Tag Archives: 3D technology

A Quick Rant — Titanic 3D

By Tom Kapr

I didn’t mind the fact that James Cameron was re-releasing Titanic using post-conversion 3D. Most films released in 3D through post-conversion look awful, because they were not actually filmed in 3D. But this is perfectionist James Cameron we’re talking about. His films are always on the front lines of technological advancement, and, with a few picky exceptions (obvious Schwarzenegger stunt doubles in True Lies), they hold up over the decades. And Avatar was one of the first films to really show what 3D technology can do for a film artistically.

Mainly, I just really wanted to see Titanic on the big screen, 3D or not.

Having now finally seen Titanic in the cinema for the first time ever, in 3D, I have to say, it is one of the most beautiful, visually stunning, emotionally gripping, and technically immaculate films ever made. The 3D, however, is a mixed bag. Here’s the good first: the depth of field is phenomenal. As far as pure dimensionality goes, it does exactly what 3D should do. It makes the world on-screen look as if you could step right into it. This is really only a next logical step in terms of cinema as a visual medium; it has always been a medium that created the illusion of depth (foreground, background, etc.). 3D just takes that illusion to the next level. And this is, without a doubt, the best-looking post-conversion 3D ever. No surprise for cinematic pioneer James Cameron.

But here’s the bad thing: You still have to wear those glasses, and even worse, in the case of Titanic, they darken the picture. I noticed this about halfway through the film when, just out of curiosity, I removed the glasses and looked at the film through my own eyes (well, my own prescription lenses, anyway). It was on a close-up of Kate Winslet. All of a sudden, without the 3D glasses, her skin looked much healthier, with more color, more red in her cheeks, and her hair was much redder. I went back and forth a couple times. The glasses made her look much grayer — almost sickly, in direct comparison.

Throughout the rest of the film, I would occasionally compare the picture with and without the glasses. The color was always much richer without. More reds, more blues. Especially during night scenes — so, for like, the entire second half of the movie — I was able to discern much more color detail without the 3D glasses.

I enjoyed the film immensely, and I actually have a much deeper appreciation of it than when I first saw it on full-screen VHS all those years ago. I would call it a masterpiece, even among Cameron’s higher-than-average number of near-perfect films (including Aliens and Terminator 2); and I would, in a huge change of opinion, say it deserved all the accolades it received back in 1998, including its Best Picture Oscar.

I am very glad I finally had the opportunity to see Titanic at the cinema. But I would much rather have been able to watch it without those 3D glasses, in glorious, illusory 2D.

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The Old Toy Chest — Captain EO

By Tom Kapr

The Old Toy Chest: In this series, I review movies I loved when I was a kid but have not watched since childhood–sort of like digging out my old toys that I haven’t played with in a while. (Unburying them, so to speak, in keeping with prevailing themes on this site.) These movies are generally from the 80s and early 90s (the era of my childhood), and they generally are films with which current audiences (i.e., current kids) are not familiar. I will be critiquing them through both the nostalgic eyes of the child within and the lens of the mature *snicker* film critic into which I’ve grown. I hope many of you will remember these films with fondness from your own childhoods.

Having been born in the early 1980s, I simply can’t remember a time when Michael Jackson’s presence wasn’t everywhere (except for these past two years, of course). I wasn’t a fan; in fact, I wasn’t even allowed to listen to his music when I was a kid. My mother found him disgusting, what with all the crotch-grabbing and whatnot, but since we had a TV in the house (yep, just one), being influenced by the man and his music was inescapable even for a sheltered kid like me.

As an adult, I’ve developed an appreciation for Jackson’s work. I’m still not what you’d call a fan, but I love certain songs of his, like “Billie Jean,” “Rock with You,” and “Smooth Criminal.” I have Thriller in my library, and I appreciate that Jackson pioneered the long-form music video with the title track of that album. But to this day, I’ve always kind of thought of him as Captain EO.

That's not a special effect on Michael's shoulder. That's the idea fairy that would whisper into his ear and drive him to do things.

Captain EO was probably the only Michael Jackson product I was allowed by my parents (begrudgingly, I’m sure) to embrace as a child; after all, it was the cool new thing at Disney World’s EPCOT Center, and we were on vacation. Various Disney parks were the only places you could see the 17-minute short film — in the first example of “4D” (innovated by the film’s writer/producer Rusty Lemorande), in which the film is shot and exhibited in 3D and supplemented with in-theater effects to amplify the experience. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by George Lucas, with a score by James Horner and two new songs by Jackson, and featuring Anjelica Huston as the villainous Supreme Leader (though it’s never explained why the “leader” of the good guys is the villain), the film has a lot of pedigree.

