Tag Archives: 3d

Play The Game

As a child of the 70’s and a teen of the 80’s, I find shows that delve into the pop culture of those decades particularly compelling. I thoroughly enjoyed the Netflix series Stranger Things which featured so many Easter eggs of the 80’s it has become a cultural phenomenon for this decade. Easter eggs are small hidden references in media that harkens to another film, show or game. Cultural Easter eggs are also the point of Stephen Spielberg’s latest film, Ready, Player One, and viewers will spend much of the film trying to identify all of them. The movie is an adaptation of the novel by first-time author Ernest Cline, a self-described child of 80’s culture who takes the title from the experience of playing most 80’s video games. While most viewers will find satisfaction in this film looking for and identifying the parts of 80’s pop culture that are significant to them, the movie does work on its own merits as well, although it does have to overcome one or two challenges to do it.

The movie centers around a young man in a dystopian future where people escape the pain of daily life by plugging into a virtual reality world called the Oasis where people can become anyone they wish to be. Many people chose to become super heroes or characters from films and TV. The Oasis is so pervasive that its virtual economy drives the real world economy. The Oasis was designed and built by two men who have become legends to users and when they end their partnership, it creates ripples across the world. One of them dies and leaves his stake in the oasis to the person who can complete three puzzles in the Oasis to unlock Easter eggs and win the contest. Much like the sword in the stone, no one has proven worthy to win the challenge. Until now.

The Hero of the film is Wade Watts (AKA Parzival), portrayed by Tye Sheridan, a loner who competes in the contest as a loner without the benefit of a “pack.” He does, however, have other loners that have become friends while idolizing the mysterious player known only as Art3mis. Parzival and his friends soon realize that in order to beat the corporate team known as the IOI’s to the win the game, they must pool their knowledge. But even then, will it be enough?

The film is almost entirely CGI, since most of the engagement is in the Oasis, with the occasional back story being filmed with the real actors. One would think that with this technological advantage, the 3-D version of the film would be spectacular. Unfortunately, it did not use the technology to its advantage and the 3-D was subpar, even though the imagery was very good. The textures were some of the best yet, especially the skin textures of the character’s avatars. It was difficult to distinguish between the CGI and the actual film sets in some scenes.

The acting was probably the biggest challenge the film facing it, as most of the cast are unknowns and their performance was rather stiff and stilted. Add the fact the CGI avatars suffer from the CGI inability to convey the subtleties and nuances of human expression and the performance suffers accordingly.

The story does fall into the standard quest formula with the requisite challenges the protagonist must overcome to reach his goal, but the characters do a good job of driving the story through the plot by being engaging and easy with which one can identify. The other challenge is that the film is long at two-and-a-half hours and drags at times. If the script had been tightened up, the film would have flowed much better.

Ready, Player One is a good movie to enjoy in the cinema, although not necessarily in 3-D. Spend the time watching for the Easter eggs that are individually significant, as there has to be at least one. Parzval drives a DeLorean that is a mash-up of Marty McFly’s time machine from Back to the Future, the Ghostbuster’s hearse and KITT from Knight Rider. The Iron Giant makes an appearance, as does King Kong, and MechaGodzilla. The reference to the 1980 film Excalibur was my personal favorite.

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Doctor Strange Casts a Powerful Spell

I never was a big fan of Doctor Strange, until now. Marvel is well into its “Phase 3” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and fans have almost universally loved every one. Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant Man were long shots that surpassed everyone’s expectations, including mine. This week’s Doctor Strange follows suit.

Benedict Cumberpatch of Star Trek Into Darkness and Sherlock fame plays one of the country’s leading surgeons, Dr. Steven Strange, who through negligence born of his own ego, crashes his car and ruins his hands. Despite several cutting edge medical procedures, he cannot regain the full use of his hands and his career looks like it’s over. Never one to accept failure, he travels to Nepal to seek out a rumored alternative treatment, only to find out it involves mysticism, something his rational mind cannot grasp. Enter Tilda Swinton’s The Ancient One, a guru who shows Strange the limits of his mind. He begs to be trained and quickly learns the art and could become one of its masters, if he can only let go of his own demons before he has to combat other worldly ones.

While I have only read a little of the comic title from which this movie is drawn, Cumberpatch is the perfect casting both physically and stylistically for the character. He is clearly one of the best actors of his age and he delivers a flawless performance as the nascent sorcerer, destined to save the world. As Dr. Strange learns to accept his injuries and work around them, the viewer gets a real sense of the loss and acceptance through Cumberpatch’s portrayal. And as he learns more of the art, his confidence grows and becomes more obvious in each interaction (read fight) with the bad guys.

Rachel McAdams plays Christine, Strange’s erstwhile love interest who serves to keep the sorcerer grounded while he deals with the astral plane. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mordo, a sorcerer who helps Strange learn the arts and combat the bad guys and Mads Mikkelsen plays Kaecilius, the evil sorcerer bent on destroying the world.

