Dr. Tongue’s 3D House of Pixels

Will the winter of 2011 turn out to be the summer of 1954 for digital 3-D? There’s an impressive line-up of stereoscopic features ready for the upcoming holiday season, including several from name directors: Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” Steven Spielberg’s “Adventures of Tintin,” George Miller’s “Happy Feet 2,” Wim Wenders’s “Pina.” Personally, I’m most looking forward to Paul W.S. Anderson’s “The Three Musketeers,” which opens on October 21 — Anderson being one of the last fully committed genre filmmakers in captivity, as well as a man with a sharp eye for staging action in depth (“Resident Evil: Afterlife”).

But will audiences still be receptive (and willing to pay the 3-D surcharge) after this summer’s migraine-inducing plague of hasty 2-D to 3-D conversions (“Thor,” “Green Lantern,” “Captain America,” “Conan the Barbarian”) — agony further exacerbated by the native 3-D efforts of Michael Bay (“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”)?

The 50s 3-D boom collapsed as the combined result of too many crummy movies, viewer discomfort and balky technology. What different this time is that the technology is far less cumbersome and is now making its way to your living room, thanks to the new generation of active-shutter displays and Blu-ray 3-D players. In some ways, digital 3-D is more impressive at home than it is in a theatrical environment. The active-shutter glasses yield a brighter, sharper image, with far less ghosting than the polarized glasses used in most theaters, and on some Blu-ray players you can adjust the parallax to suit your own eyeballs and viewing conditions. In this week’s New York Times column, I look at some of the titles currently available for home viewing in 3-D — harbingers of a thrilling stereoscopic future, or soon-to-be-quaint relics of another passing fad?

As always, the last word belongs to Count Floyd:

47 comments to Dr. Tongue’s 3D House of Pixels

  • Kurt

    My most anticipated 3D feature after TinTin has to be John Hyams’ Universal Soldier: A New Dimension. Hyams previous (underrated) “UO” film played like a love-song to the days of John Carpenter and Walter Hill.

  • Brad Stevens

    Surely this is the last word on 3D:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KtAzt9LGsI

  • Alex

    I don’t see in what sense it can be that Paul W.S. “Anderson is one of the last fully committed genre filmmakers” when almost all Hollywood output seems devoted to genre films, e.g., adrenaline thrillers (Zombie, Vampire, Cop, Mystery-Thriller, Transformer and Alien Invader, Comic Book Hero, Romantic Comedy, Dumb Buddy, and so on.)

    Not that prestige directors like Scorsese, Speilberg, Malick and Cronenberg don’t to do more “personal” (and even aincontrovertably personal) projects, or that the low-budget Indie field isn’t full of Lit Fiction adaptations and imitations.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Alex
    I think what Dave means is that Anderson has a commitment to the work he does more so than the ragtag collection of video makers and one shot wonders who the studios hire to be impersonal directors of big bang scenes without any real sense of the generic underpinnings.

    Sam Raimi would be one of the few who would also be committed, of course on a bigger scale.

  • Robert Garrick

    Another great poster, and it’s a Lew Landers film too.

  • mike schlesinger

    I believe the Hitchcock quote is, “A nine-day wonder, and I came in on the tenth day.” (Italics mine.)

    Dave, I think you’re underestimating the effect the price bump is having on the format, especially with family films. Two parents and three kids could easily shell out almost $100 for one movie. As I’ve said before elsewhere, let someone exhibit a 3-D film at the same price as 2-D, and see if it doesn’t have a positive effect on the 3-D numbers.

  • Robert Garrick

    Twenty or thirty years ago, in the Sight & Sound “Ten Greatest Films Ever Made” poll, a critic gave a vote to Harry Essex’s “I, the Jury” (1953) and then added a note: “For John Alton’s 3-D cinematography.”

    Ever since, this has been on my short list of films I most want to see–correctly. It would have to be in a theatre and in 3-D. (I have seen the film on television.) When the American Museum of the Moving Image (as it was then called) did a John Alton retrospective back in 1993, this film was not included. But I mentioned the title to William K. Everson in the lobby and Everson practically did backflips talking about how great Alton’s photography looked.

