3D Throwdown: From 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams,' 'Conan,' 'Transformers' and More

3D Throwdown: From 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams,' 'Conan,' 'Transformers' and More

Feb 06, 2012

January’s 3D Throwdown column focused exclusively on a collection of recent animated films, so it seemed like it was time to visit some live-action material. Perhaps appropriately, several of the animated films we reviewed, including Cars 2, looked spectacular in 3D, because they were conceived with the technology in mind and built from the ground up, even if all animated films are technically converted. But the increased prominence of 3D photography has led to a greater number of live-action 3D films, and more importantly, better-quality live-action 3D films. But even though we cover five each month, finding the good, the bad, and the migraine-inducing among the available 3D fare, if there are titles you’re interested in seeing critiqued, please let us know via email or in the comments and we’ll try to hunt down a copy for review. In the interim, here’s a cross-section of recent 3D releases.


Cave of Forgotten Dreams (IFC/ MPI Media Group)

Native Or Conversion: Native.

How Does It Look: While the meticulous assembly of Transformers renders it with startling vividness and clarity, this film works equally effectively while having a decidedly shaggier, more improvisational approach. The opening sequences alone are almost worth the price of admission because of Herzog’s brilliant ability to capture the depth of the cave with immediacy and intimacy, but even when the cameras are shakier and the light less consistent, the film never loses a palpable sense of depth, and importantly, one which the audience can relate to both spatially and emotionally. As the antithesis of most 3D photography and presentation, Herzog has legitimized 3D filmmaking in a way no one else yet has, because he shows how it can be used to photograph real, recognizable (so to speak) spaces and enhance the viewing experience.

Showcase Sequence: The opening sequence is, quite frankly, enough. Starting with a sweeping shot of a field that takes to the skies and finally arrives at the entrance to the cave, Herzog gives the audience an amazing feeling of venturing into that cave, and makes every step of the way physically and emotionally tangible.

What Else Is There To See In 3D: Nothing.

See It In 2 Or 3D: 3D.


Conan the Barbarian (Lionsgate)

Native Or Conversion: Conversion.

How Does It Look: Somewhere between bad and just plain irrelevant. By now, post-conversion isn’t necessarily the scourge of 3D presentation, but the technique does demand time, money and care, and the filmmakers involved in Conan appear to have ignored all three. Watching just the opening montage, where director Marcus Nispel superimposes shots of skulls and fire over battlefield scenes, it’s actually difficult to detect if 3D is even being used, and what’s on screen is sort of ideal for 3D. Later, there’s a lot of pop-up planning of shapes and figures, whose dimensionality is probably undermined by the abundance of fur and hair that seems to cover every surface in the film, but as a whole this is a film whose 3D is only marginally more competently produced than in Clash of the Titans, and oddly less effective.

Showcase Sequence: There’s a scene of reverie where Conan hangs out with his fellow warriors while wenches serve him mead and naked ladies dance in the background, and while it’s hardly animated or exciting, it does make solid use of different layers of depth.

What Else Is There To See In 3D: Nothing.

See It In 2 Or 3D: 2D. This movie isn’t very good to begin with – all of its scenes feel as if they come to an end because the actors ran out of things to say and do – but its 3D is absolutely pointless.


Fright Night 3D (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)

Native Or Conversion: Native.

How Does It Look: Mostly bad, but also terrible. If brightness (or lack thereof) is the biggest problem that most moviegoers have with 3D presentation, then this may be the worst offender in the history of the technology: two-thirds of Fright Night is shot during dusk or at night, and virtually all of the action is incomprehensible as a result. During a sequence in which Charley infiltrates Jerry’s house, the camera follows him around in rooms that are barely-lit and all filled top to bottom with smoke, but even prior to that, when Charley and Evil Ed snoop around in an abandoned house, their silhouette is indistinguishable from the background.

Showcase Sequence: If one needs a great example of 3D and soundstage photography done as poorly as possible, they need look no further than a sequence in which director Craig Gillespie’s camera swoops in and around three characters as they flee from Jerry. Starting with a truly terrible CGI motorcycle that crashes through the back window of the vehicle, the exterior of the car (or at least the exterior action) is barely visible, and the actors do nothing to sell us on the idea they’re actually inside a moving vehicle.

What Else Is There To See In 3D: Nothing.

See It In 2 Or 3D: 2D, if you have to watch it at all.


Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Native Or Conversion: Both – most of it was shot native, but some sequences were converted.

How Does It Look: Really, really good. Perhaps not unlike Cars 2, no matter what you think of the film itself, its photography and presentation is sort of undeniably well-executed. Bay’s staging of the action lends itself beautifully to 3D depth, and yet it manages somehow to never work overtime to be 3D for its own sake. The brightness of the images is consistent and vivid, ensuring that there’s never a moment when you’re watching it going, “did a cloud pass overhead while they were filming this?” Really, in terms of 3D, this is reference-disc material, and it’s recommended for anyone with a 3D TV, even if you think the movie is awful, because its presentation makes it worth watching – well, almost.

Showcase Sequence: The freeway chase featuring Sam and Bumblebee as they flee a trio of Decepticons is great because Bay manages to sort of utilize every available angle to give the action real dimensionality - especially that great shot of Sam flying through the air as Bumblebee waves away debris that seems destined to bash in his little human head. Also, basically like the whole last hour of the film, from the base-jumping sequence that follows real people through the skies of Chicago, until a building constricted by Shockwave collapses in, over and around the characters. It’s all stunning.

What Else Is There To See In 3D: Nothing.

See It In 2 Or 3D: 3D. Emphatically.


A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (Warner Home Video)

Native Or Conversion: Native.

How Does It Look: Inconsistent but mostly good. While this film sort of uses the opposite approach of most 3D movies made now – effectively throwing crap at the camera rather than drawing audiences into the frame – the images are clean, clear and consistently discernible. Unfortunately, the filmmakers don’t always seem to know how to avoid that crossed-eye feeling one gets when objects break the plane of the screen (even if most of them don’t), so there are a couple of shots that are a little bit uncomfortable. Additionally, there are an handful of shots that just don’t look very good dimensionally, including the exchange between Harold and Kumar outside of Neil Patrick Harris’ stage show, which suggests either the filmmakers were careless, or more likely, a handful of shots or sequences were post-converted.

Showcase Sequence: There are a lot of great small moments in the film that look great, including Kumar’s introductory smoke session with Patton Oswalt, but the musical number probably makes the best use of the 3D, goofing a little bit with flying objects but mostly just using the depth of the frame to really keep the viewer entertained.

What Else Is There To See In 3D: Nothing.

See It In 2 Or 3D: 3D.

Tags: 3D Throwdown
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