The 3D Re-release Review
The Lion King (September 16, 2011)
One of Disney's biggest hits of all time was the first to gamble with a 3D re-release. The gamble paid off in one of the most shocking box office stories of last year. Not only did it open huge, but it displayed great staying power. Its success sent Disney to its vault to pull out more films to convert for the next couple of years. But was The Lion King really worth the extra surcharge? Was there more than nostalgia to be had in this repeat viewing?
Look first at the film itself. If there's any Disney animated film begging to be seen on the big screen, this is the one. With its grand set pieces, memorable songs, and emotional intensity, The Lion King is a film for the ages. The transitions from mature emotional content to lively music is masterfully handled. The characters are likable and the story appeals to all ages and genders. The Lion King is bold and triumphant.
The 3D does raise an obvious question. How can you make 2D imagery work in the third dimension? Short answer: you can't. The very best shots are simply nice layers of paper-thin objects. Watching this in 3D just doesn't make sense. It's a nifty trick and it often highlights the beautiful artistry in a new way, but there is simply no way for 3D to really work here. The Lion King does, however, deserve to be seen on the big screen. My preference would have been the 2002 IMAX-only re-release of this movie. Still 2D, and even a bigger screen.
The Movie: 5/5
The 3D Conversion: 3/5
Beauty and the Beast (January 13, 2012)
Interestingly enough, Beauty and the Beast was actually converted to 3D before The Lion King. Disney backed off of releasing it theatrically and sent it straight to 3D BluRay. But after The Lion King silenced all naysayers, Beauty and the Beast was the obvious next choice. This is one of Disney's most heralded classics. Nominated for Best Picture, winner of many accolades and awards for its music, and set to the backdrop of an entirely timeless story, Beauty and the Beast marks the very best of the magic that Walt Disney tried to capture. The beauty is in its simplicity. It garnered praise not for its ambition, but for its perfect execution.
Unfortunately, the same problem in The Lion King presents itself here. You can't make 2D imagery work in a 3D setup. Now I will say that the ballroom sequence looks beautiful in the technology. But that's because it's the only sequence of the film built on a 3D landscape. That revolutionary shot changed animation, but the rest of the film is as 2D as it comes. What's worse is that the drawing isn't quite as refined as it is in The Lion King. Characters' motions are choppier and the animation lines are less precise. That wasn't a problem in 2D, but in 3D, it's a painful strain on the eyes.
But the biggest issue here is that Beauty and the Beast simply does not beg to be seen on the big screen. There aren't big set pieces or giant action scenes. As I mentioned earlier, the beauty of this film is in the simplicity. In trying to revamp this film to be bigger and grander, Disney has robbed this movie of that natural quality. Still, the movie is one of Disney's very best. It just doesn't warrant a big-scale re-release.
The Movie: 5/5
The 3D Conversion: 2/5
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (February 10, 2012)
It's definitely one of the least-liked Star Wars films. But while it isn't as good as some of the others for sure, I don't understand the despise this film gets from some people. Yes, Jar Jar Binks is annoying. Get over it. Yes, the acting flatlines. And, sure, the premise is a bit weak compared to earlier/later entries. But the visual splendor and imagination in this project go a long ways.
It's tough to analyze any Star Wars film without delving into the series as a whole. So instead of boring you with that information, I'm going to focus on what this whole review is really about: The 3D. And what a marvel it is! I don't understand at all where the criticism for this conversion has come from. There are sequences that are breathtaking with this new technology, notably the pod racing and final battles. What's even more impressive is that nearly all of the remaining scenes that aren't as obviously-geared for the technology still employ it. Whether its starscapes that sink deep into the background or digital landscapes that have new depth, the 3D here is bold and wildly successful.
I commend those in charge of converting this film. The result is astounding and gives me hope for future 3D re-releases. Not only is it worth the surcharge, but I would actually argue that the extra dimension actually makes the film better. It's a shame that Disney bored people before this one came out, because I'm sure that turned away some people.
The Movie: 3.5/5
The 3D Conversion: 4.5/5
Titanic (April 4, 2012)
Out of all of the films in this review, this one makes the most sense to be re-released in 3D. Two reasons: (1) It's a giant, epic film; at one time the highest grossing of all time. (2) James Cameron is the god of 3D. Let's talk first about the film. It really is an epic in true form. It's sweepingly romantic, hugely scaled, and visually gigantic. Even the quibbles I have with the film's second half don't ruin the experience at all. James Cameron has made a truly transporting film from beginning to end.
But the conversion itself leaves much to be desired. Many scenes aren't converted at all. They've been left untouched. And I'm not speaking of scenes with dialogue. I'm talking about sections of the bigger scenes where the boat splits in half and sweeping shots of the boat as it travels in sunset. Moments that cry for 3D usage. James Cameron has revolutionized 3D, but his work here is incomplete and underutilized.
What's all the more frustrating is that there are moments of brilliance to be found. Many sequences of rushing water and close-ups of faces are simply beautiful in the enhanced technology. But the only make the seemingly untouched sequences stand out all the more. There was so much potential here for 3D, both from the actual film and man behind it, that the result is nothing short of underwhelming. It's a good conversion with much left to be desired. That being said, seeing Titanic on the big screen (for me, the first time) is well worth the trip.
The Movie: 4.5/5
The 3D Conversion: 3.5/5
So what's the final consensus? Is there any real benefit to seeing these films again with the new technology? Is it just an annoying money-grabbing trend? Can the 3D actually benefit the films at all? The simple answer is that it all depends. If Hollywood wants to throw E.T. and The Passion of the Christ at us in 3D, then you have an obvious answer. But if studios take time to make a worthwhile product that can benefit from the technology, then by all means release it. We won't know more until this September with Finding Nemo. Until then, I'm going to gamble my money with new films.