Friday, February 10, 2012

Episode 1 - The 3D Menace.

It would be remiss of me to come home after watching The Phantom Menace and not put finger to key in order to tell you what I thought of it in the off-chance that at least three other people will read my words, so here are my thoughts.

Firstly, if you hate the prequel trilogy, episode 1, Jar Jar, post-conversion 3D, then don't go.

Definitely don't go if all you are going to do afterwards is wheel out the same tired old complaints that George Lucas has raped your childhood (in 3D), that he should stop fiddling with the work, that the film is a CG smorgasbord of crap, yadda yadda.
I'm terribly, terribly bored of listening to folks bitch about the film(s).

So, the lights dimmed, the 20th Century Fox Logo started, and I got a little choked up.
It's really hard to describe to someone who is not as immersed in this whole 'saga' as I am (and many more of my generation) the feeling you get from watching the films. Star Wars was a huge event in my life, I was 10 when the first one was released, and has been in my life ever since, influencing career choices, leading to marriage, creating circles of companionship I will treasure forever. In fact it is much like religion, but a lot easier to justify.

The Lucasfilm logo looked lovely in 3D, as did the opening crawl and the interior of the Councillor  ship being piloted by that girl from The Commitments. In fact, in general, the 3D wasn't too bad. On the sliding scale of post-converted 3D films, TPM was more Alice in Wonderland than Clash of the Titans. Of course, it was nowhere near as nice as a film actually filmed using 3D cameras, and I must admit that I was pulled out of the film on a couple of occasions (not hard to do) when some of the 3D effects didn't quite work, or worked too well.

The opening scenes on the Fed ship were very nice, as were the closing scenes of mayhem with lightsabers and other acts of nefarious doppelganging. However, scenes where the technique fell flat (pun intended) included all of the Naboo swamp/forest ones, as organic shapes really do not work as well as geometric ship and building interiors. Also, surprisingly, I found the podrace a little lackluster. There were too many 'fuzzy' shots of Anakin which felt like the whole process wasn't working, or the focus was on the wrong elements in the frame. Sadly, Bode and Feed (the announcer for those of you that are not as geeky as moi), was super-sharp and multi-layered - too multi-layered in my opinion. Take my word for it - check out the TV screens surrounding the announcer booth - there's some serious 1-dimensionality right there.

Having moaned a little bit, I really should add that Liam Neeson looks magnificent in 3D - it's as if the technique was developed just for ol' wolf-puncher.

Let's be honest here, TPM isn't the best film in the saga. It is the worst one by a long shot, and I really don't need to watch it in its entirety ever again. Of course I will, when my boy is old enough, but I'll probably doze off during the talky bits. However, the production design alone is worth it - I adore the look of the Naboo starfighters, the pilots' costumes,  the Queen's ship, the Bongo, Darth Maul and Sebulba. The sound design is pretty terrific (my silly cinema didn't have it cranked up enough for my liking) but, on the music front, this is not my favorite John Williams score, and I find the continuous music in the background a bit superfluous.

For some reason I was really aware of the pauses between dialogue - it really did need a bit of tightening up in the editing room - and only served to heighten the stiffness of the proceedings. In fact, for the first time it felt a little like watching a stage play, and the planes of scenery in each shot only reinforced this. Look out for this around Theed Palace, you'll see what I mean.

At the end of the day, I found myself sitting through the film, rather than enjoying the film, but with this one out the way we can look forward to the future releases. The space battle alone hinted at the wonders to come (it was very effective, by the way).

Should you go? If you love the saga with a passion, have a kid who hasn't seen it on the big screen, or you are a completist, then yes.
If none of the above, then no.

Hey, if it makes enough money, then we might get the TV show a bit sooner :)


Tommy Mac said...

Just got home from seeing it with my daughter, my girlfriend and her 6 year old son, and we had a BLAST!

And yeah, I'm sick to death of the Hateboy bashing, no longer will I pay them any mind. I had FUN watching Ep. I and even laughed at some of Jar Jar's antics...ok he still annoyed me in some spots, but not as much LOL.

I think the 3D will improve as they release the saga; I agree in some spots it worked brilliantly while in others, not so much...but over all I thought it worked well and only see it getting better down the line.

YZF said...

I haven't seen it yet (plan to soon!), but I'm just so glad to find out you're still blogging on this sit. Hooray for old-school!

BTW, great Jar Jar pic.

johnnyivan said...

Enjoyable review Neil. I especially enjoyed your more personal introduction. Led to marriage?

Johnny and I are going later today. He'll be in costume and I'll take some shots of us outside the cinema.
I don't understand how it's possible to take footage of natural objects and environments and make them '3D' without them just ending up looking like those kids' stereoscope things of the 70s: imagery separated out into flat planes, at different focal distances. Still flat. Like an old multiplaned rostrum set-up.

So, you said that the more geometric elements like spacecraft etc worked better. They must have been redone from the digital models as 3D? What worries me now is that George gets this thought into his head: Unnatural stuff and stuff that can be computer modelled can be made 3D. Therefore, lets take the 1977 movie and recreate as much of it as possible in 3D to give the best 3D experience. And hey, while we're at it - redoing the 'Battle of Yavin' let's add lots of new stuff. And, wait a minute... thsi looks fanatastic. Let's make THIS the definitive version not teh crappy old one with all the crappy models made from cheap model airplane kits.

