After first seeing Kenneth Brangh’s “Thor” two weeks ago I was frustrated and exasperated. It wasn’t because I thought the movie was bad, the problem was I honestly couldn’t judge what I’d just spent almost two hours watching.
Paramount Pictures had smartly screened “Thor” for the media in the gorgeous Paramount Theater on their Melrose Ave. lot, but in the “intended” 3D environment (or at least how they home most moviegoers will see it) with no option of seeing it in 2D. The Paramount Theater is rarely available for public use, but it has been one of the finest and most comfortable screens in Los Angeles since it was built in the mid-90s. Having worked for the studio at one time, I’ve had the luck to first see “Titanic,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and more recently as a journalist “Flags of our Fathers,” “Star Trek,” “Iron Man,” “Transformers” and “Shutter Island,” among others, on this great, giant screen (and yes, I’ve seen some god awful films there too).
As a member of the media, studios tend to ask you for your reaction to a film after you’ve watched it (it mostly helps them give realistic assessment to filmmakers who think they’ve made “Citizen Kane 2”) and in this case I responded with the following:
“I feel as though I cannot judge the movie until I see it in 2D. The dimness of the 3D bugged me that much. I kept taking off my glasses.”
I wasn’t trying to be kind, it was the truth. So, imagine my surprise when I saw “Thor” specifically in 2D this past weekend and had a completely different experience. The action wasn’t blurry, I could see the detail the visual effects houses put into Asgard and the rainbow bridge and Bo Welch’s sets looked less like sound stage dressings and more ingrained into the story itself. It was gorgeous. And if that was my experience with 3D at the Paramount Theater, what were moviegoers across the country experiencing at their favorite cineplex?
Now, it’s important to note I have some major issues with “Thor.” Unlike “Iron Man,” the humor is so dumbed down it doesn’t respect the audiences’ intelligence; there are many scenes that go on far to long or or slow down the story (you could cut Hemsworth and Skarsgard’s bar trip for example) the Brifost bridge was stunning, but too repetitive as a plot device; and the actors playing the Warriors Three and Sif (Jamie Alexander) were second rate compared to the main actors in the film (Ray Stevenson was particularly disappointing as Volstagg and let’s not even start on the Hogun debate…). That said, the movie was very entertaining overall; Hemsworth is a true star (even if his Thor’s gregarious personality seems to be channeling Marvel Comics’ Hercules character); Hopkins, Elba and Hiddleston are fantastic; Patrick Doyle’s score is beautiful and moving; and, most importantly, Thor is a hammer throwing, kick-ass, super-powered monster of a hero who wouldn’t need Kryptonite to kick Bryan Singer’s Superman (Brandon Routh) to the curb. And, yes, these revelations all came after seeing the movie in old-fashioned 2D.
In my opinion, you really can’t blame the post conversion process for “Thor’s” ineffectiveness in 3D. It’s more the argument that too many tentpoles are being converted into 3D or shot in 3D for the wrong reason, money. The increased ticket price has practically pushed every action franchise, family or animated film into 3D even when it’s not necessary to the moviegoing experience. Since the cultural breakthrough of “Avatar,” the movie industry has viewed 3D as a panacea to help correct declining attendance and keep revenues up. The problem is that in the 16 months since James Cameron’s masterpiece created a spark, this pundit can count only that film, “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Tron: Legacy” as pictures that truly brought you to another world or immersed you in their story because of the process.*
*It’s worth noting, that 2007’s “U2 3D” is a stunning achievement of the medium that pre-dates “Avatar” by two years and many such as DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg have been hyping it as the next great breakthrough for almost a decade.
Creatively the industry now finds itself at a crossroads in terms of the effectiveness of 3D as a filmmaking tool. Directors such as Gore Verbinski (“Rango”) and Jon Favreau (“Cowboys & Aliens”) are proud to declare they kept their recent projects in 2D, but everything from “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” to “Green Lantern” to “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2” to “The Three Musketeers” to “Immortals” will require glasses in most theaters over the next six months. Is that really necessary for all these films? Looking over the list, I’ll admit I’m actively looking forward to seeing a number of them in 2D first if I can. And sure, acclaimed filmmakers such as Steven Soderbergh and Martin Scorsese are working in three dimensions, but do they have to be? Isn’t getting all just a bit much? It appears not. Hollywood is knee deep on the 3D bandwagon and the list of in production or planned 3D releases through 2012 alone is daunting. The “Star Wars” saga, “Underworld 4,” “John Carter of Mars,” “Wrath of the Titans,” “Men in Black III,” “Superman: The Man of Steel” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” are just the beginning. When it’s painfully obvious “Thor’s” box office is markedly higher because of the 3D ticket prices it’s only fuel to studio executive’s mantra to try to force as many projects into the 3D box as possible.
Unfortunately, that leaves moviegoers and cinefiles praying the brightness issues continue to improve and that studios come to the stark realization they may be oversaturating the marketplace (good luck with that). If this past winter proved anything, it showed that films such as “The King’s Speech,” “True Grit,” and “Black Swan” can be global blockbusters without the use of 3D. And “Fast Five” hasn’t done to badly in two dimensions over the past few weeks either. A backlash isn’t developing yet, but how this summer’s 3D features are received may go a long way to determining what movie fans see on screen in 2013 and beyond.
And, of course, enjoy the start of the summer movie season with “Thor.” Assuming you can find it playing in 2D in your area.
For everyday entertainment commentary and more follow Gregory Ellwood on twitter @HitFixGregory.