Film­mak­ers are turn­ing to 3-D as a de­vice for telling sto­ries, not just fan­tasy, writes Don Steinberg

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

Bal­tasar Kor­makur, di­rec­tor of the moun­tain-climb­ing drama Ever­est, says it took a lo­ca­tion-scout­ing trip half­way up, to a snowy base camp in Nepal, for him to ap­pre­ci­ate that it would make sense to have the movie’s au­di­ence put on 3-D glasses. “I had a mo­ment stand­ing there where the vol­ume of the moun­tain was just so im­mense, and I was think­ing: How can I pos­si­bly get this on film? How can I give peo­ple at least some of this feel­ing?”

Un­til re­cently, sim­u­lat­ing three di­men­sions on screen was a trick aimed at younger au­di­ences in fan­tasy, sci-fi and an­i­mated movies. Think Avatar and Juras­sic World. Such block­busters were fi­nan­cial suc­cess, but also gave 3-D a rep­u­ta­tion, for many film­go­ers and film­mak­ers, as a gim­mick best suited for sim­u­lat­ing fan­tas­ti­cal worlds that don’t ex­ist.

Martin Scors­ese’s Hugo in 2011, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi in 2012 and Al­fonso Cuaron’s Grav­ity in 2013 showed 3-D could draw adults into emo­tional films, though those movies still de­picted imag­ined en­vi­ron­ments.

Kor­makur thought 3-D could help tell a true story about the real world: the ill-fated 1996 Ever­est climb­ing ex­pe­di­tion. The op­ti­cal ef­fect could help con­vey the gar­gan­tuan scale of the high­est moun­tain on Earth and in turn heighten the emo­tional im­pact for au­di­ences by high­light­ing the risks the climbers con­fronted.

Com­bined with the large-screen IMAX for­mat, the 3-D depth could serve the movie’s nar­ra­tive right along with other film­mak­ing el­e­ments: its am­bi­tious cam­er­a­work, sound, vis­ual ef­fects, and strong per­for­mances from a cast in­clud­ing Aus­tralia’s Jason Clarke, Jake Gyl­len­haal and Josh Brolin.

“I fought pretty hard to do it,” says Kor­makur, an Ice­landic di­rec­tor whose English­language work in­cludes ac­tion films Con­tra­band and 2 Guns. “This was be­fore Grav­ity came out, and we didn’t have many adult movies play­ing in IMAX 3-D. It was all about su­per­hero movies.”

Kor­makur pitched the idea to pro­duc­ers as a sub­tler ver­sion of the 3-D that movie­go­ers as­so­ci­ated with comic-book block­busters: “I said it’s more like 2½ -D. I’m not throw­ing things at peo­ple’s faces. It’s more to cre­ate vol­ume in­side the screen. I wasn’t look­ing for mo­ments of sur­pris­ing peo­ple, like ‘ Bah!’ It’s more like ‘ Oh ... my ... god. This is high’.”

Next month comes The Walk, another true story us­ing 3-D and IMAX. The comedic drama fea­tures Joseph Gor­don-Le­vitt as Philippe Petit, who in 1974 walked a tightrope be­tween New York’s World Trade Cen­tre tow­ers. It’s another “don’t look down” film where height and scale are at the core of the drama.

Di­rec­tor Robert Ze­meckis laboured for more than a decade to have the The Walk made. “From the ab­so­lute get-go, 3-D and large­screen were in­te­gral to his vi­sion of the movie,” says Tom Roth­man, chair­man of Sony Pic­tures.

The 2008 doc­u­men­tary Man on Wire won an Os­car telling the same story, but it didn’t put au­di­ences pre­car­i­ously up on that wire, “walk­ing in the sky be­tween the then two tallest tow­ers in the world’’.

Stu­dios and cin­ema op­er­a­tors ap­pre­ci­ate 3-D and large-screen for­mats be­cause they sell for a few dol­lars ex­tra per ticket, adding vol­ume to box-of­fice grosses. And adult-ori­ented movies for large-screen au­di­to­ri­ums helps ex­hibitors in another way. The films can be re­leased dur­ing the US au­tumn, avoid­ing con­flict with fran­chise block­busters and help­ing IMAX to keep its big rooms busy dur­ing what has his­tor­i­cally been a slow pe­riod be­tween sum­mer and the hol­i­days. “Those pe­ri­ods used to be kind of no-man’s land,” says Greg Foster, chief ex­ec­u­tive of IMAX En­ter­tain­ment. IMAX, now up to about 1000 screens world­wide, gen­er­ally has one screen per movie com­plex.

The emerg­ing dra­matic films for large­for­mat screens have grown partly out of the ground­break­ing IMAX doc­u­men­taries once rel­e­gated to science-mu­seum ro­tun­das, meant to of­fer views of na­ture’s grandeur that au­di­ences could not see be­fore.

One of the top IMAX doc­u­men­taries of all time, in fact, is David Breas­hears’s 1998 Ever­est. (The link be­tween film­mak­ers and Ever­est stretches to film’s early days; one of the first or­gan­ised Ever­est ex­pe­di­tions, in 1924, was fi­nanced by John Bap­tist Lu­cius Noel, a Bri­tish film­maker who made a silent doc­u­men­tary about it, The Epic of Ever­est.)

But film­mak­ers are dis­cov­er­ing more sub­tle po­ten­tial in 3-D, as a de­vice for telling sto­ries and build­ing emo­tion. Also due for re­lease in com­ing months are Ron Howard’s sea­far­ing drama In the Heart of the Sea and Ri­d­ley Scott’s The Mar­tian, both in 3-D and IMAX. Ang Lee is in post-pro­duc­tion of Billy Lynn’s Long Half­time Walk, a 3-D film about sol­diers hav­ing to re­turn to Iraq af­ter be­ing cel­e­brated as he­roes at home.

Wim Wen­ders has em­braced 3-D for his latest pro­ject, Ev­ery­thing Will Be Fine, an in­ti­mate film about a trau­matic car ac­ci­dent, star­ring James Franco, Char­lotte Gains­bourg and Rachel McA­dams.

Wen­ders, who adopted 3-D to film dance per­for­mances for his 2011 doc­u­men­tary about chore­og­ra­pher Pina Bausch, be­lieves that 3-D can get au­di­ences closer to peo­ple, not just em­pha­sise dis­tance. He calls the tech­nol­ogy an evo­lu­tion in the lan­guage of film — he com­pares it with the ad­vent of sound — and says it has been mis­cast in fan­tasy roles.

“It’s for cap­tur­ing re­al­ity,” he says. “What I’m try­ing to achieve is that you’re closer to peo­ple. You’re more im­mersed in their lives. Over­com­ing a trauma is a process that hap­pens in­side peo­ple. My feel­ing is that 3-D can re­ally look into peo­ple’s soul.”


Jason Clark in Ever­est, above; di­rec­tor Bal­tasar Kor­makur, left; a scene from Grav­ity, be­low

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