April 13, 2010

Happy Feet's 3-D to 2-D Tap Dance!


To: Holiday Movie Fans

From: Wendy McHale

If you're like me, when you take your family out to the movies and spend upwards of $50.00 or more for tickets, bottled water and Twizzlers (in a jam-packed opening weekend theater), you expect to see the same razzle-dazzle you experienced when you saw the coming attractions, right?

Sitting with Kurt recently over a cup of coffee and discussing our take on WB's "Happy Feet," I learned from him that the picture's Coming Attraction in Manhattan's Lincoln Center IMAX theater was in 3-D. But the movie hasn't been released that way--the advertising and indeed the theater's marquee post it as "IMAX 2-D." The 3-D version seems to have been scrapped.


There's a pattern emerging here. WB's "Superman Returns" (referred to in his review below) was partially shown in 3-D and partially in 2-D. Viewers were given 3-D glasses but were given visual directions in onscreen subtitles when to put them on and when to remove them, at the start and finish of certain scenes projected in 3-D. He estimates about 30 minutes of the total running time of "Superman Returns" was in the depth process. Again, the full 3-D version was abandoned--i.e., never finished--even in its limited, higher-priced engagements.


He pointed out that WB's "The Polar Express," the animated Christmas tale with Tom Hanks, adapted from Chris van Allsberg's children's story, and "Spy Kids 3-D" with Antonio Bandaras, seems to be the only contemporary feature films to have received full (and brief) releases in 3-D.

After thinking about it, I realized there was a big difference in those films versus this one. With "Polar" the 3-D experience was so powerful we felt we had to hold on to our seats for dear life!


"It's quite interesting to note that all four films were made with 3-D's signature touch of pitching things at the viewer that s/he ducks from, just like in the 1950's 3-D era of 'House of Wax'." notes Kurt. "Dozens of trains, weapons, buzzards--anything the screenwriters could think of--get hurled at the viewer. When you see a movie obviously made for 3-D viewing not shown that way, the effect is peculiar and has no excitement."


He's right! I found therefore it symptomatic of what is yet to come when on the way home from the theater, our 9-year old pointed out the 3-D and 2-D bait and switch! It seems nothing escapes the eyes of the next generation of movie goers (and movie makers.) If watching 'Happy Feet' has such flat feet, our little one told us that's because it IS flat!

Hey WB, see if -isney, will let you borrow their D to fix your 3-D-isappearance act!


Happy Feet.

By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor.

Just before the "Superman" movie started on the big IMAX 3-D screen in Lincoln Center in Manhattan some months ago, the AMC theater showed a two-minute 3-D preview of "Happy Feet." It was the little animated penguin Mumble, tap-dancing his heart and soul across an iceberg to the kind of old swing band number that Fred Astaire used to tap to. The little furry fellow couldn't stop smiling and tapping away, and the brilliant choreographer Savion Glover had worked out Mumble's intricate steps, and the whole packed theater was on its feet, whistling and clapping and hooting its approval at those dynamic dancin' feet. That two-minute preview got a bigger audience response and more universal approval than anything in the "Superman" movie.


And so you might expect that George Miller, an extremely uneven director whose career has extended from the darkly violent "Mad Max" series to the second Babe movie (the darkly sentimental "Pig In the City"), had seen the light. Well, old habits die hard, as any 5-year-old sitting through the wildly unpredictable and at times hugely unsettling "Happy Feet" will doubtless tell you. Assuming s/he makes it through the whole movie.


When Mumble and his computer-generated pals are tapping away, which is maybe five or six minutes worth of footage, "Happy Feet" has that same, spontaneous joy of the preview. The movie is really about the perils of being a penguin. If you've seen the wonderful documentary "March of the Penguins," you know all about their hard times, their incredible loyalty to their mates, their long treks through the worse winter blizzards on the planet to forage food and haul it back to their families, and so on.


"Happy Feet" is the CGI version, and it's full of Penguin Traps--from marauding hawks, from gallumping sea lions, from killer porpoises, from ships and tankers and news reporters and even kids in zoos. Miller starts dragging in all these violent and threatening influences very quickly in the movie, because he may have reasoned that when you've seen one penguin--dancing or not--you've seen them all. And when you've seen 50,000 of them in computerized layers stretching as far as the eye can see, you need a hungry sea lion or bad-eyed buzzard just to keep your restless audience in its seats.


"Happy Feet" is an impressive technical accomplishment, but it's rarely a satisfying movie. Like some older Disney titles, it's powered by chases up and down ice floes, hair-breath underwater escapes, and ominous rumblings about disturbances in the natural food chain--Miller piles on the plights higher and deeper. The music score isn't especially vigorous or charming or inventive, and the key voiceovers by Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman and even Elijah Wood (doing Mumble) are pedestrian.

So was the two-minute clip before "Superman" misleading advertising? No. It was smart advertising. Unlike most two minute previews that show you the whole movie in microcosm, "Happy Feet" wisely chose the two minutes that best reflected the picture's goodness, and wisely ignored the rest of the movie. Wise parents may want to do the same.


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