Posts Tagged ‘stereoscopy’

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

July 11, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
An Active3D Movie Review

Movie: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Rating:  **** (out of 5)

It’s no secret that Hollywood appears to be losing its ability to create new stories, and continues raiding the archives for old titles to “re-imagine”. Most of these efforts have been disappointing – if not utterly blasphemous – but, happily, the recent revisiting of the ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise has been quite rewarding. Of course, I’m not referring to Tim Burton’s widely cursed 2001 effort, but the 2011 entry [Rise of the Planet of the Apes], and now this sequel.

I’m still trying to figure out how the ‘Rise’ of said apes and their ‘Dawn’ are two different concepts, but I suppose that this isn’t a forum for semantics. The film (the first in the new series to be released in 3-D) begins with a résumé of the previous installment. San Francisco’s looking like the average downtown scene in South Africa (i.e. dilapidated). A relatively small group of surviving humans (a few hundred; maybe a thousand) lives in an encampment at what used to be the hub of San Fran’s Bay Area Rapid Transit underground rail system. Not far from there, in the wilds (possibly on Lake Merced?), there exists a thriving community of apes, near a now-disused hydroelectric dam – which the humans need in order to power their community. The humans are keen to kick-start the dam again, but the apes, however, have little reason to trust them, given this species’ track record of animal abuse, from which many members of the ape community still bear physical and emotional scars…

The film’s political and moral resonances are interesting, and it isn’t difficult to draw parallels with current human conflicts. In both the ape and human camps there are two factions; those whose decisions are driven by a moral, peace-loving imperative and those who are driven by a hostile tribal loyalty; i.e. supporting apes just because they’re apes, or humans, simply because they’re humans.

Playing the decent and empathetic human leader, Malcolm, is Jason Clarke, whilst Andy “Gollum” Serkis plays the voice of, and provides the body movements for, his ape counterpart, Caesar. Gary Oldman is the human bad guy, Dreyfus, while Koba the evil ape is voiced by Toby Kebbell. As in the 2011 film, the visual representation of the apes doesn’t entirely convince me, but fortunately the narrative does. This grippingly emotional drama plays itself out on an epic canvas, and it’s gratifying (for a change) to see that CGI is being put to the service of a proper story – unlike movies such as any of the Transformer series or most of the superhero franchise, where computer graphics are gratuitously employed to create seemingly endless, boring and noisy fight sequences.

At 130 minutes, ‘Dawn’ is possibly about 10 minutes too long, but that still compares favourably to the latest Transformers movie (last reviewed on these pages), which was two and three quarter hours of sheer, skull-bashing nothingness.

Those of us interested in matters political, will find much meat in this absorbing tale. As for the themes of unthinking group loyalty, it’s a mistake that South Africans have continued to make, and from which they’ve failed to learn, from one regime to the next…

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction (We should be so lucky…)

June 27, 2014
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Capable of doing everything imaginable – except engage in intelligent conversation.

An Active3D Movie Review
Movie: Transformers: Age of Extinction
Rating: * (out of 5)

165 minutes? Are you kidding me? This is the fourth of a new-millennial series of films based upon the HASBRO action toys, in which giant robots beat the bejesus out of one another. Does this really warrant as many sequels – and a 165 minute running time? The answer, of course, is a resounding NO. Unless you’re a 12 year-old boy, I suppose. Or a studio that’s aware that these franchises are critic-proof licenses to print money. Seldom in the history of human endeavour has so slender a plot been stretched over so long a movie. Each noisy battle sequence lasted far too long, and, when it would finally grind to a halt and I was hoping that the closing credits weren’t far off, I’d be shattered to discover that there were many more to follow. (Remember when movies had one climactic sequence? And we didn’t feel robbed?)

The plot, such as it is, centres around Mark Wahlberg as a largely failed inventor with a gorgeous teenaged daughter who – though she loves her pop – is starting to lose faith in him. He’s bought this old truck, which just happens to be a dormant Transformer, and … oh; who cares?

