Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and the 5 Joys of 3D Done Right

Edit: Uh-oh, it took a friend to alert me to the fact that Thor was not conceived and filmed in 3D. I feel really stupid now. However, to turn this in my favor, it shows a) that good 3D-conversion can work and b) that good direction can be even better in 3D. I rest my case.

Kenneth Branagh’s film Thor is the most 3D-fun I’ve had in a live action film so far. There, I said it. Suck on that, Cameron. Part of that might have to do with the script which, I thought, cleverly juggled the absolute preposterousness of the setting with the right amount of pathos and humour whenever they were needed. Part of it might have to do with the performances by Natalie Portman, Chris Hemsworth, Stellan Skarsgård and the rest of the gang which exhibited that same tongue-not-quite-but-almost-in-cheek balance. And a large part was the really good 3D-mise-en-scène by Kenneth Branagh.

Looking back at the film, here is what I think Branagh kept in mind while shooting.

1. Keep Moving

There’s two ways to experience space on the screen. Either you leave a lot of time to sink your mind into it and explore it (this is the approach that Wim Wenders took in Pina) or you are constantly reminded of it, because stuff (including the camera) doesn’t just move left to right anymore, but front to back as well. All the time. Thor is very kinetic (except in close-up shots, see point 3) and the movement gives depth to both characters and environments.

2. Use the 3D-Space

Branagh really makes everything of the three axes he has at his disposal. His camera flies, swoops, cranes up and down all the time. This is a sort of standard procedure in CG-landscapes these days and of course Thor has its fair share of roaming establishing shots in pure computer space. But Branagh does the same in non-CG environments. For example, from a medium shot in which the character walks towards the camera, Branagh suddenly pulls out and up into a topshot. What a great way to feel that you are experiencing space without being poked in the face.

3. Behold the power of the closeup

Branagh breaks the relentless kineticism of his fight scenes with comparatively endless dialogues in closeup. And this is where the real magic happens. I don’t think Natalie Portman has ever seemed as enchanting as she was when I had her face 15 feet high in 3D right in front of me. My girlfriend, who was sitting next to me, pretty much admitted the same thing about Chris Hemsworth. The best film critics have written about the power of the closeup in the cinema. Well, it’s back – and this time, it’s personal.

4. If you don’t have diagonal lines, create them

3D thrives on diagonal lines in the image that visualize distance. If you’re not in Tron, you don’t get diagonals in every image. Branagh very cleverly sidesteps this dilemma by just putting the camera at an angle whenever he can. Even his close-ups are often ever so slightly tilted up or down compared to traditional camera positions. Shazam! Instant 3D-space.

5. Cut as fast as you want

Some of the fight scenes in Thor are fast as hell and I wasn’t confused at all. There is either some very clever stereo-continutity at work here that I didn’t grasp or it just doesn’t matter. I guess it’s the latter, and this is one of the points I will retract from my five Predictions of eight months ago: Filmmaker’s, don’t be nice to your audiences. Shock them and slap them in the face. In the long term, this has always led to the most interesting films.

Veranstaltungshinweis: Beyond Festival

Ich kann jedem, der sich für 3D interessiert, nur empfehlen, sich vom 27. bis 29. Mai nach Karlsruhe zu begeben, um sich das Beyond Festival anzuschauen.

Veranstalter ist die 3D-Alliance Karlsruhe, und darin maßgeblich das Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, dessen “Expanded 3Digital Cinema Laboratory”-Chef Ludger Pfanz ich vergangenes Jahr interviewen konnte und der mich mit seinem Enthusiasmus für 3D enorm angesteckt hat.

Noch ist auf der offiziellen Homepage noch nicht viel zu sehen (eine Facebook-Seite gibt es auch), aber in einem Exposé, das ich bekommen habe, hoffen die Veranstalter, so ziemlich alle filmischen 3D-Bereiche abzudecken: Konzertfilm (Fanta Vier, U2), 3D-Geschichte (Stefan Drößler, Filmmuseum München und Dial M for Murder) und aktueller 3D-Arthausfilm (Cave of Forgotten Dreams und Pina). Zusätzlich soll es Ausstellungen und Performances zum Thema geben.

Das Ganze steht unter dem Motto “3Days of Dimensions”. Ich werde dank meines regulären Jobs leider nicht hingehen können und ärgere mich sehr darüber. Aber ich empfehle es hiermit nachdrücklich weiter!

