“Side by Side”: eyewitness to film history

The impact of digital technology is being felt—for better and worse—across a wide variety of cultural sectors (books, music, photography). One of the most prominent disruptions has been in the rapid evolution of tools used to shoot, distribute, and project motion pictures.

The new documentary, Side by Side provides an insightful record of this moment in the film industry—the migration from traditional film capture, duplication, and delivery to digital cinema technology. It offers a thoughtful exploration of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going in this industry.

Written and directed by Christopher Kenneally, it is co-produced and narrated by actor Keanu Reeves who brings his own front-of-camera experience into the mix.

It’s easy to be giddy about the incredible new possibilities enabled by emerging technology. And it’s easy to be maudlin and nostalgic for old mediums and formats. Side by Side provides an unsentimental platform for prominent and passionate advocates—pro and con—to examine in more detail different facets of the transition.

“You can’t shoot 3D on film…so film has been dead in my heart for ten years” —James Cameron, director

“I hate 3D. I put on those glasses, I get sick to my stomach. The whole 3D phenomenon, it’s a marketing scheme, isn’t it?”
—Wally Pfister, cinematographer 

There is mainstream (George Lucas, James Cameron) and esoteric (Lars von Trier, David Lynch, Lena Dunham) support for digital filmmaking that enables advanced effects and  “democratizes” access.

There are also persuasive diatribes (from director Christopher Nolan, cinematographer Wally Pfister, and others) noting what is sacrificed, tangible and intangible, with the loss of the chemical film process and accompanying workflow.

I try not to do reviews here, but Side by Side is an excellent, entertaining film.  Balanced, beautiful to look at (in handsome 2D), it’s a must for anyone who cares about this business. Martin Scorsese, fresh off his triumphant 3D Hugo gets the last word: “How do you use it to tell a story? It’s up to the filmmaker.”

 

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Coming Soon: The Great Gatsby in 3D

The first HD trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming version of The Great Gatsby has been released. Based on the 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. The film will star Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan and is scheduled to be released in December.

It is very different from the extremely beige Francis Ford Coppola (with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow) version of my youth and the visuals in the trailer are tantalizing! The range of 3D films and development of stereoscopy as a storytelling tools continues to expand.

Next big thing: Star Wars in 3D

The countdown has started for the re-release of the 3D-converted “Star Wars Episode 1: the Phantom Menace” on February 10, 2012. One look at the trailer and it’s clear why this a perfect candidate for 3D. In the hands of a special effects perfectionist like director George Lucas the quality of the 3D conversion should be excellent.

 

But beyond the fanboy demographic and Hollywood’s canny mining for content to convert there’s an interesting context to this particular project.

George Lucas was an early and passionate advocate of digital cinema. “Phantom Menace” back in 1999 was one of the first high-profile films shot in digital format.  I remember the special screening at the annual NAB show (1999?) that galvanized the industry. We all realized this was the turning point in the acceptance of digital cinema and the rumor was that Lucas planned to use film only in digital going from then on. (Lucas’ recent labor of love, the action film “Red Tails”, is 3D only.)

Fast forward to CinemaCon 2011; Lucas—on a panel with well-known 3D cheerleaders James Cameron and Jeffery Katzenberg—predicted,  “So now, when you’re watching a movie and it’s not in 3-D, it’s like watching in black and white. It’s a better way of looking at a film… I totally believe now that 3-D will completely take over just like color did.”

Last week in an interview published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Lucas elaborated:

What made you want to convert this film into 3D?

Originally, I was not a big fan of 3D. I really thought it was a gimmick. But later, I was trying to get digital projectors into the theaters, doing a presentation in Las Vegas, when Bob Zemeckis and Jim Cameron came up to me and said, “We want to get 3D into the theaters. Would you join us in showing the theater owners that you can do 3D?” I said, “That’d be good because to do 3D you have to have digital theaters. So it would promote my idea of digital theaters.” When I saw the test that we did of “Star Wars” in 3D, I saw how great it looked.

How does seeing the film in 3D enrich the experience?

It’s like the difference between watching a film in black and white and watching it in color. It works in black and white but it works better in color. You don’t have to watch in 3D, but it actually works better in 3D. The depth brings a lot of reality to the digital characters like Jar Jar Binks and Watto. You feel that they’re more realistic.

