Sunday, February 26, 2012

Star Wars in 3D: Is It Worth It?

I went to see Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace - 3D* on Friday. I couldn't find anybody who was willing to go with me, but I went anyway. 29 years before my first solo cinema trip, though, for a loner of my advanced level** must be something of a record.

I have, of course, seen The Phantom Menace*** on the big screen before, having originally been released in 1999, as well as the other two prequels****. I also managed to see The Empire Strikes Back when it was re-released in 1997 (having been originally released two years prior to my own first appearance in 1982).

And I was, of course, disappointed (as any self-respecting Star Wars fan was) that Episodes 1, II & III didn't quite match up to the brilliance of the original IV, V & VI. However, I'm not quite as violent in my dislike of the prequels as many are: they're not bad films, they're just not as good as the original trilogy. It's nice to have some backstory.

Anyway: Star Wars in 3D.

George Lucas has, of course, decided that it's time for a new conservatory and has noticed that the 3D bandwagon would be a perfect one to jump on in order to raise the funds. As a result we have TPM-3D.

I think it's important to note that I'm not an unreserved fan of 3D movies just yet: I've seen a few, including Avatar which I thought was unnecessarily long with the 3D aspect being little more than a gimmick, and Up which was an excellent film but gained nothing from the 3D aspect beyond one or two 3-4 second 'oooh' moments throughout its 96 minute running time. I recognise the potential of the 3D technology, and I look forward to the moment when something truly original bursts forth that just wouldn't be the same in plain old 2D, but I'm firmly in the crowd that sees cinematic 3D as nothing more than a pretty gimmick so far.

Having said that, TPM-3D was the first 3D film I've seen where the 3D aspect did truly appear to add an extra something. George and his special effects elves have certainly thrown a good amount of work and (I assume) money at this venture, and it is definitely rather more than the botch-job I feared would result from retrofitting a movie with a pair of 3D specs.

It must be remembered that TPM wasn't written or filmed with 3D in mind, and this may be why it works so well: Some films, such as Avatar, were written for 3D, and it seems that the storyline suffered as a result- the gimmick took over. Other films, such as Up, were great stories but seem to have had the 3D aspect bolted on at the last minute just to take advantage of the current craze. TPM, however, is a decent movie with good special effects, a generally compelling storyline, Natalie Portman, and a boss who's prepared to chuck big bucks at it and to take the time to make sure that when it bows down to the latest gimmick, it looks damned good afterwards.

Honestly, I turned up because I wanted to see some Star Wars on a cinema screen, with space battle sound effects assaulting me from all directions. The fact that it was in 3D meant nothing more than an increased cost and some silly glasses. When it started, however, and those yellow words began scrolling out from the bottom of the screen, receding into the infinite distance, I had a wow moment. That simple thing looked amazing, and it intensified that spine-tingle that accompanies the beginning of any Star Wars movie.

I occasionally glanced at the movie without the glasses on - most 3D movies are not entirely in 3D (apparently only about 20% of the '3D' version of the last Transformers movie was actually in 3D) - and it seemed to me that which bits to 3D-ify were very well thought out indeed: Some of the space shots really gave a feeling of infinite distance that isn't quite there when you're watching in 2D, and there were a few scenes in which, although the main action (Qui-Gon and Anakin talking about the force, for example) wasn't in 3D (and didn't need to be), there were subtle background effects going on that tickled your senses through the back door*****.

But where do we go from here? My understanding is that Lucas is using TPM-3D to test the water and decide whether to release the other five movies in order to pay for his new swimming pool, extension, double-garage, summer house and guest-bungalow (respectively). This, of course, means that we have to pay extra to wear silly glasses and watch the worst three films in the franchise before we get to the meat-and-two-veg.

Personally, I want to see A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in all their cinematic, multi-channel stereo surround-sound glory, and if that means pandering to George's money grabbing for a couple more years first, then I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to do it. And if they look as good as TPM-3D did, I might even find myself enjoying it.

* That's a mouthful- I'll refer to it as TPM-3D from now on.
** My lonerchloriants are off the chart...
** Hereinafter referred to as TPM.
**** Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005). You can probably figure out the contractions by now.
***** If you'll allow me to so gratuitously mix my metaphors.