July 11, 2006


So yeah, Superman Returns.

I wanted to see it on the biggest screen that I could, because I never saw any of the Christopher Reeve films theatrically; Superman is one superhero who demands a large canvas, because he can contain the entire globe in his periphery. During the IMAX pre-show at the Paramount in Toronto we were informed that four sequences would be in 3-D, as well as that blinking icons would tell us when to put on our glasses. Fitting that these icons, laser-projected, turned out to be kryptonite-green, as their increasingly-dreaded appearance had a habit of weakening the movie's grip on the audience as people fumbled for their eyewear and giggled at the William Castle corniness of it all.

The first sequence to get the 3-D treatment, a flashback to Clark channelling his inner Peter Pan on the family farm, encapsulates the absurdity of transforming an image photographed for 2-D exhibition into a stereoscopic one: with Clark leaping neither towards nor away from the screen but instead across it, inappropriate emphasis is placed on the crops swaying in the foreground. And so instead of taking some sort of vicarious thrill from this joyous defiance of gravity, you're pushed further into the position of spectator. (This is especially detrimental considering the common complaint about Superman as a character is that it's impossible to put yourself in his shoes.) The 3-D becomes a tool of disengagement.

The airplane rescue, a significant portion of the helicopter climax, and the epilogue are similarly reconfigured for 3-D, which in the case of the first two renders unintelligible what is by most accounts superior montage filmmaking. I've said it before and I'll say it again: HD is not ready to replace 35mm, and the ghosting artifacts introduced in the transfer to celluloid--magnified enough as it is by the blow-up to IMAX--prove an insurmountable gremlin in the conversion to 3-D.

But it wasn't until the final sequence of Supes zigzagging around outer space that I realized why I have felt ripped off by IMAX 3-D, at least when it comes to live-action: rather than give the image more depth, it divides it into planes (which is why it works marginally better for stuff like The Polar Express, since depth in animation is inorganic to begin with), transforming the screen into one of those elaborate Victorian stages with cartoonish water waves on pulleys out front and a glittering sun in back. The irony of adding 3-D to IMAX is that it effectively dwarfs the image by making us hyper-conscious of scale; since it's hard to look simultaneously tangible and larger-than-life, that final solar system tableau evokes nothing so much as a science fair project with styrofoam planets.

Update (7/13)
Word to your mothersite: Walter caps a prolific week with reviews of A Scanner Darkly and the Running Scared DVD, while Travis slogs through all four discs of Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll - The Ultimate Collector's Edition.


Chris said...

Yeah! Plus, there aren't any PIRATES, so fuck that shit, right?

Joan said...

I hate 3-D -- it sucks every which way. In cheap 3-D, the colors are reduced to ash, and in the expensive (almost-good) 3-D, you're still stuck fumbling with headgear. I've never understood the appeal, beyond novelty.

Could someone please get the message to Roberto Rodriguez that 3-D just isn't a good idea? Thanks.

(I'll concede one positive 3-D experience: Space Station at IMAX; you really did feel as if you were walking around on the Space Station. But that was filmed in IMAX format and so didn't suffer from the artifacting Bill talks about here.)

Bill C said...

I agree, Joan, death to 3-D. I mean I get why the likes of Rodriguez and James Cameron (who recently said that every movie would be better in 3-D) are proponents: because it's the fifties all over again, and with the advent of DVD and HD, TV is posing a threat anew to theatrical exhibition. But there are better, lower-tech solutions to making moviegoing more attractive (the banning of cell phones, the lowering of ticket prices...) that have been discussed here ad nauseaum. Seems like the solution is always to re-invent the wheel when a fresh coat of paint would do.

James Allen said...

The catch-22 of 3-D is that while (as Bill said) it distracts from the storytelling aspect of a film (at least in the way it's been used), people go to 3-D films expecting to see things flying at them. So the 3-D and the storytelling are at cross purposes. A more subtle, less-distracting version of 3-D might be a next step, but when most people go to a 3-D film and don't see shit flying at their face I assume they feel cheated.

