In honor of the growing affection – nay, obsession – that moviegoers have developed with watching 3D films, welcome to “3D Throwdown,” Movies’ spanking-new monthly column dedicated exclusively to examining in which dimension viewers should watch their favorite films once they hit home video. I know, I know, you’re already saying, “well, of course, we want to watch every film in 3D – we even want you to convert the 2D ones into 3D!” And given the enormous success of movies like Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans, it’s pretty much indisputable that 3D makes any movie better, whether it’s a special effects-laden odyssey through the twisted imagination of Lewis Carroll, or a special effects-laden odyssey through the commercial ambitions of Louis Leterrier. Hell, even girls’ internal organs look sexier with an extra dimension, evidenced by Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D.
Sadly, however, the entertainment industry has thus far failed to report in any way, shape or form on the fact that some 3D presentation is better than others, and that as a result, a miniscule percentage of moviegoers are now beginning to consider the possibility that 3D isn’t worth the difference in cost between it and 2D presentation. As such, we’re here to take a look at all of the latest high-definition home video releases and report back on which ones are the best in 3D. (For future reference, although we’re focusing on titles that were released in just the past month or so, if you have questions about older releases, please let us know and we’ll try to track them down and tackle their merits in upcoming installments.)
Mars Needs Moms (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment) (August 9)
Native Or Conversion: Conversion (all animated features are technically converted), but conceived in 3D
How Does It Look: Stunning. Director Simon Wells makes fairly amazing use of performance capture to create detailed, in many cases extremely human-looking, characters who move around in the 3D space with fluidity and weight – when Mars’ lower gravity isn’t making them float, anyway. While he utilizes spatial depth to create a few “gotcha” moments, there are few if any shots where objects break the proscenium, ensuring that most viewers won’t go cross-eyed trying to follow the action.
Showcase Sequence: The opening scene in which Milo’s mom is kidnapped and he and his mom are subsequently whisked off to Mars features great dynamic action, but the landscape of Gribble’s world of trash is an ongoing wonder that will have viewers poring over the little details as the characters stage their rescue attempt.
What Else Is There To See In 3D: A single deleted scene – an extended shot of the Martians inside Milo’s house as they incapacitate his mom – is a cool little extra, but otherwise all of the supplemental content is strictly two-dimensional.
See It In 2 Or 3D? 3D, unquestionably.
Priest (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) (August 16)
Native Or Conversion: Conversion
How Does It Look: Surprisingly good. Director Scott Charles Stewart reportedly wanted to shoot the film with anamorphic lenses from the 1970s, but Sony Pictures thankfully devoted suitable time, energy and, most importantly, money to making sure that conversion of the footage didn’t just look like a pop-up book. In both the action sequences and the “dramatic” scenes, there’s a real depth to the characters and their surroundings, and with few exceptions, there’s no ghosting or any of the flat-background edges that typically besiege 3D conversions.
Showcase Sequence: The train chase/ fight seems engineered to exploit 3D technology, and it looks appropriately dynamic as Paul Bettany and Cam Gigandet’s disappointingly one-dimensional characters battle vampires. Meanwhile, Maggie Q’s showdown with a group of opponents is probably the most lively scene in the film, and Stewart knocks the cinematography out of the park as the camera swirls around her almost as fluidly as her arsenal of weapons.
What Else Is There To See In 3D: “Weapons And Vehicle Exploration In 3D,” an interactive feature, offers an opportunity for viewers to examine a variety of the machinery created for the film. Probably only interesting for a single viewing, but interesting nonetheless.
See It In 2 Or 3D? Although the film looks good in 3D and the conversion is fully effective, you can probably watch the film either way and enjoy it – if you can enjoy it.
Rio (Fox Home Entertainment) (August 30)
Native Or Conversion: Conversion (all animated features are technically converted)
How Does It Look: Although the vividness of the film’s spectacularly colorful imagery is dimmed slightly by the use of 3D glasses, for the most part the 3D is relatively understated and immersive rather than emphatic or gimmicky. The motion is fluid and clear, but some of the direction feels slightly too aggressive and as a result the imagery can be momentarily disorienting.
Showcase Sequence: The opening scene in which a rainforest full of birds stage a glorious sort of musical number. Utilizing a great variety of differently-colored birds, it’s a swirl of form and color that looks pretty great, and does a terrific job introducing the audience to the film’s world as well.
What Else Is There To See In 3D: A collection of trailers for older films released by Fox in 3D are themselves in 3D, but there’s no additional Rio-related content in the set that’s presented in 3D.
See It In 2 Or 3D? The 3D looks great, but it’s not essential 3D viewing.
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (August 30)
Native Or Conversion: Conversion
How Does It Look: Okay. The Nightmare Before Christmas was converted into 3D in 2006, and while Industrial Light and Magic’s assistance certainly assured that the conversion was detailed and thorough, the truth is that the film really already looked sort of 3D in its original incarnation – Jack’s flight from the last of humans as he’s shot at by airplanes, for example, has great visual dynamism and a clarity that almost seems like 3D without any conversion. The problem with the conversion here is that it almost seems as if it was deliberately done pop-up style, so there is front-back spatial depth, but all of the characters look sort of flat, instead of contoured or round in the way three-dimensional figures should. Further, I’m not sure I feel the 3D really improves the experience of watching the film; it’s already a bona fide classic and a groundbreaking visual experience in many ways, but those qualities aren’t significantly enhanced by 3D.
Showcase Sequence: “This is Halloween” and “The Oogie Boogie Song” are both great sequences and both look pretty terrific in 3D.
What Else Is There To See In 3D: Nothing.
See It In 2 Or 3D? Because the 3D adds very little to the viewing experience, 2D is still the way to go, although if you don’t have a more recent version of the DVD, this is an ideal set as it includes a 2D version that was remastered and a great improvement from its predecessor, as well as a bounty of bonus features.