    I believe the film was shown in Los Angeles a few years ago at a 3-D festival, but I couldn’t get there to see it. Apparently there is a print, though.

  • If Criterion were to reissue FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN as a 3D Blu-ray I might upgrade. A wicked film with delightfully gory effects, that I saw one New Year’s Eve (96-97 I think) at Film Forum. And Joe Dante’s THE HOLE, with superb 3D (and other qualities to recommend it), deserves a wider audience.

    Though I only saw them on cable, the PIRANHA remake (with apologies to Joe Dante perhaps?) and THE FINAL DESTINATION seemed to have very vigorous 3D. I thought Bay would stop at nothing with the TRANSFORMERS movie, but it was surprisingly timid.

    I can only hope the winter wave of films will make more and better use of it, not just effects but for overall immersion. Audiences have wised up to the lame conversions and are boycotting the surcharges; it would be a shame, though, if they started staying away from the good ones.

  • Of I, THE JURY 3D I have seen the excerpts that were screened in Telluride when John Alton was there. William K. Everson was right.

    My personal favourite 3D film is DIAL M FOR MURDER. Chamber play vertigo in 3D, and the scissors climax is really designed for 3D.

  • Robert Garrick

    I have watched the remake of “Piranha” a few times this week too. Most amusing. It was shot flat but converted to 3-D in the lab. (Please, don’t tell me this is going to become the wave of the future.)

    The director (Alexandre Aja) wanted Joe Dante and James Cameron (who directed “Piranha 2: The Spawning”) to have small acting parts in the film as boat captains. (It didn’t happen.)

    I confess I watched this mostly to see how Elizabeth Shue was aging. The answer is: Very nicely.

  • Brad Stevens

    “I have watched the remake of “Piranha” a few times this week too. Most amusing. It was shot flat but converted to 3-D in the lab.”

    Are you sure about that? Pretty much the only thing I liked about the film was its playful use of 3D: for example, the fish spitting a penis into the camera, and such 1950s style 3D effects as a man throwing the contents of his glass at the audience. I watched PIRANHA because I admired Aja’s remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES, but found the film to be surprisingly misogynistic – it seems to have been specifically aimed at teenage boys who are both fascinated by and terrified of female bodies (which Aja leers over voyeuristically before showing them being destroyed)

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘it seems to have been specifically aimed at teenage boys who are both fascinated by and terrified of female bodies (which Aja leers over voyeuristically before showing them being destroyed)’

    I agree about that description Brad. For me, bad movie completely, titillation and cruelty. Reminding me of Japanese pink movie about women being raped and tortured.

    About 3-D movie, best recent 3-D movie is NIRVANA (1997)by Mori Mariko.

  • Vivian

    A fish spitting someone’s penis at the camera sounds kind of cruel too, although not particularly titillating…

  • Barry Putterman

    A fish spitting someone’s penis at the camera may be cruel, but is it a playful use of 3D, as Brad contends, as well? These are the crucial aestheric questions with which we must grapple as we contemplate contemporary cinema.

  • Brad Stevens

    Most modern 3D films seem to be rather self-congratulatory, patting themselves on the back for the ‘subtle’ way in which they use 3D effects, so it was actually quite refreshing to see a piranha spitting a penis into the camera!

    Sadly, I’ve never seen, or even heard of NIRVANA. The only recent 3D film I especially liked was Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, though that was another 2D to 3D conversion, and I never actually saw it in 3D!

  • Barry Putterman

    Brad, possibly it is time for modern filmmakers to re-examine Jules White’s use of 3D in the sublime PARDON MY BACKFIRE. Could even this fish/penis episode possibly touch the wire going through Larry Fine’s nose and out his ear? Our debt to the Maestro goes well beyond his training of Richard Quine!

  • Brad Stevens

    “Reminding me of Japanese pink movie about women being raped and tortured.”

