Friday, March 27, 2009

3-D/Coraline Rant (More about 3D really)

James Cameron has said that he thinks the future of film, and visual media in general, is 3-D. He has repeatedly extolled the unrivaled degree of immersion and realism that can be achieved with three-dimensional film technologies, calling it a “form of pure creation where if you want to move a tree or a mountain or the sky or change the time of day, you have complete control over the elements.” When someone like James Cameron goes on record to say what he thinks about the future of cinema, I pay attention.

Cameron is currently hard at work in post-production on Avatar, his first feature film since Titanic. It will be a sci-fi epic filmed using the Fusion Digital 3-D camera system Cameron himself co-developed. His stated goal with this three-dimensional return to narrative cinema “is to rekindle those amazing mystical moments my generation felt when we first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the next generation's Star Wars." After having been repeatedly disappointed by the use of 3-D in films like Night of the Living Dead 3D, or the recent My Bloody Valentine 3D, I had prepared myself to wait for Cameron to show the world how this still immature technology could be used effectively to vastly improve our perception of film. When I saw Henry Selick’s Coraline, my wait was cut short early.

There is a moment in Coraline’s opening credit sequence when a sewing needle pokes through a piece of cloth and moves out towards the audience. It’s very nearly one of those “Look, look! Isn’t this cool?!” moments in typical 3-D films where the artifice is made painfully obvious, reducing the form to cheap gimmickry. But that’s not what happens in Coraline. Here the sewing needle moves gracefully, in a way that would be both subtle and beautiful if seen in a traditional, two-dimensional fashion; the fact that it is given a tangible presence in the theatre imbues the scene with a liveliness that breaks down the barrier between the spectators and the spectacle. It is not a trick to excite “wows” from the crowd, and the moment is not dwelled upon as such, but rather passes quickly, leaving the audience with an enduring sense that they are witnessing something real.

The magical feel of watching the film works together with the fact that the narrative is incredible and engrossing in its own right. Originally written by Neil Gaiman, the fairytale-like story is both charming in its simplicity and intellectually stimulating with its dense layering of allusions and symbolism. Every moment in the film has weight that transcends its immediate role in the plot, evoking our imagination through expertly treated cultural signifiers and imagery that is at once recognizable and mysterious in context. The narrative is deeply rooted in the uncanny, recalling childhood experiences and fears and utilizing themes that are both poignant and terrifying. The world that is brought to life could only be possible down the rabbit hole, and it excites the imagination long after the end credits have rolled. All of this is to say that while the 3-D effects in the film certainly give it a uniquely lifelike quality, they are not the only aspect of the feature that allow it to achieve its profound emotional affect.

There is a scene in which Coraline and her friend Wybie witness a circus show where button-eyed mice dance and sing and perform stunts. The audience shares in the protagonists’ perspective, and the three-dimensional quality of the performance endows the scene a sense of authenticity that would be impossible for such a fantastical vision presented through any other medium. The magical world of the film literally comes to life before the eyes of the viewers, and without the artificiality of a form that begs to be acknowledged and admired. The 3-D aspect of the film does not take the forefront over the performance, but merely accentuates it; it makes the impossible vision of mice with buttons for eyes dressed in suits, singing and dancing in formation, seem as though it truly exists in the space of the theatre. Just as Coraline and Wybie are taken in by the spectacle and made to enjoy and believe it, so to is the audience overwhelmed by the life of the manifestation before them.

It is the very fact that the 3-D technology and the complex narrative work together so subtly and effectively that the film achieves something remarkable: it immerses the audience in a fairytale as in a dream. This is something that has largely been lost from contemporary cinema, as the experience of going to the theatre has become commonplace. IMAX has helped to bring back some luster to the screen through a sheer increase in size; the level of immersion reached through this overwhelming of our visual capacity, though, is nothing in comparison to advances that work to make what is displayed on the screen come alive. Cameron has compared developments in 3-D visual display to the evolution from monophonic to stereophonic audio, and I think this is an pertinent connection: both seek to make our interactions with the worlds created on film more akin to our those with the world we live in.

By more directly appealing to our senses, 3-D effects more readily allow us to lose ourselves within films. Their use in Coraline exponentially increased my enjoyment of the fantasy crafted by Gaiman and Selick. The film is not without its issues, but the experience of watching it on the big screen in 3-D is an engrossing and affecting one that should not be missed.

(Originally posted on Facebook on March 16th)

No comments:

Post a Comment