The action is not overdone and just enough to keep the viewers riveted in their seats while the outstanding cast develops a fine plot with enough drama to emote and the occasional gut wrenching laugh Marvel is famous for.

The special effects in this film are gut wrenching, in that as the characters alter reality, they change the orientation of the world to suit their needs. Vertigo is a real risk here, especially if one sees the 3-D version, which I fully recommend. No film since Avatar is as good in 3-D as this one.

I put Doctor Strange into the top three of MCU titles, alongside Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Civil War. This is a must see even if it wasn’t critical to setting up next year’s Avengers: Infinity War (which it is, by the way). Go see it and not only that, spring for the 3-D, and that is a recommendation I have never given.

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Reliving the Battles of Childhood

Years ago, my little brother and I would watch afternoon cartoons, and one of his favorites was the Transformers, one of the first toy to TV cartoon franchises to take off.  The giant robots changed into everyday mechanical objects, which was cool (except that the 50-foot Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, somehow managed to change into a hand-held sized pistol).  My brother still has the entire set of the first-run toys.  I was too old to collect the toys, but I did enjoy figuring out how to change them back and forth without breaking them.  A feat that becomes increasingly more difficult the older one gets.

Now, thanks to advancements in computer animation, we can enjoy fully textured photo realistic depictions of these robots on the big screen.  This week, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third installment of the series, opened to mixed reviews but still big box office bucks.  The entire series seems to fall flat with the critics who complain that the story is somehow lacking while they applaud the special effects.  The critics obviously don’t get it.

“Transformers” was never about telling a deep or even significantly relevant story.  Many people make movies that draw the viewer in while peeling back the layers of humanity to lay bare they soul of the hero and evoke deep resonance with the viewer.  “Transformers” is not one of those.  It doesn’t even pretend to be.  “Transformers” is about the kid in all of us playing with our toys.

My brother and I—as kids—would develop our own little scenarios for the robots to experience.  We staged their epic battles and we determined who won and who lost.  Watch a couple of boys playing with toys as they swoop the toy jets in by hand and utter the “pow pow” sounds out of the corners of their mouths and then tip the enemy toys over with the other hand.  This is what is going through the minds of most 30-40 year old men who watch “Transformers.”  It’s about reliving a cherished childhood memory.  Watching our imaginations made cinematic on the big screen and now in 3D to boot.

Does “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” tell a good story?  Eh.  It tells a story.  Sure, there are some obvious plot holes and some scenes thrown in to try to tie the abundant action scenes together (with mixed success), but it does follow the formula of protagonist/antagonist and building to a climax with a resolution.  But more to the point, it is fun.

The effects are mind blowing but the best thing about this film is that it is only the second live action film I have seen that actually looks good in 3D.  Avatar is still the standard by which 3D will be measured, and all other live action 3D fails miserably to measure up, but “Transformers” was actually well done in 3D.

Go see the movie.  Go with a man who is approaching middle age and watch a 13-year old appear in his seat once the battles begin.  Don’t be surprised if he makes the transforming sound or even goes “pow pow.”


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A Whole New Dimension

I blogged recently about the movie “Avatar,” and in that review, I mentioned that the film was released in digital 3D—and let me take a minute to say the news headlined a story where one viewer suffered an aneurism supposedly from visual overload while watching that movie. There have been many new films release in the past few years in 3D, most of them CGI cartoons like “Up,” “Monsters Vs. Aliens” and the upcoming “Shrek 3D.” During the previews for “Avatar” was an upcoming remake of the classic horror flick “Piranha,” which boasts 3D. Another 3D live action film that was released was “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” In that film as well as “Piranha,” the 3D effects are not as significant as they are in the CGI films.

Hollywood has had an infatuation with stereoptic vision for many years. The first feature film to attempt 3D was “Power of Love” in 1922. It met with critical ambivalence and was quite expensive to make. Since then, there have been fewer than 100 films to use 3D, the expense and the apathetic viewer response keeping the effort at bay. Even to this day, most people will attend a 3D movie out of curiosity rather than for the immersive cinematic experience. The film “Avatar” has elevated 3D to a true experience and if Hollywood can maintain that level of filmmaking, 3D may catch on except for one problem: the glasses.

To get the effect, the viewer has to wear special glasses to fool the eye into seeing two separate images as one. Watching the image without the glasses makes the movie blurry. Older technology used red and green or blue lenses and color films use polarized lenses that separate the images. To get the best effect, one needs to view the screen straight on. To look at it from an angle alters the perception. This has been and continues to be a problem. That, and the fact that movie houses charge a premium for 3D movies.

Now, with the success of “Avatar” and other 3D films, there is much talk about 3D television coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. A lot of pundits in the industry insist that 3D is the next big thing since HDTV. Unless, however, there is a huge development in the technology that removes the need for external viewing glasses, 3D will never become the norm for TV watching. Imagine coming home from a hard day’s work, taking off the glasses you have to use to read, settling into your easy chair and clicking on the TV. The picture you watch is all blurry and, with a groan, you reach over and grab the TV viewing stereoptic glasses just so you can watch the news or your favorite program. Of course, you also had to replace your 2-year-old LCD or LED TV with a new 3D set.

