year award presentation- everything appears as life size. They even go so far as to have a "video assist" tv monitor off to the left side for close ups (2D, of course) of the primary actors. The glasses are our "safety goggles"- we need them, since the crazy inventor (Rick Moranis) crashes his flying machine into the neon sign above and 3D shards fall into the audience. A ray gun that is supposed to shrink luggage inadvertently points at the audience- now suddenly we are looking at people on the stage as giants... all we see are their feet and ankles. The impression is that we, the audience, have become tiny! This notion is reinforced by what appears to be a child's fingers holding the edges of the screen, supposedly the exterior of the box that the audience is sitting in! The child gently puts us down, and the "giant" actors have to get down on the floor to speak to us. Finally, we are enlarged to "normal size', but the coup de gras is that the dog has also become enlarged- unfortunately the 3d composite is poorly done. Otherwise, a very clever idea for 3D. There are some cg effects used to good effect, but they do look old. I wonder how they shot the huge stage set- everything looked perfectly straight, no wide angle distortion was noticeable. Also starring Eric Idle.
SHREK 4D Four stars
Universal Studios CA and FL
This is the first theme park digital stereo projection, and the format was extremely impressive! They call it 4D because of the special seat effects (wind and water) but it should be because they use four digital projectors! Apparently, the use of two projectors for each eye is not only brighter, but smoothes out pixelization (aliasing). The image was spectacular! Bright, crisp, clean, and rock steady! Without glasses it was clear that alignment was perfect throughout, something I don't think I have ever seen in film 3D. Of course, the animation was all digitally generated, and as such they are able to control 3d effects very well. However, at the CA park the water effect left big 3D droplets on my 3D glasses! The storyline wasn't particularly fun or funny, but the 3D was phenomenal. NOTE: The anaglyph DVD (Shrek 3-D) looked suprisingly good on a digital monitor.
IT'S TOUGH TO BE A BUG Three stars
DisneyWorld Animal Kingdom
The highlight of this 3D film is the opening: the curtain has a pattern of butterflies on it, and as the film begins they surprisingly spring to life and fly off the curtain! (Sorry if I spoiled it for you~). We meet all the regular computer generated characters from A Bug's Life, including a large animatronic model of the evil grasshopper. Cute enough, but nothing exrtaordinary (except for the bug shaped glasses).
THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN Five stars
Universal Studios Islands of Adventure
This is the only 3D ride film I've been on (I know there are others), but it absolutely HAS to be the best. We're talking about 13 different 3D screens and plenty of effects. Right off the bat the computer generated Spiderman hops out of the screen ONTO the front of the ride car- you see, hear and feel it. The screens are virtually invisible, as they so seamlessly mesh with the physical environment which appears to be New York City. A bridge along the wall merges with the screen bridge, we are later in a huge sewer pipe looking into the 3d sewer pipe with Spiderman as a giant water villian comes up behind him and reaches for us- naturally we get a little wet. A pipe is hurled at us and we are knocked along... Another villian tries to torch us with a heat gun, and we feel it! An awesome effect happens when we appear to be rising between skyscrapers, we see it in 3d in front of us, aided by the lit building windows on either side of us slinging quickly downward... it appears that we are tipped over the edge of a skyscraper- all the buildings are sideways! Suddenly we are in a freefall toward the ground- thank goodness Spiderman's web catches us just in time and all is well. Incredible 3d, great effects and total interaction makes this a MUST SEE. The engineering is a marvel... this is as good as it gets.
TERMINATOR 2 3D Five stars
This is the only 3d film I know of to integrate live action and animatronics along with the 3d film... they did a spectacular job! The original cast is utilized, and James Cameron is co-director. Film production is top notch, and cg integration works seamlessly. The film starts out on the center screen, and later envelops us as two side screens open up for surround 3d! One of the highlights is when Arnold rides his motorcycle right through the screen and literally into the audience! Of course, it's now another actor playing the Terminator, but it works surprisingly well. Lots of live action sequences in the audience make this 3d attraction another MUST SEE. (note: on the Terminator Special Collector's DVD set, there is a whole chapter on the making of Terminator 3D. Highly recommended!)
HAUNTED LIGHTHOUSE 4D Two stars
Sea World CA
Mostly live action, with a few cg sequences when the ghost kids turn into wacky gremlins that spice up this otherwise fairly dull offering. In this showing there was even a section around five minutes long that reverted to 2D! No one at the venue could tell me whether this was a permanent or temporary phenomenon. The best part of the film is the opening sequence which effectively brings to 3d life the illustrations which I assume accompany the book by R L Stine.
MUPPETVISION 3D Four stars
Early live action of the popular Jim Henson creations... some "in" 3D jokes makes it fun. The highlight of this presentation is a Miss Piggy sequence where she blows bubbles into the audience, and 3d bubbles mix with real bubbles in the audience space. Great effect! Otherwise, the usual cornball, cute Muppet hi-jinks. [NOTE: Originally pegged at 3.5 stars, I saw again in CA and there is a lot of good stuff going on, with live and automated interaction in the theater. Some 3D is a bit extreme, but mostly fun.]