Monday, November 28, 2011

Sh!#ting on the Classics: 3-D Rereleases

I went to a movie on Saturday, but I do not want to talk about that movie. No, I want to discuss the trailers. I realize that this is usually Doug’s territory. In the spirit of fairness, next week he can shit on something. (Doug: not my lawn.)

One of the best things about attending movies during the holidays is that the movies themselves are often a bit better, the holidays being the season for Oscar-worthy awards bait. Going to see My Week With Marilyn, for example, affords one the opportunity to see trailers for other “arty” films. This weekend I learned that going to see any film in 3-D affords one the opportunity for a headache… and a handful of 3-D trailers.

First up: Disney’s 3-D Beauty and the Beast, set to be re-released in January, 2012. Boy, that did not take long. The recent 3-D rerelease of The Lion King made more than 100 million dollars. Is Fantasia’s Wizard Mickey waving his magic wand over at the Disney Dream Factory and converting these classic animated features to 3-D overnight? Quick! Cram Pinocchio into the Flubbertronic 3000! We do not want to miss this gravy train.

This presents something of an ethical quandary, and I am afraid that I am on the fence. I am not often on the fence; I can usually pick a side. I do not like the fence. My weight makes it extremely uncomfortable to spend much time on the fence.

Why does everything have to be in 3-D?

Do not get me wrong; I love the idea of re-releasing the classics. Disney used to re-release their classics on a seven-year rotating schedule because every seven years there would be a brand spankin’ new bumper crop of chilluns who had never seen Snow White. Or Bambi! Or Fantasia! (Okay, maybe not Fantasia.)

This rerelease strategy guaranteed that generations of children had their first movie-going experience with a certified classic children’s film. Mine was Mary Poppins -- what was yours? Mary Poppins was the gateway drug to the rest of my imaginative life. Thank you, Uncle Walt.

The ubiquity of home video starting in the early eighties did away with theatrical rerelease. So should we be happy that these wonderful films are being rereleased at all, and swallow the bitter 3-D pill, or do we stick to our guns as purists and disagree with the whole thing on principle? Am I just a bitter old man railing against anything “newfangled,” or is this a much more complicated matter of aesthetics? The trailer for Beauty and the Bigger, Better 3-D Beast helpfully informed the audience that it would also be shown in old-fashioned 2-D in “select theaters,” so where is the harm?

TANGENT: I went to see The Lion King in 3-D, more out of curiosity than anything else. I thought the 3-D was underwhelming, though I had read rumors that Zazu’s opening flyby had been reanimated for the 3-D version, and that indeed was the single best 3-D shot. I did not think the famous stampede sequence looked much better, or even different; though by that point in the film perhaps my old, tired eyes had given up and were refusing to see the illusion of depth at all. I am thinking of having them replaced with new 3-D eyeballs.

AND NOW BACK TO OUR STORY… The trailers continued. Apparently, Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace is also getting a 3-D rerelease (February 2012.) The trailer for the 3-D rerelease begins with footage from the original trilogy, which I thought was an interesting marketing strategy. Is the (not really) subliminal subtext of this trailer a skeevy bait-and-switch? Is Lucasfilm blackmailing us into seeing the 3-D Phantom Now With More Menace by capitalizing on our affection for the original trilogy? Will the diehard Star Wars fan need to pony up for the woebegone shitty shit shitfest of Episodes I, II, and III to ensure that A New Hope will be rereleased in 3-D… in 2021?

I will say it is nice to see that, perhaps with this rerelease, George Lucas will finally realize at least a meager profit from these films. One can hope.

Finally, I saw the mother of all trailers: Titanic in 3-D. It was said to come from “the genius of James Cameron.” I always thought it came from “the genuine tragedy.” It featured that Celine Dion song at ear-splitting volume over footage of people dying… in my lap, courtesy of 3-D. (At no point in the trailer did Rose ever say, “Jack” or Jack ever say, “Rose.”) For a film that was converted to 3-D after the fact, the 3-D effects in the trailer were impressive. If I miss the 3-D rerelease of Titanic next April, do I know if my heart will go on?