I recently re-watched Captain EO, having seen it before only once in the 80′s. And I have to say… pedigree ain’t everything.

The film opens on a shot of a meteor spinning slowly through outer space toward the camera… IN 3D!!! Suddenly a laser blast reduces it to astro-dust and a quaint-looking spaceship flies into view. Once inside the ship, we find that it’s populated by various Muppet rejects. (This would have been a perfect venue for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. However, the Jim Henson Company had nothing to do with the production. Captain EO was released as a Disney parks attraction in 1986; the Walt Disney Company did not acquire the Muppets until 1989. Two years later, they unveiled Muppet*Vision 3D at Disney-MGM Studios, which itself was only two years old. It was another example of the Disney Imagineers’ pioneering “4D” technology, and is overall a much better film experience than our current subject.)

These pseudo-Muppets make a lot of noise until they are silenced by the entrance of our hero — Captain EO himself. How this captain came to have such a strange crew of small aliens and robots is anyone’s guess. Captain EO immediate commands the room with his boyish, almost whining, “Listen!”

Clearly inspired by H.R. Giger's Alien design. Later inspired the design of the Borg Queen. And so we are all connected in the great circle of sci-fi.

Michael Jackson really looks like he’s trying hard to act, like he’s aware every second that he’s in a movie. Actually, it’s more like he looks like he’s constantly thinking, “Woohoo, I’m in a cool science fiction movie! The Star Wars guy is sitting right over there! Eee-heee!” then does a twirl, and throws his jacket off his shoulders and then flips it back on again — only, you know, in his head. In the meantime, he’s squeakily commanding his crew. The arrival of enemy craft trying to shoot them down only makes his voice squeakier. Michael Jackson’s squeak-singing always annoyed me, though he was a great singer underneath it all. His line-readings, however…

Commander Bog shows up on some sort of holographic intercom, and the actor playing him, Dick Shawn (himself known more as a singer), manages to ham it up with just his face more than Pauly Shore ever could with his entire body. Bog commands the crew to complete their mission: to locate some homing beacon, find the Supreme Leader (again, why they need to find their own leader is never explained), and give her some mysterious “gift.”

There’s some blatant Star Wars rip-off scenes (Lucas is one of the few who can rip off his own movies) as EO’s ship somehow manages to out-fly all the enemy ships and literally land on the homing beacon. To make a 17-minute story short, the crew is kidnapped by a bunch of stormtroopers in a junkyard and taken to the Supreme Leader, who lives in a dark industrial complex of some sort and turns out to be a spider-like woman who drops out of the ceiling like one of the Alien aliens and sentences EO to 100 years of torture and his crew to death.

EO finally unveils his “gift” — and it turns out his “gift” is an on-the-spot music video for “We Are Here to Change the World.” Michael Jackson’s — uh, I mean, Captain EO’s — sheer awesomeness is enough to turn the Supreme Leader’s troops into groovy background dancers. After some poorly choreographed tussles with some tougher bad guys, EO goes back to dancing and finally uses the power of song to turn the Supreme Leader into Anjelica Huston. The ugly industrial setting melts into a bland paradise not unlike the Mount Olympus of the old Clash of the Titans.

Michael's "gift" to the Supreme Leader -- and, as we are meant to believe, to the world.

And EO and his crew dance off into the sunset.

I imagine a lot of this was more impressive on a big screen with 3D glasses on and special effects literally moving through the theater, but just as a film, it’s really cheesy. It’s a glorified music video, and not one of Jackson’s better, which is a pity considering it’s directed by the man who gave us The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. And it has some of the trippiest imagery this side of a David Lynch film.

My recollection of seeing Captain EO as a little boy is a mix of wonder and embarrassment — leaning much more heavily toward the embarrassment, mostly as a result of all the lascivious dancing and my mother sitting right there disapproving. Plus, I have a vague memory of being a little uneasy over the appearance and tone of the Supreme Leader. I remember the whole thing being very dark in tone, but of course at the time I liked the annoying little not-Muppets. What can I say, I was a kid in the 80s — I thought neon-colored baggy pants and slap bracelets were awesome.