Here again I must take issue with the battle scenes. We *know* that the good guys will triumph, so can’t we just bing-bang-boom and get it over and done with? But no; the director and computer operators want to show off their CGI toy-boxes, so they gleefully string every element of the conflict out, as if they were producers of a daytime soap opera. I can just see them proudly strumming their bowties with each new explosion they create. And, to make matters worse, the hulking robots are forever mouthing inanities that could’ve been scripted by stoned teenagers playing video games in their parents’ basements.

What are the film’s virtues? The 3-D cinematography is spectacular – and is seen to gobsmacking advantage in IMAX theatres, if you have the opportunity to do so. Also, when the two villains (played by Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer) are on screen, one can feel the intelligence level of the experience rise – admittedly, not a huge feat.

Much has been made of the fact that the new Digital IMAX 3-D camera has been partially deployed in the making of this film. You will notice, if you’re watching the film in an IMAX theatre, that the regular shots, which have been up-converted from the digital cinema master, don’t fit the entire screen; they leave black strips over and under the picture. When the shots from the IMAX camera kick in, the picture fills the entire height of the screen. An irritation here, is that scenes in the film are often made up of shots from both cameras, so we keep switching rapidly between reduced screen and full screen, from shot to shot. It’s very irritating, and I don’t get why director Michael Bay went with that. Entire sequences, yes; they make sense. But this ongoing click-in-and-click-out? No.

If the film had been 95 minutes long, I might’ve possibly enjoyed it as a matinee distraction, but damn; Hollywood is taking these comic-book/action figure adventures far, far too seriously. It’s also a stupid move, commercially, to make these things so long, as the distributors would be able to fit in more shows per day if they were of a reasonable length.

 

Treading Water in the Deep End

August 22, 2013

“No, Horsie – I don’t want to hear any more songs from ‘Gypsy’…”


An Active3D Movie Review

Movie: Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters
Rating: *½ (out of 5)

Ethnic mythology and classical history seems to be enjoying a revival in Hollywood, although the stress is on CGI spectacle above than any kind of adherence to those time-honoured tales. Thor, with his ridiculous silver hammer, is about to resurface – again – in another Marvel movie, and there are discomforting rumblings that a sequel to the overrated 300 is on the table. This Percy Jackson sequel is an uneasy patchwork of Greek mythology, contemporary college flick and teen detective thriller; and it teeters uncertainly between these genres, like a drunk that’s forgotten his name and purpose.

I was furthermore not persuaded by the interaction between the film’s many CGI critters and its real-life protagonists. Picking up on the prevalent buzz, I understand that most everybody in the industry appears to be drawing parallels with the Harry Potter franchise, so let me address that directly. Apart from a scattered, episodic script (crammed with dei ex machina) that doesn’t provide him with any support, the bland Logan Lerman, as Percy, lacks that finely measured mix of vulnerability and heroism that made Daniel Radcliffe so popular in the Harry Potter movies. And, of course, Radcliffe also had a strong ally in those googly, Lennonesque specs of his.

The 3-D depth has been cranked up by the tech team, although it stops short of endlessly shoving swords and snakes up our nostrils (not that I mind a bit of show-off gimmickry once in a while!). Finally – and here’s the movie’s only perk – I’m prepared to bet that 3-D geeks will love the opening and closing credits, which serve up some tasty stereoscopy.

And so to Dredd…

September 28, 2012

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In 1995, I was unfortunate enough to have been exposed to that dreary Sylvester Stallone movie, Judge Dredd. The good news was that this was in the early days of the SDDS digital sound system, and the sound system in the Sandton City cinema in which I was watching the film kept slipping out of sync – which gave me ample excuse to flee the theatre. [South African cinemas never seemed to get SDDS right, incidentally. Sad, but that’s old history now, and outside of the ambit of this discussion.]

As it appears to be with most films set in the future, Dredd 3-D’s setting is post-apocalyptic. It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, that the film was shot in South Africa. There are street scenes shot in downtown Johannesburg that don’t even need set-dressing, ravaged and garbage-strewn as they are…

The narrative revolves around a banned narcotic called SLO-MO that, as the name suggests, affords users a sense of slow-motion euphoria. So, if the writers are to be believed, a prohibition mentality will persist into the future.  Despite the embarrassing failure of alcohol prohibition in the States. Despite the failure of the risible “War on Drugs” that currently kills more people than it purports to save. The action happens in a huge apartment building that falls under the ‘jurisdiction’ of a drug gang (reminiscent of Hillbrow today – right, South Africans?) The deal on Dredd, in case you aren’t in on it, is that the law-enforcement officers in this future society each have the authority to act as judge, jury and executor – yet another South African parallel.

