We've had a good run for 3D films lately, with Tangled using it to enhance the storybook feel, Megamind taking advantage of it for its nonstop action scenes, and Jackass 3D giving you the chance to feel like Steve-O really was vomiting on you. But with The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader hitting theaters in 3D this weekend, it's the first post-converted live-action 3D film to come out since The Last Airbender, not to mention the first since Warner Bros. opted not to convert Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 because they didn't feel they could do it justice. There's a sense that the tide is turning on post-conversion 3D, and Narnia could be just another in the long line of 3D films to perform more poorly than the ones before it..
Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the first Narnia film to be released in 3D, and given all its CGI creatures and fantastical adventures, it seems like a pretty good fit for the technology. But director Michael Apted didn't shoot the film knowing it would be converted after the fact, which is never a good sign. So did the 3D gamble on Dawn Treader pay off and make it worth your ticket price? Find out below in our To 3D or Not To 3D: Voyage of the Dawn Treader edition.
Does It Fit?
In theory, yes. Voyage of the Dawn Treader is crammed with the kind of CGI creatures that usually do well in 3D, from the giant flying dragon that cousin Eustace is transformed into to the talking mouse Reepicheep to the sea serpent everyone must fight in the final battle. But none of these CGI effects were created with 3D in mind, which means that they look perfectly good, but don't make much of an effort to pop up out the screen. Plus there are still a bunch of human characters in this, and to them the same old rule applies-- actual human beings don't look that great in 3D.
3D Fit Score: 2/5
Advance Planning And Effort
Voyage of the Dawn Treader wrapped production about a year ago, and as director Michael Apted told me, they were never planning for the 3D during the shoot. In fact the word of the film being in 3D only hit in March, well after post-production had started. To Fox's credit they began the conversion process a full 8 months before the film hit theaters, far more time than The Last Airbender and Clash of the Titans, and the effort avoids any real disasters. But the after-the-fact decision still reveals that Voyage of the Dawn Treader would be a perfectly good movie with no 3D at all.
Planning And Effort Score: 2/5
Beyond The Window
For this category think of the screen like a window; if 3D does well you feel like you're looking through a real window with depth, and not just a flat picture version of it. There's a lot of detail to behold in the world of Dawn Treader, from fantastical creatures crowding the decks of the ship to the creepy movement of the malevolent green mist that makes up the film's idea of a villain. Unfortunately none of those details particularly pop with the 3D, which makes the characters in the foreground look like one-dimensional pop-outs but does basically nothing to add depth otherwise. It's the continuous problem of post-conversion 3D efforts on live-action films, which try to create various layers of depth in the scene but somehow make everything but what's right in front of the camera seem even flatter than before.
Beyond The Window Score: 1/5
Before The Window
So while we're thinking of the movie screen as a window, imagine the more gimmicky 3D efforts-- the ones where things fly at you from the screen or pop out artificially-- as the ones that really work with the space before the window. Dawn Treader never even comes close to it, since effects like that require planning during the actual shoot. It probably would have been too gimmicky for a Narnia story anyway, since those films are usually more polished, but it also would have been a better use of the technology than what we see here.
Before The Window Score: 1/5
A lot of live-action 3D films run into trouble on the brightness issue, since 3D glasses dim what you see on the screen and they don't have bright enough colors to make up for it. Dawn Treader, whether because it was made for children or because it largely takes place on a boat out in bright sunlight, doesn't have this problem; the film's events are clear and well-lit, even near the end of the film when they move toward the dark island that's home to the villainous mist and fight a big black sea serpent. I'm not sure if they tweaked the light levels after the fact or what, but the brightness is another indicator that they did the post-conversion with some real thought about how to make it better.
Brightness Score: 4/5
Because the 3D in Dawn Treader barely adds anything, it also doesn't add that element of nausea you get when things move around on different planes too quickly, or the cutting moves so swiftly your eyes never have a chance to catch up. There's no real risk of illness with this movie-- you could probably even watch it with the glasses off with no actual difference. No, that's not really a good thing.
Health Score 5/5
The Glasses Off Test
If you've ever taken your glasses off during a 3D movie you will notice that some things in the frame look blurrier than the others, and when you put the glasses back on, those are the things that are "more 3D," for lack of a better term. The amount of blurriness indicates how far those things are popping off the screen, and the more things that are blurry, the more likely it is that there's a lot of depth to what you're seeing. I watched large sections of Dawn Treader with my glasses off, and aside from a little blurriness around the edges I swear I noticed no difference. The actors and the background were basically crystal clear, with maybe one element of the frame slightly blurred to be pushed further forward or back. The blurriness is more noticeable in the action scenes, but the glasses test is the final proof to know that, while Narnia doesn't look actively bad in 3D, it doesn't do much with the technology either.
Glasses Off Score: 1/5
Planning and Effort
Beyond The Window
Before The Window
The Glasses Off Test
16 (out of a possible 35)
Final Verdict: Yes that's a pretty dismal score, and even though Voyage of the Dawn Treader won't burn out your eyes or make you nauseous to view it in 3D, it's certainly not worth the inflated ticket price or even the inconvenience of putting the glasses on. Unfortunately you may not have much of a choice in the matter-- the 3D trend is going strong enough, especially after Tangled and Megamind used the technology so well, that movie theaters are going to assume you will pay the 3D prices no matter what. I wouldn't tell you to run out and see Dawn Treader anyway-- you can read my review for more on that-- but if you have to, try and find a theater playing it in just 2D. You'll get exactly the same enjoyment out of it and the satisfaction that you didn't pay extra for an effect that's barely there anyway.
For more 3D analysis, visit our To 3D Or Not To 3D archive right here.