    In the west, the impression many cinephiles have of ‘pink’ films is that their directors were obliged to shoot scenes of violence towards women, but that as they long as they fulfilled this requirement, they were free to include radical political content. Of course, in the west we are only likely to have seen the better examples of this genre, such as those of Wakamatsu.

  • Vivian

    “…it was actually quite refreshing to see a piranha spitting a penis into the camera!”

    That’s a great line.

    “…as they long as they fulfilled this requirement, they were free to include radical political content.”

    So it’s win-win!

  • jbryant

    Haven’t seen PIRANHA 3D, but it looks like the titillatin’ continues in the supposedly aptly titled PIRANHA 3DD, directed by Clu Gulager’s son John.

    Speaking of Lew Landers, his 1956 THE CRUEL TOWER (not a 3D film) is on Netflix Instant. Any good? (It’s got Charles McGraw, so it can’t be too bad.)

  • Alex

    Tom Brueggemann,

    I think you’re right.

    Although my limited WSA experience (via “Resident Evil” alone) leaves me more inclined to view “Hugo,” “Adventures of Tintin,” “Happy Feet 2,” or “Pina” than a new WSA, I guess I’d now more likely take a chance WSA’s new “Musketeers” over one on the latest M. Bay or McG construction projects –even though Bay has a remarkably creative sense of what might be done with his action figure template.

    Maybe all interesting genre developments are genre on TV where writing (as opposed to FX action spectacle) matters enough for narrative forms and character confugurations to take new turns (e.g., LOTS of interesting mutations of the police procedural: to follow just one realist line Dragnet, Hills of SF, Hill Street Blues, Homicide, The Badge, The Wire, Southland; or , to note the internally mutating, Law and Order and Law and Order).

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘in the west we are only likely to have seen the better examples of this genre, such as those of Wakamatsu.’

    Wakamatsu is exception. Wakamatsu is also showing artifice of violence so it is more clear that he is making criticism of convention. Not so many violent pink movies have political criticism, and not all pink movies is showing violence against women. There is 100s of pink movies without violence and many with violence against women. Most is bad movie aesthetically, and there is some that I do not like but I admit is good aesthetically, but I do not want to see those movies again.

    Japan has harsh patriarchal system, more suppressive than in Europe or America, and popular cultural expression is violence and rape against women in movies and manga, and worse thing is showing women liking to be raped.

    About NIRVANA, it is movie by conceptual artist Mori, and she has made other short movie. There was retrospective of all her work, painting, photograph, sculpture and movie that traveled to West about 15 year ago, and sometime there will be another traveling show, including to America and UK.

  • Brad Stevens

    “Japan has harsh patriarchal system, more suppressive than in Europe or America, and popular cultural expression is violence and rape against women in movies and manga, and worse thing is showing women liking to be raped.”

    I suspect this problem arose because the great Japanese filmmakers of the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s were all more or less explicitly feminist (Ozu, Mizoguchi, Naruse), so younger filmmakers probably saw the degradation of feminity as itself a radical gesture (a Japanese equivalent of the French nouvelle vague’s rejection of the ‘cinema du papa’).

  • Robert Garrick

    Brad Stevens: I agree with your comments about the use of 3-D, especially in an obvious exploitation fest like “Piranha.” I want things flying out of the screen; I want things in my face.

    “Piranha” was always planned as a 3-D movie, hence all of the over-the-top effects designed to make use of the process. The Wikipedia page on the film says this:

    “Citing constraints with 3D camera rigs, Aja shot Piranha in 2D and converted to 3D in post production using the reali-D conversion process developed by the company, Inner-D. Unlike some other 3D converted films released in 2010, Piranha’s conversion was not done as an afterthought, and it represents one of the first post-conversion processes to be well received by critics.”

    Regarding the film’s politics: You can make political hay out of anything, but to me the film resembled a Tex Avery cartoon more than anything else. That’s not a bad thing. I found myself delighting in the amazing “gags” Aja thought up, one after another. His “Hills Have Eyes” was not the same type of film; that one had a fair amount of suspense and unpleasantness. (Though I prefer the Craven original.) For me “Piranha” was just a romp.