Judge Dredd and a female rookie step into this urban threat zone, which goes into immediate lock-down. Let the shooting begin! The film’s star, Karl Urban, isn’t afforded much of an opportunity to perform, given that all we see of him is his mouth and chin. Given these constraints, Urban acquits himself with dignity, and the film earns kudos for keeping its look-and-feel faithful to its “graphic novel” origins. Olivia Thirlby is smart, sassy and grittily glamorous as the new kid on the block, and the 3-D is clean and effective.  

So, I had dragged my heels going in, and emerged pleasantly surprised. Of course, they do have the added benefit of the comparison to Stallone’s dreadful original!

Close Encounters of the Third Dimension: Men in Black 3

May 25, 2012

An Active3D Review

Rating: *** (out of 5)

More silliness revolving around those agents who deal with underground alien activity on planet Earth… This time around, we have Agent J (Will Smith) going back in time to prevent terrible things from happening to his partner (who wasn’t his partner back then), Agent K (played, in the present, by Tommy Lee Jones as usual; and, in his younger days, by Josh Brolin, who does a splendid imitation of Jone’s languid speech).

Movies dealing with time travel invariably invite hiccups in logic but at least, by travelling back to 1969, we’re afforded a meeting with Andy Warhol (perfectly captured by Bill Hader), plus an exciting Apollo 11 storyline, which has our heroes brawling with the villain on the gantries attached to the spacecraft. (This, in turn, had my fingernails embedded in the theatre seating’s armrests!) And, did you know, by the way, that Andy Warhol was also an MIB operative? 😉

Emma Thompson does an amusing turn as Agent O, and The Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement takes the role of the practically-indestructible villain, Boris “the Animal”, whose efficacy probably owes more to special effects than actual performance.

At 1¾hours, it’s a tad long for a slender, whimsical fantasy such as this is, but it does, to its credit, introduce a dramatic element which had been absent in previous Men in Black movies, which gives it an emotional edge.

The 3-D is superb, and scenes which involve height – such as one which has Will Smith standing on one of the Chrysler Building’s famous gargoyles – will bring out the vertigo in most moviegoers! Going by the credits, the film was shot in 2-D and post-converted into 3-D. Whether portions were shot in native 3-D is hard to tell, but, fortunately, the state of the art of post-stereoptification has advanced to the point where the results are often superior to movies originated in 3-D (as witness, Titanic 3-D and this film). Hopefully the truly-awful, eye-straining 3-D conversions that we’ve seen in movies such as The Last Airbender are a thing of the past (as if the film itself wasn’t bad enough!).

It’s here – the fourth-made first chapter in 3-D : Star Wars Episode One

February 10, 2012

An Active3D Movie Review

Rating (out of 5 stars): **

That's Ewan McGregor on the left, as the young Obi Wan Kenobi, before maturing into Alec Guinness-hood...

Finally, the dawning of the converted-to-3-D Star Wars cycle!

Very few Star Wars fans (this one included) would list Episode One: The Phantom Menace as one of their favourite movies – or even one of their favourite Star Wars movies, for that matter. It’s too long (even that pod race seems interminable), and there are no characters that we can really latch onto and relate to.

There’s a whole sect of fans that has a feverish agenda against the Jar-Jar Binks character, though I can’t say that I feel that strongly (either way) about the poor, much-maligned creature. Let’s bear in mind that this isn’t the first ‘cuddly’ that Lucas has produced. After all, in the original trilogy (i.e. Chapters 4, 5 and 6), we had the furry and rather loveable Chewbacca, didn’t we?

But I’m still excited, in that this brings us one step closer to the three-dimensional reincarnation of Chapter IV: A New Hope; the movie that started all the fuss – albeit in a simpler, less digitally-enhanced, version, a long time ago (yup; in a galaxy far, far away…).

