Roger Ebert, who recently took on some controversy when he said that video games could not be art, has kicked it up a notch with a piece in Newsweek called “Why I Hate 3D (And You Should Too).”
3-D is a waste of a perfectly good dimension. Hollywood’s current crazy stampede toward it is suicidal. It adds nothing essential to the moviegoing experience. For some, it is an annoying distraction. For others, it creates nausea and headaches. It is driven largely to sell expensive projection equipment and add a $5 to $7.50 surcharge on already expensive movie tickets. Its image is noticeably darker than standard 2-D. It is unsuitable for grown-up films of any seriousness. It limits the freedom of directors to make films as they choose. For moviegoers in the PG-13 and R ranges, it only rarely provides an experience worth paying a premium for.
It isn’t that he can’t enjoy 3D effects in the movies that most benefit from them. But he says it adds little to the best movies and can be a distraction and even deteriorate the picture by dimming it in the kinds of movies that can be enhanced with immersive effects. And he says the push for 3D is driven by commerce (selling new technology to theaters as well as to audiences) more than art.
What interests me most about Ebert’s critique is his endorsement of a better enhanced technology that he believes does enrich the movie-goer’s experience.
What Hollywood needs is a “premium” experience that is obviously, dramatically better than anything at home, suitable for films aimed at all ages, and worth a surcharge. For years I’ve been praising a process invented by Dean Goodhill called MaxiVision48, which uses existing film technology but shoots at 48 frames per second and provides smooth projection that is absolutely jiggle-free. Modern film is projected at 24 frames per second (fps) because that is the lowest speed that would carry analog sound in the first days of the talkies. Analog sound has largely been replaced by digital sound. MaxiVision48 projects at 48fps, which doubles image quality. The result is dramatically better than existing 2-D. In terms of standard measurements used in the industry, it’s 400 percent better. That is not a misprint. Those who haven’t seen it have no idea how good it is. I’ve seen it, and also a system of some years ago, Douglas Trumbull’s Showscan. These systems are so good that the screen functions like a window into three dimensions. If moviegoers could see it, they would simply forget about 3-D.
Take a look:
In 1967, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero co-starred in the movie musical “Camelot,” the Lerner and Lowe version of the story of King Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot. Off-camera, Redgrave and Nero fell in love and they had a child, director Carlo Nero. They parted and then got back together more than 30 years later. This week, they co-star again — as long-parted lovers — in “Letters to Juliet.” So, let’s take a look at the two of them on-screen in “Camelot,” singing about how much they love each other.
Jackie Chan, the most graceful and acrobatic of men when it comes to action scenes, is also one of the most clumsy when it comes to dialogue. So it is clever to cast him as a man who is awkward and unsure of himself in any situation that doesn’t involve his unique combination of tumbling, gymnastics, martial arts, and defying gravity.
In “The Spy Next Door,” he plays Bob Ho, a Chinese agent on loan to the CIA, investigating a Russian bad guy named Poldark (Icelandic star MagnÃºs Scheving). With Poldark captured, Bob has another target in mind, his beautiful next-door neighbor Gillian (Amber Valletta). They have been dating for three months, and he would like to marry her. But there are three problems — her children. Oh, and he has not told Gillian what he does for a living. She thinks he has a nice boring job selling pens.
Gillian has to go away to care for her father just as Poldark escapes. And Bob has to take care of the kids and stop the bad guy. At any given moment, it is hard to say which is the more challenging, or more dangerous. As someone says in the movie, “Spying is easy; parenting is hard.”
Yes, it’s silly, but it is the kind of entertaining silliness that is aimed squarely at eight-year-olds who are old enough to enjoy the action and young enough to think an adult saying “poop” is funny. Chan is a long way from his best years as an action star, briefly glimpsed in the opening credits to depict his character’s career as a spy. But he can still dazzle with stunts that are part ballet, part juggling, and part magic. It is fun to see him flip a folding chair with his foot, making perfection look easy, but it is just as much fun to see him in the traditional closing credit-sequence outtakes, showing us that it is even harder than we guessed. Kids, don’t try this at home.
The film does a good job of keeping things light on the good guys vs. bad guys part of the story, with bad guy Poldark repeatedly confounded by being forced to wear clothes that do not meet his standards of elegance and fashion. He and his partner are more silly than scary, clearly inspired by Boris and Natasha with their thick Cold War accents, wacky schemes, and pratfalls. As Bob has to find a way to win the hearts of each of the kids the movie finds some unexpected sweetness and even a quiet moment or two amid the mayhem. The very appealing Madeline Carroll (“Swing Vote”) plays Gillian’s step-daughter who is still hoping that her father will come back. She does a particularly nice job as the sulky teenager who does not want to admit even to herself how much she depends on Gillian. She is such a natural that she even makes Chan seem to relax when the two of them sit companionably on the roof together.
Kids will relate to the parallels between espionage and parenting, especially when Bob has to find a four-year-old in a princess costume in a mall filled with girls in shiny pink dresses and when he uses his spy gear to spot contraband like snacks being taken upstairs. And the movie wisely shows Bob refusing to use his skills to take on the bullies who are preying on Gillian’s son, encouraging him to deal with them himself. It may not be especially fresh — there is a lot of the “Mr. Nanny” and “The Pacifier” in the concept. And I did not care for the inappropriate “pick-up” line Gillian’s son (Will Shadley) tries out on a middle school girl (at least he learns quickly that it was a mistake). But Chan in action is still magic. Valletta brings warmth and good humor to the role of the mother who has to be something of a super-spy to stay on top of three children. Carroll continues to show promise as an actress and has a very natural screen presence. And the movie has some nicely reassuring thoughts about blended families. The intended audience will enjoy the action and humor and families might even find something in it to discuss on the way home.
Many of us have danced to Hava Nagilah. But how many of us know where it comes from? Here is a charming excerpt from a forthcoming documentary (featuring the co-creator of “Friends,” Harry Belafonte, and Leonard Nimoy!) that has the story.
Thanks to my mom for sharing this with me!