Sorry, didn't mean to bash; I'm just concerned about the precedent that might be being set with this film. Especially with criticisms of 'flatness'.
Still - I'm REALLY looking forward to going to this with Johnny at 3:30 today. Should be lots of fun!

starthunder said...

I might add another reason to go see it - even if you dislike 3D cinema (I do!), you might be curious as to how well the conversion efforts went into this chapter of the epic saga. I had some hopes that Lucas would have put his tekkie minions to work to step up the conversion process to a level that surpasses what we've seen before. No such luck. The 3D conversion process was subcontracted to London's Prime Focus studios who are converting the same old way it's been done before (I have a story about that actually!).

I wouldn't call myself a hater, but I really believe that there are people who can't really see the 3D effect, and I'm one of them. I can see that it's "different" but perhaps it's just that I have higher expectations of what 3D should look like. Even Avatar didn't fool me. It looked no different than converted movies I've seen.

So I went to see TPM 3D with both curiosity and excitement to see a Star Wars movie in theaters again. Opening day of course (no, not a midnight showing) as to not break my family tradition that started in 1977!

I was also thrilled with butterflies at the 20th Century Fox anthem, the Lucasfilm logo, and quite frankly I thought the 3D effect in the opening crawl was the best of any 3D effects throughout the rest of the movie (to my non-3D seeing eyes). Seeing the crawl like that spiked my hopes and expectations for how the rest of the film would proceed... it's like that was how Lucas intended the opening crawls to look in the first place! +1 for George.

Alas, it kind of went downhill from there - with a direct blow to the aforementioned spike in hopes and expectations when the very next scene after the crawl, the epic ship in space opener that's yet another trademark to the saga, was incredibly un-3D. Really, the one big expectation I did have for the saga in 3D is that all the ships would be zooming out of the screen at me. So of course the epic opener failing in that respect was a downer.

That goes for the pod race too, although a couple of shots gave us some cool 3D effect, but for such a long and central sequence to this film you'd think they'd throw some more at us.

As you've implied n0b, the conversion process can't really do much justice, especially to some rather beautiful cinematography. the depth and lighting used originally got somewhat diminished by overlaying 3D compositing, which is unfortunate because that look and feel of all the films is part of what makes me love them so. The attempt at converting short depth shots got really muddled in the majority of cases. If the entire film were shot long lens it may have looked much better in 3D, but then we wouldn't have had that Star Wars ambiance in the non-3D versions.

Maybe it's a good excuse to re-shoot all 6 movies? *snark*


starthunder said...

... (she has more to say!!)

About half way through (and I too found my self simply just sitting through it) my eyes got a little tired from the polarizing, so I flipped up my glasses only to find a bright, gorgeous, crisp and non-3D picture on the screen. For a few moments I wondered if this was actually in 3D at all, but then it changed to a shot where everything was a little blurry, so back down went the glasses. For the remainder of the film I flipped up and down according to blur and found myself enjoying it much more as well as feeling like I was participating in a sample group study. What I found in my study was that a much smaller percentage of the movie was truly converted for 3D effect than I would have expected (although it was certainly overlayed to make the glasses work all of the time). I noticed that some scenes, particularly in 2-shot scenarios, that clip would be non-3D and the cut back to the very same shot would all of a sudden be in 3D (i.e. blurred vs non-blurred without the glasses). Kind of weird I thought.

I finally found some 3D gratification at the end when little quasi-orphan Ani and R2 forayed out of the hanger in the N1 and blasted the Droid Control Ship all up. That sequence had at least a little of the 3D ships flying in your face effect I thought!

@ The pauses in dialogue -- I noticed these before and always enjoyed it. It's used throughout the prequels and I attribute it to George's homage to his beloved Saturday matinee sci-fi B-movies from the 50s. He used similar devices in Red Tails, and I think it wasn't received well by critics because they didn't know that was the intention, and instead chalked it up as bad dialogue and poor directing. The technique was a lot less refined in the OT (and equally misunderstood by those not in the know) and the result was a big stamp of "wooden dialogue".

One more thought (at this rate I should really be writing my own blog, but I'm enjoying discussion over here ;)) -- I have to wonder if a better choice would have been to show the saga in 3D in it's original chronology, by starting with ANH first. It's pretty commonly agreed upon that E1 is the least favorite of the saga by a long shot, so perhaps starting out with that wasn't the best move?

Apologies in advance for the wall o' text - J

johnnyivan said...

Yay - I tricked the site into letting me post again.

Well, Johnny and I went to see it! We gave George our cash - again - and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It really wasn't as bad as I remembered. Yes, lots of dull bits that needed to be edited down - or out, and I still don't understand the story at all because I can't keep my attention fixed on the bored looking actors as they deliver their dead lines about some dull confusing political stuff. Most of the the 3D is surprisingly good! - considering it's been applied to 2D footage. Johnny's only 6 and I was afraid he'd get bored to tears - he usually skips to the 'good bits' of the prequel DVDs - but he was on the edge of his seat. His fave bits were the Pod Race, Darth Maul vs Obi Wan and Qui Gon, and most of Jar-Jar's bits :O He especially enjoyed the farting dinosaur. I think they enhanced the sound on this release! We didn't feel buzzed when it ended like we would after 'Ep.4', Raiders of the Lost Ark, or ET, or JAWS, but we enjoyed ourselves. As a father and son experience it was wonderful. I'll treasure the memory. When we came home Johnny put it on again! Do you know what? It looks better in 2D.