The requirement for projecting 3D films has been an important catalyst in the wider deployment of digital cinema technology. This release is part of a wave of conversion of beloved classics to 3D that can help satisfy the demand for better content.

For both hardcore geeks revisiting an important chapter in a beloved saga, and a new generation of science fiction fans this is going to be an epic event!

 

3D Trailer for Hugo

The International 3D Society has posted a 3D trailer for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  Don’t have a 3D-enabled computer (yet)? There’s a link to the 2D trailer as well.

While you are on their site check out the other interesting things the society is doing to celebrate 3D filmmaking.

Behind the Scenes: Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” in 3D

Here’s a nifty video diary from the set of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit.  It’s full of details on camera technology, some of the aesthetic and artistic choices being made, and a sense of excitement about a powerful new storytelling tool.

They’re using 48 RED Epic cameras, 3ality 3D, 48 FPS (frames per second) and a lot of  classic special effects and filmmaking skills.

Great insight into the challenge and opportunity—I’m looking forward to December 2012!

Wim Wenders: sharing the space

I had the incredible privilege of hearing Wim Wenders’ keynote address to the Toronto International Stereoscopic 3D Conference (June 11, 2011).  I transcribed some of my frantically scribbled notes at the time.  Now the entire speech is available online at Mr. Wenders’ official web site.

It puts forward a passionate, eloquent vision of what is possible with 3D as an artistic tool.  Wenders has created “Pina”, a film featuring the work and creative company of the late Pina Bausch.  He screened some clips from the film and it’s amazing.  I can’t wait to see the whole thing. Here’s the trailer: 

The speech is long and reads like an epic poem but it’s really a manifesto challenging the trivialization of 3D as an artistic tool.  Anyone interested in 3D, film, or art in general should read this.  I will be posting my favorite quotes starting with this one:

[on working on “portraits”, close-ups of the dancers]

I must say: I was, again, unprepared.
We had been using this technology for weeks already,
and had started to “understand” it,
learn how to move the camera,
learn how to deal with “depth”,
but this sheer presence of a person,
without choreographie,
without sound,
without story,
almost without purpose,
was… mind-blowing.

I had not seen that in any film before,
not in any 3D film, that’s for sure,
and not even in our own shots.
How this medium was able to actually transcend 
(in the very sense of the word)
the realm of cinema,
of cinematic representation,
and create (or imitate, I’m not sure) “presence”,
human presence, in body and soul…
that was shocking.

The most outrageous, though, was, or is:
the present perception of 3D is going in the opposite direction.
It is all taking place in the realm of fantasy,
and the actors on the screen are more devoid of reality
than any actor in any old black and white movie.
Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz in “Pirates of the Caribbean” for instance
(I could pick many other examples)
are not “there”…
they do not exist,
with all the gimmickry around them
they are strange, human-like creatures, 
“body snatchers” like in that film by Phil Kaufman.
And that goes for everything that comes packaged 
in the 3D envelope of the Major Studios.
They have taken this language, this amazing new medium,
and … kidnapped it,
stolen it, mutilated it beyond recognition,
so none of their audiences could possibly conceive of it as a tool
to represent … reality.
Human reality.
Our planet.
Our existence.
Our concerns.

But: I am convinced that this is what 3D was invented for.

3Deelicious! “Kiss Me Kate”

With this post I’m adding a category called “3Deelicious!” to collect some of the more fun, miscellaneous items out there in the wonderful world of 3D. I hope you enjoy them.

Did you know that the fabulous 50s musical Kiss Me Kate was shot and released in 3D as well as 2D?

Unfortunately it’s contraband.  A friend in the industry has it and has promised to let me see it.  I can’t wait.  Meanwhile the following clip is available on YouTube but on a 3D laptop it looks pretty messy.

Why is this a big deal? For those of us who have mostly seen zombies hacked to death over and over and over and OVER the idea of having something a delectable as Bob Fosse’s “specialty dance” preserved in 3D is tantalizing.

Here’s a plain old YouTube clip, just for fun.  Fosse’s section (which he choreographed and danced with Carol Haney starts at 2:34).