Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thor in 3-d (lowercase)

I was an avid comic book reader and collector throughout high school, and one of my favorites was Marvel's The Mighty Thor. At one point I had a nearly complete run of the series. I think what I liked best was the epic quality of the stories—which tended to be an amalgam of science fiction, mythology and fantasy, with occasional connections to the "Marvel Universe" in which dwelt other heroes, like Spider-Man and the Hulk. Even the language, a cheesy faux-Shakespeare pastiche of dosts and thous and verilys, was fun. So, how could I resist going to see the new Thor movie and watch the long-tressed one swing his Uru Hammer in the multiplex
. . . in 3-D, no less?

Movies can convey epic scale effectively, as did Lawrence of Arabia , and grand, sweeping vistas of destruction and chaos have become expected parts of CGI battle scenes in movies such as The Lord of the Rings. The cinematic Thor contains its share. But watching it through my 3-D glasses was a strange experience. Rather than immersing me in the spectacle, and expanding the scale of the show, the 3-D effects shrank and contained it. It was like watching Thor in a puppet theatre, or . . . (more to the point) . . . reading it in a comic book. At one point, for instance, during a grand battle scene the camera blasts through a crumbling wall to reveal a vast hall containing an army of warriors. The moment should have been spectacular. Instead, it was as if the camera had taken the top off an anthill and revealed all the tiny creatures scurrying around.

Roger Ebert has written at length about how much he dislikes 3-D movies, His points are hard to argue with: it darkens the movie, the effects are often distracting, and too often they are not used in service of the story. The only other 3-D movie that I've seen recently, James Cameron's Avatar, seemed to use the process more effectively: I did get a feeling of depth and beauty from that film that seemed connected to the 3-D format. Thor is one of those movies that was filmed in 2-D and then converted, using a digital process, to 3-D for the screen. (Perhaps I'll go back and see Thor in 2-D, and see whether it seems more epic in its scope and imagination.)

But, strangely enough, watching Thor in 3-D brought me back powerfully to my days as a teenage comic-book collector. By shrinking the scope of the film, and, in effect, putting it back in the comic book frame in which I first encountered the characters and stories, the effect was more true to the original—more so than a full-scale movie epic, where vast expanses and teeming masses of characters fill the wide screen in a way that the eye can't process, overwhelming the senses. If I'd seen it in two dimensions, I'd probably have just found it to be an overly grandiose rendering of a comic book story that doesn't really stand up as a story for grown-ups. Instead, it took me back to a time when I didn't expect that of books I read.

Seeing Thor in 3-D made it more two-dimensional. I feel sure that wasn't what the filmmaker intended, but I kind of liked it.

No comments: