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Is Beowulf Our Favorite 3D Film of All Time?

By B. Alan Orange — November 11th, 2007

Beowulf is hands down the best 3-D film to every play in a contemporary theater. Robert Zemeckis has achieved something I thought impossible. He has created a world that is completely tangible and entrapping. His latest motion-capture film is almost like an out of body experience. One you have to see to believe. Don't be fooled by the conventional flat-screen trailers that fail to do this film justice. Beowulf is a relentless amusement park thrill ride that you'll want to visit again and again.

Have you experienced the new Real D or IMAX 3-D formats in motion? They create a fully immersive genre that literally lets you transpose the screen. This new 3-D technology nudges you past the edges of contemporary filmmaking, throwing you directly into the action. Most modern films utilizing this process are attempting to subvert the gimmicky elements usually associated with 3-D. Instead of objects being forced directly into your face minute upon minute (see Friday the 13th, Part 3-D), you are shuttled into thematic landscapes with a depth and clarity that even our own corporeal reality isn't able to achieve. This process is going to change the theatergoing experience completely. It is equal to the advent of Technicolor and sound. In the next ten years, you will literally be "living" your favorite films.

Some of the world's top film directors have already stated a desire to go back and repurpose their works in this format. Steven Spielberg has openly suggested that both Jaws and the Indiana Jones films would and could becoming indebted to this technological process. Who wouldn't want to feel as if they were standing in the desert with Indy, himself? Or in the mouth of Bruce the Shark? James Cameron wants to put us directly onto the deck of the Titanic. Most exciting to fans is the idea that George Lucas is going to utilize this technology in bringing the Force a whole new perspective. That's right, he is going to turn all six Star Wars films into Three-Dimensional Real D endeavors that would literally transport us directly onto the Forest Moon of Endor. We would be able to reach out and touch an Ewok. Or have a lightsaber graze our cheek. But the 3-D process wasn't always so accessible. In the beginning days, it was a fun idea that never really panned out. Basically, the images being forced out of the screen were blurry, and you could see the three reams of the image at any given moment. Not to mention, it gave everyone a splitting headache.

William Friese-Greene was the first person to ever file a patent for a 3-D movie. This was back in the 1890s. His invention required viewers to look through a stereoscope, which converged two separate images being projected from two separate reels of film. This was a laborious project that required theater patrons to line up and take turns looking through a cumbersome telescope-like mechanical device. Luckily for them, the films being shown had no real plot, as each paying costumer only got to see just a few minutes of them at a time. You can still see its architecture on beach docks and in shopping malls today. Though smaller and more maneuverable, these new viewfinders take two images and merge them together, incorporating the technology that Friese-Green invented more than a hundred years ago.

Many forms of stereoscopic projection were run through for entertainment purposes over the years. Most of them failed, providing filmgoers with migraines instead of joy. In 1915, Edwin S. Porter and William E. Waddell invented a version of 3-D called anaglyph, which bore the red and green-lensed glasses usually associated with early three-dimensional films and photographs. Then, in 1926, Edwin H. Land conceived the idea of reducing glare by polarizing light. This was transformed into a process of 3-D that laid the tracks for what we are seeing in theaters today. But the golden age of cinematic 3-D didn't happen until 1952, when Bwana Devil premiered. It was the first color stereoscopic feature to be presented to audiences. Then came the groundbreaking Vincent Price feature House of Wax, which was directed by Andre De Toth. Toth only had one eyeball, so the effects of his landmark motion picture were lost on him.

I wasn't around when the initial 3-D boom happened. I missed out on the craze, and didn't even really know too much about it until I saw an episode of Happy Days where Ritchie and Fonzie took a couple of dates to the theater for some red and green glass-wearing action. I distinctly remember a joke where Mr. Cunningham refused to go see the 3-D movie because it gave him a headache. True, I became fascinated with the idea. Not long after this subject came into my peripheral vision, the 3-D revival was upon our local retrofitted 80s multiplex. And it took over some of my favorite franchises.

I read and studied up on the 3-D process in such magazines as Starlog and Fangoria. I found out that StereoVision was gearing up to re-release both House of Wax and Dial M for Murder in their original 3-D formats. This was exciting news, and I couldn't wait to see the super fad live and in action for myself. Sadly, the weekend Dial M for Murder came out, I was dropped off at my grandma's house while the rest of my family went and saw the movie. At the time it was devastating. It didn't help matters when my brother came back and told me that it was boring. And that the 3-D sucked.

A few months later, House of Wax made it to our local theater. And I finally got to check out the 3-D craze for myself. Once seated in front of it, I understood what my brother was talking about. The 3-D effect was blurry, and made the film hard to watch. And, for a nine-year-old kid, the storyline proved to be both confusing and boring. I nearly couldn't sit still for it. That didn't stop my mind from thinking it had seen something cool. I tricked myself into wanting to see every single 3-D film that was subsequently released. It seemed like a new one was opening every month for about a year.

In the early 1980s, a total of nine original 3-D motion pictures were released. And truth be told, they all sucked. They were more concerned with dropping buckets full of pennies on the camera lens, or trying to shove a fiery hot poker right in your eye. None of them made much sense. The nine films that were released totally abandoned storytelling and any element of drama from their oeuvre. The horror franchises of the day all dived headfirst into this new technology. Amityville 3-D, Friday the 13th, Part 3-D, and Jaws 3-D all tried to end their perspective trilogies with an astounding "D". And as you know, you can't spell "thud" without the "D". These three films failed to connect with their intended audiences. A few years later, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare also tried the format, but only showcased its climactic end fight in the visual process. It, too, was a flop.