As for the 3-D conversion of Episode One, it’s clear that it’s a quality job, but the 3-D has been deployed in a subtle fashion. Now, whilst I understand that 3-D doesn’t always have to be in-one’s-face, there’s been a huge build-up, over the years, about the Star Wars 3-D conversion – and this is, after all, a matinee-style sci-fi franchise. Couldn’t we have had a tad more fireworks in the stereoscopy department?

An Inspirational Celebration of G(l)eekosity

August 11, 2011

An Active3D Movie Review: Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie

Rating (out of 5 stars): **** [Rating for ‘Gleeks’ only!]

What is it about  ‘Glee’ that has captured the hearts and minds of the U.S. – and, indeed, the world? Firstly, it’s more about emotion than intellect. The storylines are contrived and predictable, with characters displaying all the subtlety of metre-high graffiti… So why does it work? For one, the casting is pitch-perfect; to the degree that some characters were even written with a specific performer in mind, rather than the other way around. Its overriding virtue, however, is its ethos; that there’s room for everyone to blossom on this planet, regardless of size, looks, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or any other ‘otherness’.

In case you hadn’t picked up on this powerful – and less-than-underplayed –  motif, the filmmakers have slotted in, between the live performance sequences (shot during the recent international Glee concert tour) little vignettes about young people whose lives have been changed by the Glee phenomenon. From the shy girl with Aperger’s Syndrome to the midget high school cheerleader, these are real American kids who’ve been empowered by the show’s gospel of acceptance; not only of one another, but of one’s self. These are presented largely in 2-D, apart from some float-out titling.

And yes; I’ve foolishly neglected thus far to mention the series’ other big plus – a choice of some of Western civilisation’s most popular songs, zestfully interpreted by a collection of immensely talented young performers.

Interestingly (and wisely, I thought) both the concert and film keep the performers locked into their Glee personas. Only their character names are used, and even the backstage tomfoolery happens between these fictional members of McKinley High, as opposed to the actors playing them.

Let-downs? A couple of minor grumbles. For one, I would’ve enjoyed more Broadway-style songs and less pop, but then I suppose if you’re performing for an audience of thousands you need to keep the energy levels up there – even if it means leaning toward the more banal. I was also saddened to see that ‘Coach Sylvester’ ended up on the cutting-room floor, despite the fact that she’s in the official trailers – in a party frock with a tracksuit stripe, yet. But these are petty gripes, relative to the show’s overall uplift factor.

Stereoscopy-wise, I haven’t a single complaint: the 3-D rocked. From the close-up-and-personal shots to the crowd shots, it was immersive, present, and easy on the eye. We have a winner!

Joke of the Bushveld

July 26, 2011

An Active3D Movie Review:

Jock of the Bushveld 3-D (a.k.a. Jock, in the US)

Rating (out of 5 stars): zero

South African entertainment journalists have been hearing all about this movie for at least two years; South Africa’s first animated 3-D feature film. Yet, as we exited the preview theatre, having witnessed this much-touted product, we looked like a bunch of relatives forlornly shuffling out of a funeral. Why? Because, sad to say, the film fails in every conceivable department.

Firstly, the story bears only the slightest, vaguest, passing, fleeting resemblance to Percy Fitzpatrick’s beautiful book about the bond between a man and his dog. All the real, gritty heart of the book has been ripped out, and the scriptwriters have, instead, installed a trivial narrative around Jock and his jolly band of animal friends. So, immediately, the filmmakers thrust themselves into the same arena dominated by experienced Hollywood studios with their teams of sharp writers and hordes of cutting-edge animators. It was a battle they were destined to lose even if they had made a sturdy effort – which they haven’t. When a sexy French poodle was introduced to the story, you could hear the reviewers’ jaws clatter to the ground, as one. If you’re going to take such a beautiful book, and alter – and trivialise it – to such a degree, then at least have the decency to change your title, and, if you really have to credit the source, say something such as “loosely based upon..” or “loosely based upon characters in…”

Then we have the voice performances, which were probably recorded single voice by single voice, around the world – and certainly sound that way. There is no interaction or performance in the voices, and each character appears to be musing out loud to him or herself. The international voice cast is quite impressive for a homegrown product: Donald Sutherland, Helen Hunt, Mandy Patinkin, and Ted Danson; all headed up by Canadian singer, Bryan Adams, who takes the titular role. Amongst the South African voices used are Theo Landey, Sylvaine Strike, Anthony Bishop – and even the distinctive tones of Desmond Tutu! All amounting to nothing.

