I've seen the premiere screening of the new restored version of Ferdinando Baldi's 3D western classic yesterday at the Berlinale. The film is notorious for launching the 3D revival in the early 80's but mostly disappeared from public movie consciousness with the classic 3D format almost 30 years ago. Thanks to the current 3D craze it is now finally comin' at ya again. And what a fun movie! I must say, I've never seen the original version. That was way before my time, so I can't tell how the classic 3D techniques worked out on that one, or, what actually got changed, but the new digital 3D restoration is absolutely brilliant! Even if the new version may enhance the smoothness of the 3D projection, you still have to keep in mind that the 3D effects itself were conceived and shot like this 30 years ago. Though we may now have new projection techniques, the movie is still an old one. But it is great fun to see how much inventiveness the filmmakers put in the stereoscopic possibilities of filmmaking at their time.
Unlike present 3D movies the 3D here is totally over the top and in your face. Baldi and Anthony used any possibilities they could think of to throw things at the camera, whether it made any sense in the story or not. It's 3D for the sake of 3D. The story is really just an excuse for having things moving right at the camera. "Comin' At Ya!" is as true to its title as you can possibly think of.
Obviously very often the 3D is just to much. You have things moving so close to the camera that neither the camera nor you can still focus on them and may hurt your eyes if you try. But still the effect is very impressive, mostly because it's just there for the effect - a quality (if I may say so) that contemporary 3D movies completely lack. If you watch "Tron" or a Pixar movie in 3D or 2D, it's not much difference actually. A little more space here and there, but that's it. "Coming At Ya!" will only work in 3D. There's simply no other reason to watch this film. And that's what makes it so much fun.
I won't repeat everything that the movie has coming at ya. Check the other reviews if you are curious. I just want to focus on some other aspects of the 3D in this movie that need some attention because Baldi and Anthony used some really neat tricks that modern 3D filmmakers could actually still learn from.
One is the enhanced slowness of the film. Modern cinema is very speed intense - fast movements, fast camera, fast cutting. And speed doesn't go well with 3D. The eye can't follow and you easily get a headache. That's why contemporary 3D filmmakers pull the camera back a little in action scenes. They don't want to lose the speed, but they sacrifice a lot of 3D for that. "Comin' At Ya!" does the complete opposite. There's a lot of slow motion and very slow camera pans in the film that totally enhance the impact of the 3D experience. Watch out for the extremely beautiful slow camera movements, usually close to the ground to give even more depth, making the lovely western sets so plastic even "Avatar" can't compare.
Slowness is essential to 3D, and we will probably (and hopefully) see a lot more of that in coming 3D productions. The ultra-kinetic fastness of contemporary blockbuster cinema is really not the right way to shoot in 3D. Having less to tell, like the almost non-existent plot in "Comin' At Ya!", obviously makes it a lot easier to take your time to immerse yourself in the 3D experience, what simply isn't possible with the totally over-scripted and over-dramatized Hollywood movies of today. Rarely I've seen a film that takes so much scenes an dialogue to tell so little story as "Tron Legacy". Or think of the endless talk-talk-talk in 3D animations like "Megaminds" and the Pixar stuff. I wish characters in modern Hollywood cinema, especially in the 3D films, could just shut up for a couple of minutes to let you experience. There is no dialogue in the first 15 minutes of "Coming At Ya!", and even later on you will mostly have weird sound effects, screaming and the beautiful music to accompany you while watching.
Films need to strip down their stories, take their time to really indulge into the 3D environment (which from the modern 3D films only "Avatar" mostly succeeded at) and, most of all, get a little more obvious on the 3D spectacle. Why would you want to watch a 3D movie if not for the 3D? Of course, "Comin' At Ya!" is more of a phantom ride than a consistent movie. It has more in common with the first movie experiences around 1900 when you went to a movie for the spectacle and not for the story (which often simply didn't exist), than with modern storytelling-cinema. But it's so lively, so vivid and so entertaining through its use of the 3D effects - sometimes blatantly over the top, sometimes just unbelievably beautiful composed - that it's just pure fun to watch.
I hope we will see more restored versions of classic 3D movies from the 50's to the 80's. "Comin' At Ya!" proves there is a lot to discover!
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