Ever since James Cameron almost single-handedly changed cinema projection forever, by necessitating a world-wide overhaul of equipment and systems to facilitate his 3D extravaganza, Hollywood has seemed determined to cash-in on this most recent (though hardly new) dimension.
Unfortunately, audiences have proven far less enthusiastic about the additional charge for glasses, considerable light-loss and tacked-on gimmickry that seems to have come hand-in-hand with the 3D format. With the situation exacerbated by low quality, last minute conversions in post-production, cinemas have seen profits wane as customers favour the traditional 2D versions of the latest releases.
But while 3D might not be the future of cinema as was prematurely forecast, it can nevertheless add to the cinemagoing experience when done correctly. Films shot in the format, by a director who knows what he or she is doing, can produce some stunning results, create a more immersive environment and go a long way towards justifying the additional costs. Here are ten examples of 3D done right.
10. My Bloody Valentine – The Naked Mile
A throwback of sorts to the format’s gimmicky heyday, My Bloody Valentine is a schlocky slasher that throws just about everything it has in the prop department at the screen, and by extension the audience too. The most memorable scene from the movie features not material assets, however, but those of supporting actress Betsy Rue. Attempting to escape the film’s killer at an out-of-town motel, Rue inadvertently treats audiences to one of the longest, most gratuitous nude scenes to ever grace mainstream multiplexes.
9. The Amazing Spider-man – Two Fingers To Gravity
While Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-man was prematurely dismissed by many as a cynical and unneccessary reboot of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy (which was barely a decade old at the time), there is still plenty to admire in the wall-crawler’s most recent outing. One of the film’s biggest strengths, in addition to the warm chemistry generated between leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, is Webb’s use of 3D. One scene in particular–involving a costume-free Peter Parker doing a handstand atop one of Manhattan’s tallest skyscrapers, before diving off the end–would leave many a fanboy clambering for the rooftop if only they had Parker’s abilities and OsCorp’s industrial webbing.
8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II – Courtyard Apocalypse
Having run out of time to convert Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I into 3D ahead of its 2010 release, Warner Bros. were able to apply the extra dimension to the final instalment in the decade-spanning Harry Potter franchise. Although the battle of Hogwarts in its entirety makes solid use of the format, a single tracking shot of Harry, Ron and Hermione crossing one of the school’s many courtyards as wizards, giants, Acromantula and enchanted suits of armour do battle around them almost has you ducking and dodging with the three struggling heroes.
7. Coraline – Garden State
Split between the muted real world and a vibrant alternate reality, Henry Selick’s stop-motion sees Coraline seduced by her Other Mother. While this idealized version of her boring home-life eventually falls into decay and ruin, the early scenes are full of magic and wonder as Coraline is introduced to more attentive, sympathetic and exciting versions of her family and friends. On a tour through her Other Father’s manicured flower beds, she comes face-to-face with a giant praying mantis-esque contraption that will stay in your mind long after the garden has withered.
6. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – You’re Bantha Poodoo
Re-released on February 9th, 2012, The Phantom Menace was once again savaged by critics and fanboys who saw it as a cynical cash-in by George Lucas and yet another personal assault on the memory of his cherished original trilogy. While the dialogue is still terrible and the performances just as wooden, the film’s strengths have always been its franchise-best score and spectacular special effects. While John Williams’ work remains untouched by the 3D overhaul, the various set-pieces are enhanced as the numerous areal attacks spill out of the big screen. In particular, the much publicised pod race excites and impresses anew as the racers flit around the breathtaking backdrop of rocky Tattooine.
5. Step Up 4: Miami Heat – Pimp My Ride
While the previous instalment boasts some particularly impressive dance numbers and is undeniably the better movie, Step Up 4: Miami Heat wins hands-down as a great example of the format’s careful implementation. Capturing each and every performer as they dance through the film’s many set-pieces, the 3D brings the performances to life in a way that 2D never quite could. A mix of dancing and performance art, the bigger scale and more scenic Miami settings help to create a number of moments that are quite simply stunning. This is best exampled in an early flash mob that sees The MOB hold up a busy street as they dance across the hoods of suped-up cars.
4. Hugo – Safety Last!
Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is a celebration of cinema in all of its forms. Set in 1930s Paris, the film explores the early beginnings of cinema (through the works of Georges Méliès) using state of the art computer graphics and cutting edge 3D technologies to bring the sets–which include almost every square inch of the Gare Montparnasse–to life. Perhaps the most bewitching scene recreates Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor’s Safety Last!, as Hugo hangs precariously from the hands of the station clock in an attempt to hide from the ever-vigilant Station Inspector.
3. Piranha – Fellate-O-Fish
While 3D films can of course be Oscar-worthy and relatively highbrow (see also Ridley Scott’s artily breath-taking Prometheus), it’s rarely better than when languising in the shameless grasp of a master of horror. Alexandre Aja’s follow-up to the likes of Switchblade Romance and The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha puts you in the midst of a swarm of mutant fish as they terrorise the pretty and mostly naked residents of a small fishing community. Undoubtedly the most memorable sequence is that which sees a set of regurgitated genitals spat out into the audience.
2. How To Train Your Dragon – Battling The Green Death
I’m maybe a little biased here, but in a film that contains memorable, jaw-dropping spectacle from start to finish it’s difficult to single out a particular scene for special mention. One of the only digital animations to utilise an Oscar-nominated cinematographer (Roger Deakins collaborates frequently with the Coen brothers), every scene is structured to make full use of the 3D technology. It is well documented that 3D is at its most effective during aerial scenes and DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon exploits this to wonderful effect. While one such flight sequence–which shows out heroes soar high above Berk to the inspiring melody of John Powell’s Test Drive–comes immediately to mind, it is the finale which sees Hiccup and Toothless face off against the monstrous Green Death which arguably takes the most breath away.
1. Avatar – I See You
In development since 1994, it is little wonder that 2009’s game-changer Avatar should take the top spot here. The first film that I ever saw in Real D, it blew me away with its expansive world-building, astonishing bio-diversity and innovative use of what was once (and perhaps still is) considered the ultimate gimmick. Most scenes could be cited as the most spectacular moment in a film brimming with spectacle, but it is the aerial assault in the film’s final act which, as in How To Train Your Dragon, manages to steal the show. As great swarms of Banshee-mounted Na’vi and Scorpion Gunships swoop in and out from between the floating Hallelujah Mountains, you could be forgiven for thinking you had just experienced the eighth wonder of the modern world. In eye-popping 3D.
So what’s your favourite 3D moment? Or are you waiting for the release of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi before you make up your mind?