There is a woodenness about the animation in this film, the textures of the animals’ coats don’t make the grade, and the human characters float about the landscape as if they’ve been pumped with helium, and are about to take off. In other words, the animation is leagues behind what we’re accustomed to seeing on our screens.

Finally – and most crucially for this blog – even the technical wheels have fallen off this production. There are a number of shots in which the stereo image is reversed (i.e. the left-eye image gets fed to your right eye, and vice versa). This can cause visual distress by reversing depth cues, and is absolutely inexcusable! Didn’t the production team watch the final product with their 3-D glasses on – or did they just have faith that the 3-D would work out in the end?

I hadn’t been expecting Pixar, but this was nonetheless a huge disappointment. It’s all very well having a PR team to create buzz and pre-publicity around your film, but when the lights dim and the projector turns on, your finished product needs to speak eloquently for itself! Unfortunately, however, this is indicative of a typically South African syndrome: a bunch of guys have a little knowledge, and they immediately assume that they can ‘pee with the big boys’, so to speak. Why didn’t the producers of this film start off by making some short cartoons which could’ve been exhibited locally, and also been put up for critical scrutiny by film reviewers, other animators, and other players in the movie business? The team clearly needed to do some walking, before attempting to run.

If poor Percy Fitzpatrick is aware – in some ghoulish, afterlife fashion – of what’s been done to his book, he’ll be spinning rapidly, in all three dimensions, in his grave…

Comin’ (Back) at Ya! : Retro with Spin

November 14, 2009

As you've never seen it before!In a previous posting on this blog, I referenced Comin’ at Ya, a glorious romp of an early ’80s 3-D exploitation flick: https://active3d.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=250

The film was, indeed, a “leader in gratuitous 3-D”! I remember seeing it as a kid (and – even back then – stereoscopy geek), and chortling contentedly as all manner of objects were shot, tossed, tipped and otherwise projected into audience-space.

Back then, it put four million bums on seats in the US and Canada (which would equate to $44 million in box office receipts at today’s figures). And this was achieved, mind you, in less than 200 theatres!

At a time when Hollywood is raiding its archives for stories to be remade, it shouldn’t – and didn’t – surprise me that Comin’ at Ya is comin’ right back at us – in a partial remake. “Partial remake?”, I (hopefully) hear you enquire. Yes, partial. It’s actually the same movie, but it’s been digitised – and digitally altered. Dramatically so. Check out http://www.cominatyanoir3d.com/

The 2-D (or “flat”) version of this “Noir” re-envisioning has been shown to college students, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve only seen clips so far of the “reinvented” version, and it looks like a whole lot of trippy fun. Add stereoscopic 3-D to the mix, and there’s no stopping the sensory carnival!

We’re trying to find out whether the film will be released on South Africa’s 3-D circuit, and, if it is, there’s a good argument to be made for midnight screenings. Yeeeeeeee-ha!!!

Open Up Them Golden Gates

August 18, 2009
Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome!

Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome!

Welcome to our Active 3-D Community! With your enthusiasm and assistance, we can make this a gathering place for South Africa’s 3-D fanatics – a place where you’ll find news about the latest 3-D events and equipment, but also a place where you will soon be able to enjoy galleries of 3-D images.

Of course, 3-D fans from all over the world are welcome to drop by. Just tell us where you’re from – it’s interesting to know! I would simply request that community members keep the tone of their communications friendly and/or helpful – there’s enough anger out there already, and we’re here to concentrate on our similarities (i.e. our passion for 3-D). We’ll leave the political squabbles to other websites!

With those few words, let me cut the ribbon, and declare this house open for business, 24/7!