There are two things that I feel I must share up front, in the spirit of full disclosure. The first is this: I consider myself a fan of Tim Burton. Every time I hear that the frazzle-haired aging Goth crackpot is releasing a new film, I feel an undeniable frisson of excitement, sure that this one will be on par with Big Fish, or Mars Attacks!, or (oh pleasepleaseplease) Ed Wood. And so I eagerly anticipate every new Burton film -- up until that point when I'm trapped in a theater with Planet of the Apes or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, weeping sadly into my popcorn. Every time.
Secondly, while I'm as technologically savvy as I need be (considering that the majority of my work and leisure time are tied to the Internet, that all my life's pertinent contact info is stored in my phone, and if my laptop failed right now I would turn into a useless, neurotic pile of fail) I'm also a late adopter when it comes to tech trends. I still have a normal-sized TV, for instance. My cell phone is just a phone. That sort of thing.
All of which I share so that you'll understand my reaction to Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland remodel. Putting aside any considerations of what's good or bad about the movie as art, I couldn't get past one huge stumbling block -- once the opening credits had finished, I spent every moment of Alice wishing desperately that it wasn't in 3-D.
In an interview with the tech blog VentureBeat, Bobby Jaffe of Legend 3D said that most of Burton's Alice was shot using 2-D cameras, then converted to 3-D.
"I think what you'll notice about Alice is the level of detail in the clothing, the level of detail in the faces, the level of detail in the sets," he said. "There's a lot less stuff leaping out at you." And both of those statements are absolutely true. The detail is amazing. And there's isn't a lot that jumps out at you.
But Alice suffers, first and foremost, from the same problem that plagues almost all "live action" 3-D movies. While the digital inventions -- the White Rabbit, the Jabberwocky, the Tweedles Dum and Dee -- all look terrific, created as they were using digital techniques for a digital final product, humans don't fare as well. Inserting 2-D footage of real people into 3-D environments always seems to create the eerie, artificial effect of flat, yet moving, photographs, floating in space amid far more vivid images. It's visually awkward, and it continually takes the viewer out of the story as the brain pokes at the consciousness with the complaint that what we're looking at is ... not right.
I'm certainly not talking about the level of instinctive revulsion that came with watching The Polar Express, not by a long shot. As with all of Burton's films, the art direction on display is impeccable, with gorgeous backgrounds, cannily designed characters, and ridiculous, delightful costumes. No, it's the 3-D that's the problem. It's just not very well executed -- and when you're thinking about the 3-D, even just a little bit, you're not fully invested in the movie. (By way of comparison, check out the HD clip from Alice at the end of this post, which looks far more impressive when integrated in 2-D rather than fragmented in 3-D).
Granted, you don't have to see Alice in Wonderland in 3-D, but we're still going to be getting a lot of 3-D in our future. Zack Snyder's Legend of the Guardian, the Clash of the Titans remake, the next Aliens film, The new Green Lantern flick, Shrek 4, Spider-Man 4 ... the studios logic seems to be that 3-D will get people out of their living rooms and back into theaters. From a business standpoint, that's solid thinking. But aesthetically, is it necessary?
Are they right? Are you more likely to buy a movie ticket if the film's in 3-D? Have you been disappointed by the 3-D experience, or are you excited to see what else the trend has to offer?