Captain EO may not be a good film, but it does deserve to be remembered as a unique pop culture artifact. It’s definitely representative of its time and place, for better or worse. And though it is not currently available in any official capacity for home viewing, you can watch it in its entirety (albeit in boring old 2D) here.

Still hard to believe these three ever sat in a room together.

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Never Say Never to Bieber Fever, or: This May Be More Serious Than We Thought

By Steven Moore

I want you to know I lost a bet. I just want to get that out there. I want it to be perfectly clear that I saw this movie as the result of losing a bet to the Buried Cinema crew. Regardless of what any “documentaries” available on YouTube may claim, my viewing of this film was the result of losing an Oscar bet that, in my opinion, I should have won. So, just so we are clear, I saw this film because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences made some poor decisions, not because of any personal interest in the film. None, at all.

And had I not been obligated to sit through the entire movie, I would have walked out five minutes in. The first 15-30 minutes are spent showing an obviously talented child playing the drums. I watch Justin Bieber play the drums when he is only two years old, and I think, wow, he’s pretty good. Then at three years old, then four, then five, etc. Okay, so he never stopped being pretty good. This child could grow up to be an amazing musician. Unfortunately, the film also shows the dollar signs growing in the eyes of the people surrounding him. They grab him, gift-wrap him into a pop product, sell the hell out of him, push him to perform night after night, and cater to him in every way as long as he keeps bringing in the crowds and making the merchandise sell.

At one point in the film, Bieber begins talking about missing his family. He says he’s seen his younger sister twice since her birth. His voice coach/co-manager basically tells him to suck it up, that he has given up a normal life, and to stop complaining. As the viewer, I almost feel as though I am watching a modern-day retelling of Faust. In another scene, Bieber has taken control of a forklift, and several people are trying to talk him off the machine. They coax him and soothe him as though he were a three-year-old chewing on a stick of dynamite. He just laughs like the world is a game.

About 30 minutes into the film it becomes glaringly obvious they are running out of material. Then the YouTube videos begin. The next hour and 15 minutes is essentially footage backstage at various Bieber concerts spliced with YouTube videos of preteens singing his songs. Nearly the entire film consists of home movies, cut and pasted awkwardly to make them upscalable to 3D. Perhaps the most uncomfortable moment of the entire film is when they pick out the prettiest girl in the crowd at every concert and have Bieber serenade her on stage. Several concerts are spliced together showing Bieber serenading a train of girls, who disappear backstage afterwards. The big finale is just a filmed concert that never seems to end.

I think the filmmakers intended this documentary to show a fun-loving kid just singing songs and somehow making it big. Instead, it shows the beginning of an inevitable descent into self-destruction. His music isn’t the kind I listen to or prefer, but it’s not terrible. Having to sit through an hour and 45 minutes of the same music while people who are exploiting his talents for every last penny try desperately to present the situation as a positive environment for him is exhausting and depressing, and makes me cringe whenever I hear one of his songs. I lived up to my bet, but at the expense of part of my soul.

Note: Just in case you missed it, I went to see this because I lost a bet. I want that to be perfectly clear.

Note from the Editor: Here is that YouTube “documentary” to which Steve was referring:

Review: Sanctum 3D

By Steven Moore

When I first saw the trailer for Sanctum I was sold on never seeing it. The script seemed less than mediocre, the acting was terrible, the producer is James Cameron, and it was in 3D. A good litmus test for whether or not a movie should be in 3D is to ask a simple question: “Does this movie have light cycles?” No? It doesn’t need to be in 3D. Also, there were a lot of Australian accents, which are near impossible to take seriously. Nothing about Sanctum interested me.

However, when a good friend of mine won tickets to see the movie and asked me to go with him, I said yes. Not because I had any subliminal desire to see the movie, but because I believe my friend would jump in front of a train for me, and I figured going to see this movie would just about square us up. The theater was absolutely empty, so I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be a big hit. In fact, we just might be the only people in the United States to have actually watched this film.

And I’m glad I did. My first impressions were right; the acting was bad, the script was terrible, the accents were laughable (despite being real), and it was indeed produced by James Cameron. I’m going to dispense with the usual synopsis because, really, it doesn’t matter. I’m not even sure why these people were in the cave (if you are really curious, IMDb.com awaits). However, everything else was good. I know that’s kind of like saying everything about a bell pepper is great except for the taste, texture, and smell, but Sanctum was significantly better than a bell pepper (not an astounding achievement, I know).