Anyway, I don't doubt that at some point we'll have the technology where a special screen is invented that can simulate 3-D without having to wear those stupid glasses. As it stands now I agree with the posters above; 3-D, as it currently exists, is pretty lousy.

Jefferson said...

My first experience with 3D was a modified version of Creature from the Black Lagoon on Channel 11, St. Louis, when I was nine. You could pick up the glasses at Pizza Hut. It sucked then (again, a non-3D film filtered into red and blue for TV broadcast), and, a few IMAX documentary experiences aside, it sucks now. Even Cameron's 3D IMAX underwater stuff has failed to impress. Ooh, look, a robotic arm is coming at me!

PS: Did I just see a TV commercial for Woody Allen's Scoop that marketed it as "from the director of Match Point" without ever once mentioning that the director of Match Point was Woody Allen?

rachel said...

Re: Scoop

For once I'd like to see an explanation, in the commercials, of why in the HELL said young attractive person is hanging out with Woody Allen, for his role to deviate somewhat from his patented "mentor/lost puppy". Or, if that's too hard, he could always stay out of the picture. All's I know is that I can't stand to watch him and Scar throw barbs like they're in anything approaching an organic situation.

Alex Jackson said...

I sort of like Match Point but I feel fairly defenseless against its critics. The sex scenes are literally funnier than the ones in Annie Hall. You sort of have to be in a forgiving mood to enjoy the film.

Point being, I'm surprised the studio thinks that "from the director of Match Point" is motivation enough to see the film.

Anonymous said...

I've downloaded a couple of Bill Press show podcasts from Friday's but they've sadly been Walter-less - is there any other way to hear the show?

James Allen said...

Re: 3-D

Yeah, I remember those 3-D movies on TV where you had to get the glasses at a store (the one I remember was 7-11.) The trouble I had more than anything was adjusting the color/tint on the TV constantly so the red and blue was just right. Ugh.

Re: Scoop

Well, what did you expect? For the trailer to say, "from the director of Anything Else?"

Seriously though, that is a bizarre thing in film ads these days, you can't just say the director's name (there are obvious exceptions, of course), you have to associate it with a recent film. (I love it when they invoke friggin' producers with the classic, "from the makers of ____") And I don't think it's much of a stretch to think that Woody Allen's name doesn't evoke much enthusiasm anymore from those not already devoted. (Hell, I've been devoted for a long time, and it doesn't get me all that enthused anymore.)

(This other-film association could work for critics! Imagine: "It left me breathless!" says the guy who liked All Dogs Go to Heaven.)

And if you think it looks inorganic to see Scarlett and Woody together in this film, that's nothing compared to the creep factor of Woody and Juliette Lewis (Husbands and Wives) and Woody and Elizabeth Shue (Deconstructing Harry).

Paul Clarke said...

OK, unless I saw an alternate Woody-less cut, Allen doesn't appear onscreen in Match Point. I thought it was a good film, by the way, and am surprised to hear that it's vilified. A cold central perfomance, but an interesting angle on class, social climbing, and the costs of rising above your station.

James Allen said...

Paul wrote:
OK, unless I saw an alternate Woody-less cut, Allen doesn't appear onscreen in Match Point.

Who claimed he did?

James said...

I was surprised to hear it was vilified as well, Paul. I know one online sort-of-critic who hates it, but thats the only one I can think off of the top of my head.

I wondered if FFC bashed it, but a look into the archives show Walter gave what reads like a positive review with caveats to me - one that doesn't fail to recognize any issues with it. He says: "The tragedy of Match Point is that it has no higher aspirations for itself than to tell its small, sordid little fairytale (it's Lemony Snicket for growed-ups) with the confidence of its inevitability. Similarly, its triumph, for what it is, is that same modesty." That about explains why I like it so much perfectly. Cheers!

Chad Evan said...

