Thursday, August 21, 2008

3D! Coming Soon To A Theater Near You!

Still from Monsters vs. Aliens

The Intel Developer Forum (IDF for those of us savvy enuffy) is being held in San Francisco. On Wednesday, DreamWorks animation guru Jeff Katzenberg rolled out some 'Kung Fu Panda' footage re-rendered in 3D and the press reviews are glowing. I've always been skeptical about the resurgence of 3D -- I mean, haven't we already tried that? However, according to Katzenberg, "This is not your father's 3D." Okay, sounds like more hype to me. Add the fact that Katzenberg is calling the new 3D effect the "greatest innovation to occur in the movie business in 70 years" and, well, one hopes politely that DreamWorks can deliver. They better -- the studio plans to offer all its upcoming animated features in 3D where the technology is available starting with the 2009 release of 'Monsters vs. Aliens'.

Early word is encouraging. I particularly like MG Siegler's coverage of the 3D footage from 'Kung Fu Panda'. He says:

It was amazing.

I was sitting towards the back right corner of a huge room filled with thousands of people -- hardly the ideal movie theater experience -- and still, by the end of the several minute clip I felt totally immersed in the film.

Nice. Here's some live coverage of IDF by tech blogger Anand Lal Shimpi. Katzenberg also showed 3D footage from 'Monsters vs. Aliens' and Anand snapped a still photo. It looks very precisely done, but, of course, appears blurry without the 3D glasses.

Photo: still from Monsters vs. Aliens

All this makes James Cameron's 'Avatar' so much cooler. I hadn't given it much thought before but now can't hardly wait. With Avatar's mix of 3D and live action (and action capture) I'm betting there will be lines of sci-fi geeks (and everybody else) to see it, making it an appropriate follow-up to 'Titanic'.

Photo: X Wing fighter

I think the last time special effects were such a major draw was with 'Star Wars'. Luckily, 'Star Wars' was a marriage of good story and unprecedented practical effects, and people loved that. It wasn't long, however, before effects became superficial and bloated, and a substitute for good storytelling. Audiences got tired of that pretty quick -- they hated it. Today, effects are an expected by-product and can't be used to sell a movie at all. People don't even notice them anymore except when they're bad, which is often the case. We've returned to the natural state of things where you got to have Story to sell a movie. Movies that are heavy on effects but light on story are reviled by audiences -- think Star Wars prequels and Matrix cardboard cut-out sequels. Look at the redo of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'. Nobody's clamoring to see the effects in that. All the talk is about plot.

It will be interesting to see what effect, special or otherwise, 3D has on box office biz (and the animation divisions at studios). I don't go to the movies anymore but I'd love to see something like 'Avatar' in 3D. I imagine we'll have other types of movies including live-action dramas in 3D soon enough. Inevitably, there will be some small indy 3D ensemble piece that wins an Oscar. It could be a reason to go to the theater again.

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