“It really is a huge project to do a 3D version of one of our films,” explains Pixar veteran and Finding Nemo co-director Lee Unkrich. “As opposed to just a 2D to 3D conversion that you typically see. Those are a lot of work as well, but that’s a lot of gimmickry and trickery to create the false illusion of depth. In our case, it’s kind of like going back in a time machine and getting to make the movie a second time.”
It begs the question, especially as we find ourselves a week away from Finding Nemo swimming back into theaters with an additional dimension. A week that has seen the release of a new trailer for Monsters Inc. in 3D, a release that will take place in December. Hollywood has been in love with 3D for years, of that they’ve made no attempt at secrecy. And it isn’t just releasing new movies in 3D, but bringing back classics with an added dimension that’s got the number crunchers excited. From Titanic to The Lion King to Star Wars, no great property can escape the clutches of the third dimension. But as they are in so many ways, Pixar is different. Or at least they should be, right?
In 2009, Pixar brought Toy Story and Toy Story 2 back to theaters for a 3D re-release in the lead up to 2010’s Toy Story 3. We’re reminded of this as Fantastic Fest, the annual fall film festival for the most intense genre nerds, was the odd place Disney chose to show off their newly 3D’d experience. And as I reported in my review, Pixar did something spectacular with their 3D conversion: they used restraint. There were scenes that benefited from the additional depth and space offered by 3D, but there were also scenes that were left untouched. The need to insert the gimmick was resisted, and the experience was “grade A” goodness. The hope is that Pixar continues this trend, because their kind of 3D re-release has traditionally been the best of them. It’s not just for the money, it’s the love of pushing boundaries.
“At the end of the day we’re just trying to tell a good story,” explained Unkrich at a recent press event. “And we’re trying to make a movie that works, whether it’s in 3D or 2D. I personally – I never like when I see a 3D film in 2D, and I feel like there’s obviously a lot of stuff on screen that was put there to kind of wow the 3D audience. I think that’s one of the things we work really hard to do at Pixar, both with these re-imaginings in 3D, and in the new films, is to never let the 3D be distracting and not make people seeing the 2D version feel like second class citizens.”
As the discussion around 3D continues, this is perhaps the most important element. How does it affect the storytelling? In so many instances — I’m looking at you, 90% of 3D movies — filmmakers use their 3D tricks to create carnival ride elements, things that pop out at you as if you’re on a ride at Universal Studios. This isn’t worth the headache of sitting in a theater for two hours squinting through 3D glasses. But there are those special situations. Movies that use 3D to put you in front of a window, looking out at a world fully realized with incredible depth. One great example would be Henry Selick’s Coraline, a stop-motion adventure that used 3D to push away from its audience, filling the screen with a world of color incredible detail. As we’re seeing from the featurettes released by Disney and Pixar, Nemo received the same kind of treatment.
“We keep an eye on the emotional aspects, and use 3D to support that.” Without seeing the film in 3D for ourselves just yet, all we have to go on are the words of those behind it. And those are the words we’ve been looking for all along with these 3D re-releases. Don’t just do it because it can be done, do it because it’s going to give us a new theatrical experience. Films like Star Wars have lasting brand equity, but as the re-release of The Phantom Menace proved, we’re not getting an additional level of storytelling, we’re just getting an additional opportunity to see these films on the big screen.
With Pixar and its slate of second-comings, we’re seeing the rise of something different, indeed. A new dimension to films we know and love. The opportunity to relive them again on the big screen and see a new technology used in a way that isn’t just for the heck of it. Sure, they’ll make a lot of money on these — Disney added $94 million to The Lion King’s bankroll last year with a re-release — but at least we’re getting to see some of the best contemporary artists use the most interesting toys to create something that feels new. In that particular instance, it’s hard not to support a 3D re-release.
Now if only we could get them to go back and re-do Wall-E for both 3D and IMAX…
What say you? Will you consider spending $14-15 per ticket next week for Finding Nemo and later this year for Monsters Inc.?