  • “The only recent 3D film I especially liked was Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND”

    I liked it too. Felt like it was retelling Dodgson’s stories in Lord of the Rings terms, only in a single volume, with more humor, less self-seriousness.

  • mike schlesinger

    PIRANHA 3-D was not unpleasant? It was absolutely vile–all those kids being torn to shreds for no other reason than some sick kind of titillation. Not even funny or well-acted, just blecch.

  • Brian Dauth

    I never saw ALICE IN WONDERLAND in 3D either, but enjoyed the film a good deal. I too enjoyed its humor and good sense of itself. It seemed a nice counterpart to Burton’s previous SWEENEY TODD, one of the great genre films of recent times.

  • Nathan

    “there is some that I do not like but I admit is good aesthetically, but I do not want to see those movies again.”
    Konuma Masaru’s films would be my example for this. Some of his most memorable scenes, such as the mirror ending in Tattooed Flower Vase, are jaw-dropping but pretty disgusting in their attitude to women. When he tries to actually do something slightly more positive, such as the young secretary “liberating” herself at the end of Secret Diary of an Office Lady, the result, with the awful prog-rock on the soundtrack, is one of the most ridiculous scenes I have ever seen in a Japanese film, showing that one thing Konuma did not understand was the idea of liberation.

    “I suspect this problem arose because the great Japanese filmmakers of the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s were all more or less explicitly feminist (Ozu, Mizoguchi, Naruse), so younger filmmakers probably saw the degradation of feminity as itself a radical gesture (a Japanese equivalent of the French nouvelle vague’s rejection of the ‘cinema du papa’).”
    Much, much more information needed from Junko here, but I think some of it might have to do with misreadings by non-feminists of what was going on on the sexual-liberation/feminist front. My favorite piece of Japanese feminist writing, Kono Taeko’s Toddler-Hunting, clearly integrates SM as one of its central features (as do most of her other short stories). She uses it to make a feminist point about the family as nightmare (literally), but I can see how once SM has been “opened up” for progressive politics, it could just as easily be recuperated (especially the S bit) by someone with a non-progressive agenda. But my knowledge of this is not sufficient. Junko, please correct me if I’m wrong!

  • The Japanese new wave folks were not especially interested in degrading women. Imamura especially was sort-of-feminist in much the same fashion as Naruse (the most feminist of the older generation). Other major figures of the new wave — Oshima, Yoshida and Shinoda weren’t especially into exploiting women either. The pink film directors (after a few independent, low-budget pioneers) were actually working for the establishment — major studios needed films that TV could not compete with, and the pink films got men (at least) into the theaters.

  • “For me “Piranha” was just a romp.”

    That depends on who’s getting romped on.

    The re-make was much inferior to the original version which had good actors, a good screenplay, a good score and inventive direction, and was probably made on a budget the equivalent of a week’s shooting on the re-make which makes the 1978 “Piranha” all the more impressive.

    I’m in agreement with Brad and Junko in seeing “Piranha 3-D” as a work characterized by puerile misogyny.

  • Junko Yasutani

    Nathan, what you have written about Konuma is true. What Brad has written about generation of directors who was apprentice in 1950s before becoming directors is partly true. Some rejected earlier great directors. It is known that Imamura did not like Ozu movie even if he was assistant director for TOKYO MONOGATARI, but later they appreciated. Best example is Kumashiro Tatsumi directing AKASEN TAMANOI NUKERAREMASU (1974)to answer AKASEN CHITAI (1956, so that is example of anti-feminist response.

    Other point that Nathan has written about S-M also true, because it is having symbolic meaning beyond erotic use, and it can be used to recuperate power relationship over women. Nathan, since you have read Kono Taeko then probably you have better understanding of this issue.

    Movie of rape, torture and humiliation of woman without criticism of underlying cause of misogyny even if aesthetically good is problem for me. I do not want to see it more than once. Also, I do not want to see 1000 porno movies to find one great one, because maybe one is existing is not strong reason for me.

