SDCC ’11: 3D Done Right, Wrong, and In-Between
Francis Ford Coppola is a living legend, and this year he is taking a leap into the unknown with his latest film, Twixt, starring Val Kilmer, Elle Fanning, Bruce Dern and Ben Chaplin.
The premise of the film is intriguing. A burned-out writer stumbles upon a murdery mystery in a small town, led by (maybe) the ghost of Poe and a girl on the cusp of puberty who may or may not be a vampire or ghost.
The initial footage gives a sense of the film as quirky-verging-on-weird. There were moments of humor; Bruce Dern is genuinely creepy and Val Kilmer plays dissipated talent all too well. What surprised me, even in the early moments of the teaser, is that Coppola has chosen to use 3D, but in an effective and restrained way. We usually see 3D attached to over-the-top films that are already visual spectacles. Here, we have a quiet little film that uses it to ratchet up the claustrophobic tension of a dusty and socially insular town that may be a haven for the supernatural or simply for human beings who are obsessed with causing death.
Coppola is going out on a limb both creatively and in how he’s presenting the work. Rather than attempt a wide, or even art-house release, he’s planning on a roadshow presentation in 30 cities. (Kevin Smith did this very effectively with Red State, which will be going into wide release in October.) Taking it a step further, Francis Ford Coppola is reaching back to the origins of cinema and is bringing live elements to the showings. Composer Dan Deacon will be creating the score live for every screening. During the panel, Deacon and Coppola demonstrated that not only the score, but the film itself, can be edited on the fly. 30 screenings could result in 30 different versions of the film and score. There was even an indication that if cast members like Kilmer participate in the screenings, dialogue may be performed live. There’s no denying that Twixt is an incredibly risky venture, both creatively and fiscally, but with the rash of reboots, remakes, and reimaginings on the horizon, these are risks that ought to be taken.
Glee. Glee in 3D. Glee the Concert Movie in 3D with a lot of fan footage. Hardcore Gleeks may be overjoyed by the prospect, but I was left cold. A concert film should be a concert film, and making it half performance-half fandom documentary seems like the producers were trying to do too much. Add in the exploitative use of 3D, which felt like a money grab more than a way to bring the audience into the experience, and I’m forced to say this should be direct-to-video. The performances were energetic and professional, and the members of the production team and cast on the panel were lively and engaging, but I don’t see this translating well to the big screen.
Tarsem Singh is a visual filmmaker. This seems obvious, given that film is a visual medium. We’ve all seen talky films, some of which work, and some don’t. Those are not the films Singh makes. The Cell and The Fall utilize the technical craft and creative eye of the filmmaker in ways that make dialogue superfluous. (Yes, many of us who love The Cell wish there hadn’t been any dialogue at all.) Immortals, in telling the myth of Theseus, has the potential to be just as visually arresting as The Cell, and to make us wish there were no dialogue. The use of 3D is justified, and seems to be used to enhance rather than cover the flaws of the film. It’s difficult to tell how flawed the film may be. The panel, moderated by Geoff Boucher, did not leave me with the impression that the cast was 100% on board with Immortals. While Singh, Stephen Dorff, Luke Evans and Frida Pinto all spoke eloquently, (Dorff and Evans in particular seem to relish alternating between small films and blockbusters,) Henry Cavill seemed uncomfortable and reticent, and Kellan Lutz came off as either snarky or flat-out dumb. Lutz repetitively referred to Poseidon as, “The god of wetness. . . and saltiness.” The teaser was shown in both 3- and 2D, and in my opinion, the 3D is unnecessary.
I think we’ve reached a tipping point with mass use of 3D when it’s being used in a concert film. That we’re seeing a move away from conversion 3D is encouraging. Perhaps, moving forward, we’ll see more filmmakers using the technology in creative ways. Twixt represents an experiment on many levels, while Immortals is a big-budget film with a director that understands that what the audience sees can have more impact than what’s said. The next step in 3D will be Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, beginning in 2013. Jackson is shooting at 48fps, which may alleviate the eye-brain lag for audiences who experience headaches and nausea when watching 3D. If so, perhaps there’s hope for the technology. In the meantime, we’re still watching studios put out films in 3D when it’s not merited and doesn’t add anything to the experience. As for me, I’m mostly sticking with 2D.