The visuals inside the cave, both submerged and dry, brought me into a terrifyingly beautiful world where the sublime can transition to death in an instant. The director, Alister Grierson, is able to convey the silent beauty waiting quietly undiscovered beneath us, while simultaneously capturing the suffocating terror of being trapped inside that world. There is no escape, and you as the viewer can feel it in the closed-in shots, the often murky scenes of just nothing but a blue so dark it’s hard to tell if any light exists anywhere.  The moments of tension, however contrived, were still very tense and visceral. He uses light like an occasional drop of water given to a man dying of thirst.

Richard Roxburgh is the lone acting talent among the entire cast, and his character’s complexity and silent brooding becomes just another feature of the cave’s environment. Like the cave, you don’t know exactly when or if he is going to turn on you, but ultimately, you respect him. It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t given better supporting actors (with less Austrailian accents), because this could have been a really great movie instead of just watchable.

Despite my low expectations, or perhaps because of them, I really enjoyed this movie from beginning to end. It was worth watching for the visual experience alone, and gives you a little something beyond just that. Sanctum is a visual experience more than a movie, similar to 300.  The story is beside the point. I would recommend it if you have a friend who wins free tickets and asks you to go with him. Thanks Dave.

James Cameron, Part III: The Future of 3D & Visual Effects

by Nathanael Griffis

So I’ve talked about James Cameron’s past, and Avatar, his present; now is the time to consider his future. He has prophetically spouted his greatness across the land. As annoying as that is, it is hard to deny. The evidence stands undeterred by the critical masses hoping that 3D is not the wave of the future, hoping that movie studios will just make normal films, hoping that we’ll still have money in our wallet at the end of the year. I hate having to pay four dollars more just because the movie is in 3D, and I have only seen two 3D movies (Avatar and Resident Evil: Afterlife) for that reason. Yet, I found myself regretting at times that I was so cheap and didn’t suck it up for, say, How to Train Your Dragon.

You’d think for a million-dollar camera they would have included red-eye removal.

3D is here to stay as long as it keeps making money, and there is no sign of it slowing. Some 3D films are losing at the box office, but others are taking in massive profits. Cameron’s Avatar would have kept on going if it hadn’t been for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which stole the 3D screens from him. There is another reason 3D is here to stay, and the reason is simply James Cameron himself.

Seven years ago Cameron decided he wanted to develop a 3D camera that allowed for better control of the depth of field. The issue with most 3D cameras is that they use side by side images. The idea comes from the way our eyes perceive depth, which works when something has actual depth, but film does not. Cameron realized the old red-green filtered images of 3D were stagnant and did not show continuous depth of field. What he needed was a camera that allowed one to adjust the focal point exactly. Enter the Cameron/Pace 3D Fusion camera, and by “enter,” I mean walk down a seven-year-long hallway.

Two cameras for the price of... two cameras.

The Fusion camera differs in that it does not film two side by side images. It utilizes a beam-splitting 50/50 mirror that cuts the actual singular image, giving it depth. It places one camera lens inside the other, essentially. The most amazing thing about the technology is that it is not some massive rig. It’s a small 28-pound camera that’s silent and handheld. The cameraman has complete control of the 3D focal point as he films, and he has to be aware of how he’s filming, because the point needs to shift as the camera moves.

Cameron explaining to his cast something that proves he’s smarter than them.

It’s fascinating stuff, and what’s all the more amazing is that, from everything I’ve researched at least, it was Cameron who worked on it. It wasn’t someone under him; it was him. He also did all the handheld shots in Avatar to make sure the focal point was where he wanted it. (This is not unusual for Cameron, who did most of the camera work for The Abyss, Titanic, the Terminator films, and Aliens as well). The innovation he’s developed has reinvigorated the technological presence of 3D. It’s not a false pseudo-3D with the red-green image. Yes, it still requires glasses–I’ll get to that. There is an actual focal point in the film that our eyes adjust to. This focal point is the main cause of discomfort when you’re watching a 3D film. Your eyes see the depth of the screen and the depth of the image. They are then confused by the fact that there are two conflicting focal points, making your head hurt.