  • Alex

    Yikes! A typically commanding perfomance from the great Mia Wasikowska aside, I found the 2-D ALICE IN WONDERLAND on my Delta flight notably more disappointing than the pasta dish that preceded it.

    I am glad to see praise for the fine SWEENEY TODD, though I’m not too sure that Burton did much more than justice to what is perhaps Sondheim’s very best material since he started writing music as well as lyrics.

    Perhaps the genius of Beetlejuice, Batman, Scissorhands has a 3-D power as atartling as his Corpse-Bride return to early form.

  • Brian Dauth

    Alex: doing justice to any Broadway musical, much less one by Sondheim, is a lot harder than it may appear. In the film Burton created a cinematic world for Sondheim’s music and lyrics to live in. A rare accomplishment when stage musicals have been brought to the screen.

  • Robert Garrick

    This is just a guess, but I imagine that John Sayles, Joe Dante, and Roger Corman are all fans of the Alexandre Aja “Piranha.” Nobody is saying that it’s a great film, but it’s certainly well made in every respect, with fine acting, writing, cinematography, and spectacular technical effects.

    Aja’s film (like the original) has a “political” side, as Aja–who is French–looks down on the whole ghastly American pageant, complete with sexual and alcoholic excess, moronic foul-mouthed teenagers, Bible-thumping reformers, and general irresponsibility everywhere. Fish come up from hell and chew it all up. I imagine more than one European has had this fantasy.

    “Puerile misogyny” is what the elites have said about every groundbreaking horror film, from “Frankenstein” (who kills a little girl) to “Eyes Without a Face,” to “Peeping Tom,” to “Psycho,” to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and certainly on to things like “Hostel 2″ (the director of which is beheaded in “Piranha”). Some films truly are puerile and some are misogynistic, but these judgments are rarely made correctly in real time.

  • It’s a movie that hates its audience, that’s for sure.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘“Puerile misogyny” is what the elites have said about every groundbreaking horror film, from “Frankenstein” (who kills a little girl) to “Eyes Without a Face,” to “Peeping Tom,” to “Psycho,” to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,”’

    Robert, who is elites for each movie? When and where did they say those movies was puerile misogyny? Is everyone disliking PIRANHA 3-D member of elite? Am I, Brad Stevens and x359594 member of elite? Is minority same as elite? What is class background of elite? Are movies you named only groundbreaking horror film or is there more?

  • Barry Putterman

    Joe Dante, are you indeed a fan of PIRANHA 3-D? Raise your hand if you’re sure.

    Irrespective and regardless, the time would seem ripe to descend on France with a pitch for a film about killer snails making mince meat out of moronic foul-mouthed sexually obsessed and drunken French teenagers. Possibly Nicolas Saada would agree to sign on as technical advisor.

    Could such a film not be considered Hostel 2 it’s audience? N’est-ce pas?

  • Vivian

    Junko and Barry, you both just raised many of the questions and considerations I’ve been mulling over. Thanks.

    Are the fantasizing Europeans who look down on the ghastly American pageant the elites in this case? Or are they anti-elitist in their sophisticated and yet somehow populist ability to appreciate the trenchant social criticism inherent in witnessing Bible-thumping alcoholic American teenagers getting chewed up? And therefore are the Bible-thumping alcoholic American teenagers the elitists, because they don’t appreciate the groundbreaking nature of being chewed up? And will they regain their anti-elitist street cred if they enjoy the movie about the killer snails chewing up the French teenagers?

    I’m so confused.

  • Brad Stevens

    ““Puerile misogyny” is what the elites have said about every groundbreaking horror film, from “Frankenstein” (who kills a little girl) to “Eyes Without a Face,” to “Peeping Tom,” to “Psycho,” to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,””

    I’m reminded of the following dialogue from Stanley Donen’s BADAZZLED:

    Dudley Moore: “You’re a nutcase! You’re a bleedin’ nutcase!”
    Peter Cook: “They said the same of Jesus Christ, Freud, and Galileo.”
    Dudley Moore: “They said it of a lot of nutcases too.”