Ah, the worst example I remember of the "from the makers of..." trend was in the trailer for that Samuel-L.-Jackson-in-a-kilt epic (Formula 41? Area 51? Whatever.) The narrator guy gleefully intoned "FROM THE SICK MINDS THAT BROUGHT YOU PULP FICTION..." Now, for any reasonable person, this hook is going to make you think of one persons (well, maybe two if you're a championer of Roger Avary.) I knew better, but I can imagine the dissapointment of people who went to see it only to discover that the trailer was talking about...Lawrence Bender?!

James Allen said...

Match Point was vilified? A quick check to rotten tomatoes shows a 79% "fresh" rating which is pretty good, I believe. It also got some awards nominations that Allen hadn't gotten in a number of years.

I thought it was his best since Sweet and Lowdown (and I don't mean that to sound like damning with faint praise given what he's put out in the interum.)

Ian Pugh said...

Still better: "From the studio that brought you The Princess Diaries..."

Jefferson said...

TMHoover: Many kudos on your Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll! review. Nicely written.

As an aside, friends of mine who attended the concert recall Taylor Hackford imploring the audience to please hold their applause till the appointed times "so I can make my movie." He was roundly booed.

Alex Jackson said...

I thought it was a good film, by the way, and am surprised to hear that it's vilified. A cold central perfomance, but an interesting angle on class, social climbing, and the costs of rising above your station.

But come on man, the sex! When they brought out the blindfolds and baby oil I hit the fucking floor. Woody Allen is so uncool that it's not even funny. That's sort of what makes Match Point attractive and that's sort of why I would be cautious about watching it with people who haven't otherwise been converted.

Alex Jackson said...

"FROM THE SICK MINDS THAT BROUGHT YOU PULP FICTION..." Now, for any reasonable person, this hook is going to make you think of one persons (well, maybe two if you're a championer of Roger Avary.)

I think that Rules of Attraction was advertised as "from the sick minds that brought you Pulp Fiction and American Psycho".

Chad Evan said...

Yeah, I think you're right now that you mention it. I'm pretty sure the movie I'm talking about did play the Pulp Fiction card though.

James Allen said...

Ian wrote:
Still better: "From the studio that brought you The Princess Diaries..."

The trailer for The Naked Gun 2 1/2 parodied this kind of thing a long time ago:

"From the brother of the director of Ghost" (complete with a parody of a scene from ghost).

Tim Norberg said...

Though many people talk about 3d being the wave of the future, I agree with other posters here that unless it improves significantly we are essentially just getting cheap amusement park thrills instead of something which actually enriches the experience, and will just add to the broadwayization of movies today. Though I did enjoy a rare midnight screening of Friday the 13th 3D, which just went with the cheap thrills aspect of it, and actually had good effects.

James Allen said...

By the way, I second the kudos for TMH and his Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll review.

I especially liked the line about Eric Clapton's "obligatory" appearance. It made me think about all the concert films/specials he's appeared in. Say what you will about him, but for a "god," he's sure accessable. (I don't mean that as a dig, he just obviously has a lot of friends and is apparently a pretty good guy.)

Paul Clarke said...

james wrote:
Who claimed he did?

in reference to my comment:
OK, unless I saw an alternate Woody-less cut, Allen doesn't appear onscreen in Match Point.

The answer is that I thought you did, but a second reading of your post reveals that you were referring to Scoop. My mistake.

tmhoover said...

Thanks,James and Jefferson,for the double kudos. Hadn't though especially much of that one when I wrote it- so much for being a judge of my material.

James Allen said...

I figured that's what you thought, but I asked just to make sure. No biggie.

You're most welcome. (And I think that after seeing Click you definitely deserve some kind words.)

Seattle Jeff said...

Just saw the Superman movie.

Granted, I was at the Drive-In stuck in a car with a 7 and 3 year old which did affect the viewing experience quite a bit.

However, I just don't think anything can be done to make Superman interesting. Yes, I got the subtext about fathers, sons, and loss. Oh yeah, and he's an outsider. These points were hammered home again and again.

I just can't identify with a guy who is nigh invulnerable.

Superman's lack of vulnerability doesn't make him interesting to me. And Routh's performance didn't help either.