Owwies and boo-boos aside, these innovations will matter, mainly because it will open the door for more innovation. Already, Nintendo is risking a 3D handheld system that eliminates glasses. Televisions are being released with 3D capability. Would any of this have been possible without Avatar? No. Avatar was the movie that the industry was waiting to use as a litmus test for how they should move forward with 3D, and it blew the door down. A note on the glasses: I think they will eventually be eliminated because that is still the major complaint of viewers. Will Cameron be the one to do it? I don’t think so. Too many companies are interested and invested in this technology now. Cameron had seven years without much competition to develop the Fusion camera; this is not the same environment now.

The beauty of Avatar is that the 3D is used, not forced. It never felt like a movie that had to be in 3D. A sword didn’t fly out of the screen at you. It shows the difference between gimmick and technique. It made audiences, and filmmakers, aware of the proper usage of 3D and encouraged a demand for the non-gimmicky display. Cameron’s place in film has long been solidified as a director. Now, unless unexpected events crop up in the next few years, we’ll have to accept that his place as a technological innovator is all but solidified as well. He started off in special effects, and it’s to his credit that he’s never left that behind but improved the entire art form.

–Nathanael Griffis

James Cameron, Part I: An Overview of the Career of a Visual Effects Auteur

By Nathanael Griffis

With the re-release of Avatar into theaters this past summer, to the simultaneous groans and cheers of fans and critics alike, I found myself thinking about James Cameron. Perhaps he forces me to think about him by loftily describing his personal achievements as world-shaking. The hubris of the artist, though, is not enough to retract my fascination. To some this might feel too late, Avatar was last Christmas, but I believe distance from the film will lend itself to more honest criticism. And so, I want to take a look Cameron’s influence on visual effects throughout his earlier work and implications of such on the resurgence of 3D technology in film.

James Cameron is not exactly a prolific filmmaker–although not as slow as, say, Terrence Malick. Still, Cameron’s films wield such influence that it is worth one’s time to look at each. It all started with The Terminator, about as good a debut as one can have. Utilizing Harryhausen-esque stop-motion, makeup courtesy of Stan Winston, and a perfect combination of models and stuntwork to create the final robot, Cameron delivered chilling action scenes. (Luckily for him, a robot jostling forward in stop-motion looks natural.)

With Aliens, which some content is an improvement over Ridley Scott’s original Alien, Cameron showed a mastery of physical effects. He did simple things, like turning the camera upside-down to make the aliens appear to climb across the ceiling. Actual weather was used on massive, detailed models. Add all that to the magnum opus of expert puppeteer work and foreground miniatures in the final battle with the alien queen. These amazing special effects are perfectly combined with beam- and film-splitting and rear projection.

Cameron’s early work demonstrated a penchant for action choreography that arguably will never be matched, especially in Terminator 2. But before we reach that monumental film, let us not forget The Abyss. Cameron showed us the wonder of the world around us and the mysteries it could hold in this tense underwater thriller. The film developed new facial recognition techniques for the pseudopod sequence that revolutionized CGI (computer graphics imaging) and paved the way for future effects auteurs, especially Peter Jackson and his Gollum. The film also showed that Cameron hadn’t yet abandoned practical effects. He built an entire underwater set in an unused nuclear reactor and accomplished underwater shots that have never been re-attempted in over 20 years.

Terminator 2 was next and and provided a visual feast for the eyes both in terms of physical stuntwork and CGI effects. The film’s numerous chase and fight scenes flawlessly blended Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance with a CGI liquid terminator, countless explosions (actually, you could probably count them), and excellent makeup from Stan Winston. The film still stands as one of the best uses of CGI and doesn’t merely rival modern techniques but in many cases shames them.

Titanic is a similar example of physical and CGI effects perfectly combined. The sinking cruise ship is amazing to watch, as CGI people tumble off and plummet into the sea below. It is equally engaging as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet race through the sinking ship with hundreds of gallons of water bursting through elevators and unsealed shafts.

On the whole, Cameron has most assuredly changed the landscape of film and visual effects. He’s shown a talent for taking action-thrillers and elevating them to a finer level of art through a meticulous concern for the visual. His films have not been overtly resonant thematically, with the exception of Titanic, but they resonate on some other level inside us. It’s good entertainment; it’s intrinsic quality; it’s viewing an exciting, beautiful image; it’s a dedication to accomplishing the impossible. In these, Cameron is a master.

The question remains, though: Does Avatar improve or impair an already amazing filmography?

–Nathanael Griffis