    The slasher films of the 70s, such as FRIDAY THE 13th, which were routinely condemned as misogynistic now look more misogynistic than ever, especially since a number of directors subsequently demonstrated that it’s possible to make a slasher film which doesn’t focus on the deaths of sexually active women. Incidentally, I’m an admirer of Aja’s previous work, as well as HOSTEL 2.

    I don’t recall Frankenstein killing a little girl, though I do recall the creature he created doing this.

  • Robert, you don’t have to belong to the elite (who ever they are) to find “Piranha 3-D” a bad movie, bad both formally and because of its treatment of sexually active women (and middle aged lechers who meet the same fate which suggests that they’re equivalent.) Nor am I writing off Aja’s entire oeuvre because of one bad movie.

  • Barry Putterman

    Hey, why don’t we all gather at Duffy’s Tavern (“where the elite meet to eat”) and swap stories about our favorite moments of cinematic carnage while devouring some animal carcass!?!

  • dan

    Brad, i’m happy you chose that certain dialouge exchange in BEDAZZELD because it was never clear to me who copied it from whome, Peter Cook from “Casino Royal” or the other way around. Both films were released in 1967.
    In the case of CASINO ROYAL there’s a variation on that same dialouge when Woody Allen says – “Well, i don’t care what you think. everyone said Einstein was crazy”, and the reply goes “no one ever said Einstein was crazy”, to which Woody Allen answers “If he would have acted like me, they would have been left with no other choice”.

  • Alex

    Brian Dauth,

    I think you’re right about Sondheim and Burton and stage musicals in general –especially since musicals went kinda pop operatic around 1960 with Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Weber.

    I do tend to think of successful adaptations of good musicals as dependent on their musical sources — e.g., Pajama Game, My Fair Lady Sweeney Todd– to an extend that makes me loath to regard them as great films, most especially auteur-like achievements. But maybe I’m misframing things. (After all, Children of Paradise, perhaps my favorite film, is probably better regarded –as a happy convergence and orchestration of talents than a work of auteurship.)

    Anyway, Sweeney Todd is a trip and a half, even on the car CD player! Wonder if anyone could succeed adopting Bernstein et al.’s Candide.

  • Alex — FWIW, Sondheim definitely does not like to be classed as “pop operatic” (or linked with his bete noir ALW).

    My sense is that the most effective film musicals tend to be ones that are NOT (primarily) adaptations of stage musicals. That said, I’d still like a crew of geniuses to adapt Pacific Overtures.

  • Brian Dauth

    Alex: Sondheim prefers to be thought of as a vaudeville composer — he despises sung-through musicals. ASSASSINS captures this spirit well. Also, this approach allows for the successful Sondheim review musicals, e.g., “Putting It Together,” that re-purpose songs from various musicals.

    Regarding musical adaptations: MY FAIR LADY; GUYS AND DOLLS; and SWEENEY TODD seem the best stage-to-screen movies. To my eyes, all three openly embrace their theatrical nature (all three are sound stage musicals) and then breathe cinematic life into the conventions they have accepted.

    Michael: I have adapted “Pacific Overtures” countless times in my mind. It always turns out looking like Kon Ichikawa’s AN ACTOR’S REVENGE.

  • Pacific Overures looking like Actors Revenge — doesn’t sound _quite_ right — to me. ;~}

  • Well, Brian, I liked SWEENEY TODD, perhaps because the exquisite songs were so beautifully performed, and enjoyed Burton’s show very much.

    But I haven’t seen a better film musical than SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, and it’s more to my liking than the wonderful and very clever SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. The Polecat song is nicely stagey, too.

  • Alex

    Yeah, I shouldn’t have confused the ALW turn in the musical with the falong away from “songs you can leave the show whistling” era of Jerome Kern, Rogers and Hart/Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Adler and Ross and Berstein.

    Not that Sondheim can’t occasionally rise to the tunefulness of Kern, Rogers, Lerner, Adler, Berstein, and the like (or to the wit of Lowe or Hart) — as in SWEENEY TODD!