It was a dismal weekend for nation-wide releases this week in the US. Walt Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer ended up winning the weekend with their talking-guinea pig action film G-Force, which I sadly took time out of my weekend to see.
The future of 3D for blockbuster entertainment hangs in the balance, with theater owners being pressured into Digital 3D theater conversion in these economically trying times. Right now, Real D and the Regal Cinemas chain have the biggest commitment to furthering 3D projection with Regal pledging an additional 1,500 screens in May bringing the total Real D screens to 3,500 by the beginning of the fall.
Monsters and Aliens this year was the first film to add a 3D surcharge across the board, something that has acted as the carrot to Avatar’s ever-present whip. James Cameron and Robert Zemeckis have been the two filmmakers leading the charge on the 3D motion capture front, both pushing harder for 3D ready screens as their fourth-quarter blockbuster releases A Christmas Carol and Avatar loom on the horizon. If Avatar ends up being the must-see film of December, theaters don’t want to be left out in the cold when they could use that movie to recoup the costs of digital 3D theater conversion.
As for A Christmas Carol, it’s 3D family fare, and G-Force took this weekend to prove that if you have enough kid-friendly jokes and lots of stuff popping out of the screen at kids, the film can make money.
While watching G-Force and actually finding myself bored by the movie mid-way through, I started having very vivid Bolt flashbacks. Bolt, also released by Disney in Digital 3D, starred John Travolta and Miley Cyrus in a film about a television-star dog who was unaware he didn’t posses the super powers his on-screen character did. The movie was cute, I guess, but I can’t imagine I would have seen it if it hadn’t been one of the few 3D releases at the tail end of last year. 3D as a gimmick for kiddie films seems to get my butt in the seats despite negative buzz and an uninteresting plot.
As G-Force became less about action sequences and more about being “special” and part of a family, I started to turn my attention to the use of 3D in this particular film, since I could see little other reason why it was made. What I noticed was a 3D convention that I hadn’t seen before and I think it made me mad.
When the theater I was in started it’s pre-recorded “put on your glasses now for the amazing 3D experience” announcement, the screen widened to something damn close to a 4:3 aspect ratio. I thought I was just going to see a Disney movie that was all-ready to get pan-and-scanned for home video release, but when the film started, it was presented in a more-cinematic 16:9 aspect ratio. But here’s the tricky thing: The black letterbox bars that altered the aspect ratio were part of the film’s print. When something was supposed to be a especially spectacular 3D effect, the object would bleed over into the letterboxing bars as well as go more 3D for the glasses-wearing audience.
As soon as I noticed that the black bars actually had the slightest degree of negative depth (making the entire 16:9 part of the film look slightly more dimensional), I couldn’t stop noticing that a cog, spark or atmospheric effect would bleed over into the letterbox (I’ve attempted to demonstrate using the banner image on this post).
It was really annoying, but a convention I hadn’t seen in the 3D films of the past few years. I’m not even sure what to call it, as it was meant to simulate the characters and elements actually entering the audience.
One of my gripes with trailers for 3D movies is that shot where they show a CGI’d character from the film (or flames, or an axe) actually flying over the heads of an audience. I know it’s supposed to FEEL like things are actually flying out over the first few rows, but showing us this effect as if holograms were going to spring up in the crappy seats is a little disingenuous. However, when the 3D effects look to bleed off the screen into the actual theater, as is the desired effect with black, recessed letterbox cropping on the actual print, the illusion is maintained until you notice what’s going on.
And once I focused on that, G-Force’s plot was even more obviously bland to me.
But the surprising lasting-power shown by Ice Age 3D ($673.5 million worldwide after 26 days) and the surprise drop in Harry Potter numbers letting G-Force take the #1 spot for the weekend (with $32,185,000 in 3 days) goes to show that opening family-friendly 3D fare in the middle of an adult-male oriented summer release schedule is a winning strategy.
So, no matter how mediocre G-Force was (and I was forgetting it as the credits rolled), we’re going to see more of its gimmicky 3D ilk.