Won’t happen. TV producers dragged their feet in developing HDTV content and even converting to an all-digital broadcast medium. They will not be quick to jump onto 3D series development. The most we can hope for is 3D presentation of feature films.

Now, if they can develop holographic TV, where the image is projected in 3D from several projectors and needs no glasses, then we’re talking a success. People will flock to this kind of viewing experience, and demand original broadcast content from producers. But in the meantime, we need be content with the meager 3D movies during the summer and Christmas movie seasons.

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State of the Digital Art

It takes a big man to admit when he is wrong. For those of you who know me, you know I am not petite, so I guess I have to admit I was somewhat incorrect…maybe not exactly right…a smidge on the in error side of the equation when I said that 3D is not worth watching. We went to see Avatar Friday night at the AMC Dunvale theater off of Westheimer, which boasts a digital projection system (for those who haven’t seen a digitally projected film, run—don’t walk—to the nearest theater with one). The film is one of a bunch of movies filmed in 3D that have been hitting the theaters since last summer. I could not have chosen a better film to demonstrate the improvements in 3D film technology.

3-d-glasses-traditional.gifOld 3D movies used a color-shift system to fool the eye into seeing a picture with depth of field. The viewer must wear glasses with one red lens and one blue one to get the 3D effect. This was fine for black and white movies since it did not affect color reproduction, but today’s movies are filmed with exceptional color reproduction and a color shift system makes them look muddy. The other technology for 3D uses polarized lenses that pick up slight shifts in the wavelength of the light image from the screen. This technology was first used in the 80’s and failed to gain much support with audiences. It has come a long way since then.

In fact, both technologies suffer from a fundamental problem which will keep 3D movies nothing more than a novelty: the viewer needs to wear glasses to get the 3D effect. People don’t like the glasses. If and when scientists perfect a holographic viewing system that give full 3 dimensional image recreation without the need of glasses, then you will see people flocking to get it. More about 3D in another blog.

But that having been said, I have to say Avatar was definitely worth seeing in 3D. James Cameron has a history of setting film budgets huge, then blowing that budget by a factor of three. He did it with The Abyss, Titanic and Avatar. The amazing thing is that it is worth it. Cameron delivers a film that rises above the movie experience to the level of art form.

He uses a digital brush and paints a canvas of the most vivid imagery and color to create a beautiful other-wordly landscape of his planet Pandora—which is the setting of the film as well as one of the main characters. As I watched, I couldn’t help but mutter “so much to look at” every 5 minutes of the beginning of the movie. The detail is intricate. The design is imaginative. Nothing was overlooked. The use of lighting and color tells as much about the story as the plot and characters.

Avatar.jpgThe biggest star of the production has to be the digital characters. Fans of CGI animated films like Up and Wall*E may love the details of texture in inanimate objects, but when CGI tries to look human, it usually falls short. The Polar Express and Beowulf illustrate the problem as characters look mannequin-like and plastic. In Avatar, that is not an issue. The skin of these characters seems so life-like you come to think of them as organic. You could not tell where the CGI ends and the live actors begin. The movements are fluid and real, not choppy and stiff. Skin stretches and moves along with the actors’ movements. It has pushed state-of-the-art to a whole new level.

While Avatar is a visual feast, it is also a compelling–if not completely original–story. The film is 160 minutes long, which for you math-challenged means two-and-a-half hours. That is a long time to sit still with no bathroom break. The good news is that you get so drawn into the story, you lose track of time. The film runs like an emotional rollercoaster taking the viewer on a ride to awesome heights before screaming into a plunge that pulls the heart strings and rocketing around a thrilling plot curve.

The story is kind of Pocahontas meets Dances with Wolves meets The Abyss. A big, bad corporate mining operation wants a mineral deposit located beneath the home of an indigenous tribe who do not want to move and cannot be bought with human temptations. With the ever-present threat of a military solution, they try diplomacy, using mindless cloned hybrids of the aliens that are linked to human minds using technology. These clones, called avatars are like an avatar from the Second Life game, they become the person in the alien society. One avatar is piloted by our hero, a paraplegic ex-marine who is looking for his purpose in life. He finds a purpose as he becomes entangled in the politics and intrigue of trying to juggle two lives with two cultures on a collision course.

This is the finest film of the movie season and may find itself with a best picture nod. The special effects Oscar is a gimme at this point. No other film out now can touch it, and I doubt the rest of the movie season will come close.

I have never recommended a movie as strongly as I recommend Avatar. It is not just a must-see. It is a if-you-don’t-see-it-you-miss-one-of-the-greatest-movies-ever see. The plot, characters and direction alone would be worth it, but they pale next to the visuals. I don’t mean the special effects (which are quite impressive), I mean the whole visual experience. It is simply the most stunning example of movie as art form EVER. See it.


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