The other six 3-D films that came out in the early 80s included Comin' At Ya!, a horrible western that is, to this day, nearly unwatchable (yet whose DVD fetches a pretty penny on Ebay). Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, which gave Molly Ringwald to the world. Treasure of the Four Crowns, which was an Italian rip-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, Silent Madness, and Parasite, which starred Demi Moore. I saw all of these, and even as a kid I knew they were crap.

The notion of seeing an exciting three-dimensional film sort of petered out from there. It wasn't until Disney theme parks got in the game that the notion of a three-dimensional film became the exciting endeavor it had always purported itself up to be. George Lucas and John Landis teamed up with Michael Jackson to produce the exciting seventeen minute space adventure Captain EO. Through a series of practical special effects that engulfed the audience, Captain EO proved to be the kind of 3-D experience long promised by supporters of the genre. It was an amazing spectacle, and to this day resides as the premium three-dimensional exhibition. Nothing has been able to beat its wide scope.

Until now...

Over the past couple of years, as computer technology has advanced, the idea of a real, working 3-D film that wasn't blurry and headache inducing has been on the forefront of every auteristic director's mind. The heavyweights are constantly trying out the new tools being offered up by Real D and IMAX 3-D technologies. James Cameron has already released an astounding three-dimensional documentary film entitled Aliens of the Deep. He is currently in the process of making a fictional film entitled Avatar. Disney jumped on the bandwagon, completely reshooting its classic holiday film Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D in the Real D format. And they have made the highly successful CGI animated films Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons using Real D technology.

But Robert Zemeckis is the one visionary genius that has risen to the challenge of this new cinematic frontier. In 2004, he turned his motion capture film The Polar Express into one of the highest grossing IMAX 3-D features of all time. And then he produced the CGI classic Monster House in the same format. This Thanksgiving, he is going to transform the theatergoing experience with his feature adaptation of Beowulf, which has been made specifically for and will be release in Real D and IMAX 3-D.

The film is revolutionary in its distinct style and architecture. It takes the 3-D format and turns it into a storytelling tool. The effect never becomes gimmicky. Instead, it fully pushes you into this unique and exciting landscape tailor-made for this type of adventure. A shore of rocks goes on for miles, trailing back past the screen and extending into the walls of the beyond. The actors are so close to you; you literally become intimate with their nose hairs. It's like being trapped inside the movie. You are literally thrown into the action. Think Grendel is scary on that billboard just outside your office window? Wait until you see him on a killing spree inches away from your face. The blood drips right into your lap. You can smell the wood and fire burning inside the theater. The stench of death, and sweat, and drool is all around you. Beowulf engorges your senses.

The climax is one of the most extravagant endings ever committed to film. It involves a fight to the death between Beowulf and a golden dragon hell-bent on destroying the township that Beowulf has come to rule. It's a spectacle of wonderment that literally pushes you back into your chair and takes your breath away. There is no other way to describe it. It is hands down the most exciting scene seen in any movie this year. Any person who claims to be a film fan must see this to believe it. There has never been anything like it. Ever.

Is Beowulf Our Favorite 3-D Film of All Time?

I recently caught up with Greg Foster, Chairman & President of Filmed Entertainment and the IMAX Corporation. This is what he had to tell me about the IMAX version of Beowulf...

Greg Foster: What we've done is taken the film, and worked very closely with Robert Zemeckis and his team from The Polar Express. Which was a changing paradigm for us. That was the most successful film that we have converted into 3-D. We are doing the same thing with Beowulf. The entire film is in IMAX 3-D. About ten minute of the movie has been specifically enhanced above and beyond the 3-D, specifically for IMAX. It comes out in all of our theaters that play Hollywood films. Not all of the IMAX theaters play Hollywood films. For instance, the Grand Canyon IMAX theater only plays the Grand Canyon IMAX film. All of our commercial theaters will be playing this movie. We think we've hit it out of the park. We have a great relationship with Zemeckis, his group, and Paramount. He is an imaginary filmmaker. This is a film that was designed to take advantage of the IMAX 3-D experience. It is based on the literary work Beowulf, which is really great for our IMAX customers. Because of the educational element. We think it's going to be a huge success.

How has the IMAX technology changed over the years?

Greg Foster: It is much more efficient. It takes us less time to do it, and the quality of the 3-D is much stronger. So you are able to experience the 3-D on the entire screen, instead of just one specific area. In the old days, you'd have a 3-D movie, back in the 50s, and the spear of the African warrior would have to come literally in the middle of the screen. That was the only way for it to be in 3-D. That's not the case with IMAX. As more people sample, and realize that our 3-D is the best 3-D in the world, we will build our customer base. It is working. We have had incredible success with 3-D over the course of the last year. Including Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The last five minutes of that movie were in 3-D. We have a lot of 3-D things coming up in the future. It is a good time to be at IMAX.

And he is right. In no short order, here are my favorite 3-D films of all time:

10) Parasite!

9) Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone!

8) Jaws 3-D

7) House of Wax!

6) Muppet-Vision 3-D

5) Friday the 13th, Part 3!

4) Monster House!

3) Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D!

2) Captain EO!

1) Beowulf!

Be a part of the phenomenon. Go see Beowulf when it opens November 16th, 2007 in IMAX or Real D 3-D. There is absolutely no other way to experience the excitement and the adventure. Live the film. Be the movie.