HOLLYWOOD - In an odd confluence of big summer movie publicity and 3D technology proselytising, Paramount Studios gathered a theater full of journalists, film students, and I would assume DPs and industry folk to watch a few minutes of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" and to hear Michael Bay and James Cameron talk about 3D and all it entails. The evening was called "3D: A Transforming Visual Art" (See what they did there?)
The evening began awkwardly with a quick video of Michael Bay accepting his Vanguard award at ShoWest, (the theater owners convention) in 2009 saying that it wasn't necessary for filmmakers to jump to 3D en masse immediately because it "might be a gimmick, might not." The irony did not seem lost on Bay that three years after discouraging theater owners from buying 3D projectors for their cinemas, here he was with a 3D picture of his own.
The conversation that ensued between Bay and Cameron was pretty entertaining because they both have… how to put it politely? Strong personalities. Although mostly cordial, Bay repeatedly spoke about being "old school" and of his reservations about shooting in the format, "They said James had a camera that could be easily used handheld, then I found out you (Cameron) broke your back" to which Cameron replied cooly "That's not true." (To make a long and technical story short, the cameras had grown in size since Avatar, which Cameron did shoot mostly handheld.)
Michael Bay is known as a very fast-working director and it was obvious that the technical hiccups of a new technology had been frustrating. "When you're on location in Chicago, surrounded by burning cars and there's a whole team of technicians around your camera with scalpels… and your DP is kicking chairs over, that was 3D." Cameron would mostly nod or grimace at things like this, but for the most part explained the issues and defended the format. He spoke of the 3D element as similar to a musical score, "You can turn it up when you want it for effect and fade it back down when you want less of it."
When Bay said that shooting 3D had added eight days to the schedule and thirty million plus dollars to the budget, Cameron smiled and spoke to the increase 3D would bring in the box office, "I can guarantee on a film like this it'll be more than thirty million."
Technical issues aside, Bay did admit to enjoy working in 3D, "I've always liked all my shots to have a foreground, mid and background and this really lets you play with that… I had a wonderful time doing 3D."
So after all that jibberjabber, we donned our 3D glasses and watched the footage. It began with the first few minutes of the film, some awesome although mostly CG shots of Cybertron and a spaceship crash landing on the Moon in the 60's. (In case you weren't aware, this is what caused Kennedy to launch the Apollo program and give his "Moon" speech, oh yes, He's in the movie too.) This was followed by an action montage of extended clips, many of which have already been glimpsed in the trailer (embedded below) A new 3D trailer with additional footage will premiere this weekend before "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."
Michael Bay likes to do things big, and I'm happy to report that he uses 3D in a big way. Whereas I think a lot of directors may hold themselves back with 3D because they don't want it to be "gimmicky," there is no such concern here. The idea is spectacle for spectacle's sake and visually he's succeeded. He even has things stick OUT of the screen to an extreme degree, and it's hilarious and involves Ken Jeong, and it works. There was also an amazing shot of Bumblebee and Shia LaBeouf flying through the air in slo-mo that left the audience gasping.
Sadly the only portion I thought did not work was a practical shot taken by a man in a wing suit as he soared down through the skyscrapers of chicago. You could tell it was a real shot because it was so shaky, and shaky and 3D just don't play well together, no matter how impressive a physical stunt as flying throughout the skyscrapers of Chicago in a wing suit might be. (trivia: It's actually these guys)
I cannot vouch for the story nor the acting in 'Dark of the Moon,' but I can definitely say it's got some truly visually arresting imagery in it and it's some of the most aggressive use of perspective and 3D I've seen in a while. I'm in, if only too look at it, I might take earplugs.
After the screening the footage and the new trailer, Bay and Cameron came back on stage for questions. Cameron was asked what was the "best part" of working with 3D in his opinion. He said "The applause of audiences after they see stuff like what we just saw." (the audience had obviously just applauded) When bay was asked the same question he smiled and said "You can't beat a line like that"
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" opens in theaters July 1.
Alex Dorn is not Drew McWeeny, but he is on twitter
UPDATED: video of the event embedded above, what do you think of what they said?