For years I have wished that older, classic films were rereleased to movie theaters on a more regular basis. The theater I frequent has 30 goddamned screens—can’t management reserve just ONE for older films? I wish that the realization of my dream did not need to go hand in hand with a gimmick, a gimmick of which I feel most people have already grown weary.

The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast are classics. They do not need 3-D. Though I am not a fan of either Episode I or Titanic, both films have many fans and have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. Titanic won the Best Picture Oscar. These films are finished—they are hanging in the Louvre—and all four managed to garner fame and fortune without 3-D.

BETTER YET: The main feature was Hugo, one of the best films I have seen all year. The movie focuses in part on early film pioneer George Melies, who has been an important component of my film class syllabus for more than 25 years, so I had the curious feeling as the film progressed that it had been made just for me. Other movie lovers will likely feel the same way.


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    Not sure what it says about me and my family, but my first theatre experience was going to see Gremlins with my Dad (I was 4) and us nearly getting kicked out because we were so loudly enjoying it. A re-release of Bambi was my first Disney theatre experience and it was, somewhat ironically, far more traumatic than Gremlins!

    I have mixed emotions regarding 3-D, especially as it relates to re-releases - on the one hand 3-D has the potential to be amazing (pretty much single-handedly making Avatar a film worth watching when it was released), and on the other, a cheap gimmick allowing and even encouraging film-makers to skimp on substance in favour of eye candy (building on a trend started by advances in CGI I suppose).

    I actually haven't been to a 3-D movie since Avatar - I have yet to see a review of one that inspires me to go shell out the extra dough, and a re-release is even less inspiring given that I don't think it's possible to recreate the Avatar 3-D experience if a film wasn't shot in 3-D. But, as you say, the opportunity to re-watch a classic in the theatres, 3-D or not, can be tempting enough to get me to go see it...

    Guess I'm on the fence too JB!

  5. As a "Titanic" lover myself JB (defended its honor when you took a voluminous dump on it in a previous column) I also frown on re-releasing an original 2D movie into 3D IF (big IF) the 2D version is not made readily available alongside the 3D remake. Life is about choices, and even in the best-case scenario (which "Titanic" is given that it's Cameron's baby and he's supervising the 3D transfer personally to the tune of millions of dollars) I want the option to the see the original flat 2D original, if anything just to appreciate the effort that went into making that photography three-dimensional (yeah right!).

    I don't mind if a movie that was meant to be 3D since its inception is done like that ("Toy Story 3" is the perfect example) but 99% of the greatest movies ever made are 2D. We've managed to live with the flat 2D photography because what was being projected was acting/storytelling/photography so compelling we were mesmerized by the experiece. While 3D can certainly do that with the right picture/script/technology the nature of the beast almost demands the beats of action/adventure plots and/or kid-friendly fare to justify the 3D production costs. Right now there is no market for quality psychologically-shattering 'R' experiences like "Silence of the Lambs" or "Taxi Driver," or for art-house friendly fare like an Ozu movie or the latest Fassbinder revival, to be given the 3D makeover (or for similar contemporary scripts to be filmed in 3D given the need to put butts in seats paying a premium for 3D to break-even, let alone do boffo box office).

    I'm pretty sure "The Exorcist" is headed for the dreaded 3D revival market, and that makes me as sad as JB. I want to see older movies on the big screen, and I'm lucky that here in NYC and other big cities like Chicago or Los Angeles that's a readily available option that most of America and the world simply do not have. It'd be a shame if 3D is the only way to experience classics on the big screen on a regular basis outside of film festivals or anniversary revivals. At least "Titanic" coming to 3D in 2012 means the movie will be readily available on home video again, including a 2D Blu-ray struck from the remastered source used for the 3D makeover. Check amazon or eBay to see what the three-disc DVD set released a few years back is fetching... ridiculous!