Monday, June 1, 2009

Up, Up and Away!

I'm no dinosaur, but the fact that last night marked my very first 3-D theater experience puts me well past being fashionably late. While I recognize the appeal of watching a film in all of it's three-dimensional splendor, I always preferred to spend the extra 5 dollars on a dixie cup of soda. It's not that I'm a technophobe by any means, but the prospect of seeing a movie with the added perception of depth and occasionally having shit fly out of the screen at you always seemed more like a gimmicky distraction rather than a truly immersive tool, and after watching Up in Glorious Three Dee, I'm glad to put my bias to rest.

When I put the glasses on for the first time, I immediately noticed that the lenses made everything seem much darker than I expected, which never bodes well if you're about to watch a Pixar film. However, as disappointed as I was by the prospect of not being able to see Up's full range of color, the effect really grew on me. In spite of a few (very) brief instances where it was more distracting than anything, I found that the majority of Up's 3-D struck a wonderfully balanced effect, and the fact that it wasn't outwardly noticeable after the first 5-10 minutes is a Good Thing in my book. The immersion was subtle but effective, especially when you're already treated to such a fine piece of animation. I wish that I had watched the 2-D version first so I could have a better point of reference for comparison, but by no means do I regret the experience, and I honestly doubt that it would make much of a difference anyway.

Excuse the tangent, but if any of you are keeping up with news on James Cameron's Avatar, there are a couple of really cool interviews where he talks about the revolutionary technology that's supposedly going to change 3-D and/or cinema as we know it. Part of what's so interesting about this movie is the effect it will have on the sub-conscious level. The human brain processes information through different channels when presented with a 2-D or 3-D image, and apparently, the latter allows the brain to recall the details of said image better, which I'm guessing happens because you're processing more information, but I digress.

Up is yet another top-notch effort from Pixar. I'm not a big fan by any means, but I honestly can't think of a single film of theirs that I haven't been able to enjoy on some level. It's rare to find a production house that churns out such consistently charming films that entertain on a wide scale without feeling like they've compromised anything in the process. Every time I see a Pixar film, it usually comes with such a level of polish (on all accounts) that it keeps on reinforcing the feeling that these guys know exactly what they're doing.

Up's story is deceptively simple, but it's one of the most mature and ambitious films they've made to date. They opt to tell the story of Carl and Ellie's relationship in a dialogue-free montage that's as poignant as it is effective. It's one thing to get basic information across to an audience, but Up didn't just show us that Carl and Ellie loved each other, it showed us how. I really love it when films do away with dialogue and allows the story to tell itself expressly through images and sounds. I'm guessing the sweetness of that scene along with the subtle 3-D must have subconsciously hypnotized me and melted my cold black heart while I wasn't looking, because that was easily one of the best sequences in the entire movie. The element of romance feels genuine and acts as a stepping stone rather than an obligatory hurdle the audience must cross to move the plot along (I'm looking at you, Lucas).

Although the protagonist and the antagonist are clearly established, the villain doesn't feel like one because his motivations mirror Carl's. They're both trying to break out of their self-imposed exiles and move past their pain and loss so they can get back on the horse and resume their lives. It's great how well both characters are developed with relatively little to go on, and it's a testament to the superb writing and animation that they both feel alive in a way that doesn't directly hinge on overbearing sentiment, which is refreshing in it's own way. Even the sidekicks are fleshed out relatively well, and Carl and Russel's interactions are great without submitting to all the associated cliches of such a relationship.

Up struck a deeper chord in me than I had expected it to, and is definitely my favorite Pixar film so far, with the Incredibles not far behind it. Up invigorates and uplifts without preaching, and Carl Fredricksen acts as the perfect vessel for this sentiment.


  1. I wrote about Coraline and its use of 3D back when that movie came out, and I was definitely sold on the concept then. To echo your sentiment on Up, I was also dismayed that it meant seeing the film's color-pallet a shade darker, but the trade-off was a very immersive use of 3D. I'm eager to see how Pixar uses it.

    But I really don't understand the point of 3D, at the end of the day. To me, there is more illusion of depth in a 2D image. 3D tends to just highlight that what you're watching is fake, and it doesn't help that most of the movie's that have used it have been awful, as they're structured around the 3D and nothing else. What was great about Coraline (and what you say about Up was that it DIDN'T distract you from the rest of the movie.

    Nice review, buddy.

  2. I agree that 3-d tends to underline the illusion rather than sell it, and I think that Up sets a good example on how to effectively execute 3-D without drawing unnecessary attention to it. In theory, an abundance of 3-D isn't a bad thing, but unfortunately, it seems like the current trend of the format replaces the power of a scene with what usually ends up feeling like a cheap visual effect. In this case, less is definitely more, although I'm hoping that future films will prove me wrong. Until I get the chance to have my eyeballs molested in Avatar, here's me holding my breath.