The Phantom Menace 3D: Did it Look Good?

February 10, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Posted in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. The Phantom Menace 3D is the only post-processed 3D film worth seeing.

Before we dive in any further, it’s important to talk about what those three words mean: post-processed 3D. From a simplistic view, there are really only two ways to create a 3D film. One method is to shoot natively in the format. The best example of this would be James Cameron’s Avatar, a film that was shot with custom-designed cameras that sport two lenses recording simultaneously. This allows the filmmaker to shoot in 3D right at that moment by having one lens film at one depth and the second lens film at a different depth, naturally creating the effect of looking into the distance rather than looking at a series of flat images on a screen.

The second method is what’s called post-processed 3D, the method used with every other 3D movie you’ve seen since 2009. There’s a reason critics and filmgoers possess a certain amount of hate for movies edited in this manner. Often it’s a cheap gimmick used to make a few extra dollars, one that usually looks terrible. Characters look as if they’d been flattened by a steamroller and then dropped onto the background, blatant fourth-wall violations, odd strobing.

Post-processed 3D is usually regarded in a lesser light than natively shot 3D for a pretty good reason. Native produces better films, post-process produces significantly more garbage and dreck. Avatar is the golden standard of 3D movies because it was designed, shot for shot, from the beginning to be 3D. Just about every post-processed film wasn’t, and it clearly shows when you show up in the theater to watch it. The question now is this: can Industrial Light and Magic avoid the pitfalls these other films fell headfirst into?



Phantom Menace 3D takes from the book of James Cameron and lives by one key principal: subtlety is king. There are no moments where an explosion breaks viewer immersion by sending shrapnel through the screen. Characters don’t look flat against the background. Rarely are there moments where the 3D effects jar you out of the watching experience. To sum it up, the conversion adds an interesting and often rather pretty layer to the film without completely overwhelming it.

That said, there are some issues with the conversion. These problems aren’t deal-breakers, however, and are things that someone will probably miss unless they’re looking for it. Be forewarned, everything from this point on is nitpicky. This does not mean that I hated the movie.*

*Please read that sentence again before continuing on. Done? Good.

One issue that Industrial Light and Magic couldn’t quite fix is an issue with motion blur in certain spots. It actually took me a bit of time to figure out why I was getting these seemingly random moments where I’d get a touch disoriented while watching the movie.* For the most part, the cameras in a Star Wars film are static. The issue comes in the few times where the camera has to pan during the shot. It isn’t a problem with slower pans, but quicker movements looked a bit less smooth than the film’s 2D counterpart and can be momentarily jarring. Thankfully this is really only a minor quibble and doesn’t present itself that often.

*And no, I’m not prone to motion sickness so we’ll vent that argument out of the airlock. I can count on one hand every instance where I’ve been motion sick, and they all occurred on fishing boats in choppy seas.

Another problem I think is one that might raise some red flags moving forward. As I’ve said, the 3D effect looks good for the most part. Characters avoid the dreaded Cardboard Cutout effect that plagues every post-processed 3D film, the moment where it looks like two elements have been crudely dropped on top of each other in Photoshop. That rarely happens in TPM3D, which is nothing short of a small miracle that should earn the folks at ILM boatloads of praise. That said, there were a handful of instances where the characters and the backgrounds didn’t quite seem to mesh correctly. Looking back on my drive home, I figured out that these instances all had one thing in common:

They were happening in physical environments and not digital green-screen environments.

Intuitively, that makes sense. It’s going to be a whole lot easier for the effects people to manipulate those digital backgrounds in post-process than it will be to edit those physical location shots. My first thought after making this connection was that this could spell some trouble for the original trilogy conversion. There’s far less green screen there. Far, far more physical, on-location shoots. The good news is that Industrial Light and Magic are going to have two more years of practice before getting to that point, and that could be all they need to iron out the few kinks I saw in Phantom Menace 3D.

James Cameron and the dual-lens camera used to shoot Avatar in native 3D

It’s inevitable, and I’ve already done it indirectly at the top. How does this movie stack up with the rest of the 3D playing field? Long story short, it falls short of what James Cameron’s Avatar accomplished. It simply doesn’t look as good and has a few more rough ends, but that is to be expected. Avatar was designed from the ground-up to be a 3D film, Phantom Menace wasn’t. There was no realistic way that ILM could take that original film and give it the same depth-of-field magic as Cameron’s blockbuster. At this point, it simply cannot be done unless it was shot natively with cameras designed to provide that.

That said, Phantom Menace 3D is the single greatest post-processed 3D film that has graced the silver screen. While it isn’t quite on Avatar’s level, it blew past even my most lofty expectations from a visual and effects perspective. It successfully avoided the usual traps that these movies run into; adding an interesting element to the film that took great care not to become the element a viewer pays attention to. There isn’t another movie out there that has succeeded like this one has.

Take a bow, folks at Lucasfilm and Industrial Light and Magic. You pulled off the impossible and made a post-processed film look good.

Posted by Lane for Roqoo Depot

1 Comment »

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  1. 3D Movies are the best since they add more depth and dramatic effect to the movie. ”

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