Stuff I learned this Week – #5/11

Stuff I learned this week – #4/11

Stuff I learned this week – #3/11

5 3D directors – and what we can expect from them

3D is coming at us from several angles at the moment, but has yet to prove that the medium is not the message. I take a look at five directors who drive 3D forward and try to predict what role they will play in the future of stereoscopic filmmaking.

Rise to Power: Made two of the best, action packed Science-Fiction Sequels and created some of the most memorable effects scenes in cinema history with Aliens, the Terminator films and The Abyss. Then went off and realized the highest-grossing film ever. Twice.

Claim to Fame: Almost single-handedly convinced the movie industry that 3D is worth pursuing.

Defining Characteristics: Epic epicness coupled with sentimentality of the highest degree.

Lined up: Two sequels to Avatar that will continue to explore the world he created.

The Verdict: Cameron is a force of nature. What his films lack in artistic merit, they make up for in sheer, inescapable, gripping bombast. There are no signs of this changing in the near future.

Rise to Power: Married effects, character drama and the manipulation of the space-time continuum in classics like the Back to the Future trilogy and Forrest Gump.

Claim to Fame: Pioneered and developed “perfomance capturing”, and with it digital 3D, in a series of films that were really not great but succesful enough to keep him going.

Defining Characteristics: Creates settings that eerily sit between animation and live action aesthetics with few cuts and sweeping camera moves to explore 3D.

Lined up: As producer, Mars needs Moms for Disney in which Seth Green plays his inner child. As director, Yellow Submarine, the remake of a film about a band whose latest achievement is making it onto iTunes.

The Verdict: Zemeckis has left his mark in the development of 3D but his style has become a bit predictable and even seems slightly old-fashioned compared to the general zeitgeist.

Rise to Power: After directing several commercials, he revived the American zombie film and brought a new quality of aestheticized violence to Hollywood cinema with 300 and Watchmen.

Claim to Fame: Directed an animated fantasy film about, of all things, owls, which looked stunning but suffered from an overcrowded story.

Defining Characteristics: Applies 3D to both space and time with his signature slow motion fight scenes. Seems to like the grandiose iconography of fascism.

Lined up: His first original screenplay, Sucker Punch, will be converted to 3D, while he tackles the next reboot of the most boring of all superheroes, Superman: Man of Steel.

The Verdict: One of the most challenging visual directors around, to whom 3D seems to come naturally. However, the quality of his films seems to be very dependent on that of the source material.

Rise to Power: Gave stop-motion animation its mainstream groove back by directing Tim Burton’s phantasmagoria The Nightmare before Christmas.

Claim to Fame: Coraline, a film that reads like the book on how 3D should work, especially in animation.

Defining Characteristics: Builds worlds that are slightly askew, both visually and storywise.

Lined up: Has returned to Disney/Pixar to work on more stop motion films.

The Verdict: Might produce the first film for Pixar that actually embraces 3D in its mise-en-scene.

Rise to Power: Made films about maniacs of all colours as part of Germany’s new wave in the 70s, then became one of the most leftfield directors around, creating motion pictures in every genre, form and country.

Claim to Fame: Got exclusive access to ancient French caves to film them in 3D in Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

Defining Characteristics: Embraces everything that fascinates him and turns it into something strange … and good.

Lined up: No word yet if there’s more 3D to come.

The Verdict: Herzog, with his oddball mentality and his talent for tearing down cinematic borders, might be one of those who leads 3D from childhood to maturity.

Photos by Steve Jurvetson, David Shankbone, rwoan, Thomas Crenshaw and erinc salor, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence.

Stuff I learned this week – #49/10

Aufs Auge gedrückt – 3D überall

Kaum vorstellbar, dass die Kinoleinwand einmal der einzige Bildschirm war, mit dem wir es zu tun hatten. Heute sind wir von Bildschirmen aller Formate umzingelt: Man trägt sie uns nach wie die Werbetafeln in den Städten, und wir tragen sie mit, in Form von Handys und I-Pods. Dennoch scheint es, als wäre das Kino, jenes Urmedium des Bildes, immer noch ein tauglicher Pionier und Innovationsmotor, der Trends etabliert, dem andere Bildmedien nachfolgen können.

Weiterlesen in epd film 12/210

Stuff I learned this week – #46/10

Stuff I learned this week – #44/10

This is the attempt to install a new weekly link feature in this blog, similar to the way Worte zum Wochenende used to be.