Thursday, July 23, 2009

3D Glasses: Beowulf, Coraline, Up, Superman

When I saw Beowulf in 3D one of the things I noticed was that in a movie that ridiculous -- Crispin Glover as a mutant fish monster reciting old English poetry in a mainstream film, and Angelina Jolie demon feet just naturally being in the shape of stilettos -- it helps to have the 3D glasses on. In getting you to put on these dumb plastic glasses the movie has gotten you to surrender to its silliness -- you are an active participant in the silliness. I mean, I look like a dork all the time but I really look like a dork in the glasses.

I was very disappointed that the Beowulf DVD did not come with a 3D version and some glasses. Watching it with my students I felt like they were missing out on some key part of the experience.

Coraline was the next 3D movie I saw -- I actually ended up watching it with the same glasses I wore to Beowulf.

It features a major plot point having to do with black plastic buttons a character must put on their eyes WILLINGLY, just as the audience willingly put on these black plastic glasses. For both the characters and the audience putting black plastic on your eyes is the price you must pay to enter into a illusory fantasy-land made just to entertain you, a place where nothing is as it seems.

Then, at the end, it features a little stone with a hole in it -- by looking through the hole Coraline can see past the illusion and get to what is hidden there that she must find.

The whole third act of the movie became a video-game treasure hunt, and rang false to me, but I think part of the reason it rang false was that I had put on the glasses to see an illusion and now Coraline was looking through something very similar to dispel illusion. It broke my identification with the character just the tiniest bit.

The third 3D movie I saw was Pixar's UP and, as we expect from Pixar, this had the smartest device to making the most of those 3D glasses. How are you going to get a primarily younger and eager audience to identify with an old cranky man? Well first off, like Batman's Robin, you give him a young and eager sidekick.

But you also have the old man wear big, square black glasses through the whole film -- glasses that are virtually indistinguishable from the square black glasses the audience is wearing.

You have to get this identification right at the get go, because there is a heartbreaking dialogue-free sequence in the first act of the movie that relies on the audience's identification with this character, and is going to make them cry if they are not robots. How do you do it? You show the old man as a young person, and you have the young person (even as a kid) wearing those same glasses, AND you put the kid in a movie theatre watching a film in WONDER through the glasses -- as we watch our movie through the glasses and reailize that someday we will be old too.


This is why there will never be a 3D Superman movie. Because the moment you would want the 3D to kick into high gear is also the moment that Clark Kent TAKES OFF THOSE BIG SQUARE BLACK GLASSES, severing his connection with the audience.


jennifer said...

i agree geoff. the participatory gesture of putting those silly, one size fits all glasses on your face takes you out of your individual reality into the shared one of the movie & other theatergoers.

Unknown said...

Heh - that's a heck of a neat conclusion (I mean that in a good way). It's kind of Zizekian (also in a good way).

Although consider Superman: Beyond! 3D, or as I like to call it Superman: BEYOND 3D!! The reader puts on the 3D (representing 4D) glasses at the exact moment where Superman upgrades to four dimensional vision and turns the page. I'd be tempted to suggest that Morrison sidesteps the bind you identify and creates a neat inversion - by putting on the glasses at that point the readers of the comic become more like Superman.

Anonymous said...

"This is why there will never be a 3D Superman movie."

Well you certainly may question the wisdom of it if you like, but Superman Returns: An IMAX 3D Experience was in 3D.

Kyle Hadley said...

Having seen Up in 3D and 2D, I will never watch an animated movie in 3D again. I feel like so much of the colors get toned down and the movies lose their vibrancy.

But bring on The Final Destination 3D!

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