After months of commercials and AMC First Look features, Dolphin Tale has finally arrived in theaters. Ordinarily, when a 3D movie debuts, theatergoers have a hard time tracking down 2D showings, but with this latest underdog sea creature story, a lack of options does not seem to be the problem. In many cities, studio executives have decided to run the film as often in two dimensions as three. What exactly that means is unclear.
A cynic would likely say all the 2D showings are a product of producers not being overly confident in the special effects, but others might just as easily argue the decision is a response to sagging 3D ticket sales in a slumping economy. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but since your decision has actual ramifications for your wallet, let’s break the debate down. Here’s an informed look at how Dolphin Tale’s 3D measures up…
Does It Fit?
The sea is a strange and busy place. It’s like the Taste of Chicago with more color and less Graham Elliot Bowles. The hustle and bustle of it all uniquely lends itself to 3D, and Dolphin Tale capitalizes on that comfort zone with a wonderful introduction that swims with the fishes and snakes its way around the wonders of the ocean. Unfortunately, the rest of the film moves to a marine hospital that’s decidedly less interesting and vibrant. There’s little purpose for human conversations to take place in 3D, and beyond occasionally splashing water into the faces of viewers, there’s little else to do in solitary tanks of water.
Fit Score: 2/5
Planning & Effort
There are only a handful of scenes in Dolphin Tale that seem to have been written with 3D in mind. Apart from the lovely introduction, there’s an extended bit with a flying helicopter and a few takes of dolphins thrusting themselves out of the water. A few camera shots taken from behind objects give the allusion of depth, but since this standard trick isn’t applied consistently, these angles come off as unusual asides rather than a coherent visual style. As an armchair director, I marveled at several moments that didn’t employ 3D that could just as easily have been converted. Added all together, it comes off as hastily put together, inconsistent and largely pointless.
P&E Score: 1.5/5
Beyond the Window
At this point, 3D is good for only two things: adding depth and making objects jut out into the audience. Beyond the window refers the depth aspect. At times, Dolphin Tale does use its scenery to layer the audience’s view, but for long stretches, there’s just not enough going on with the landscape to make it effective. The film is filled with lots of one-on-one conversations, and all Dolphin Tale really does is make one character look slightly closer to the audience than the others. It’s a neat trick the first time you see it, but too many 3D movies have been made for the novelty to still be impressive.
Beyond the Window Score: 1.5/5
Before the Window
As for the other part of the window, Dolphin Tale is actually even worse. The aforementioned helicopter does fly into view, as well as a few dolphins propelling themselves forward, but mostly, the film makes almost no effort to engage the audience with aggressive displays of 3D. Because of its subject matter, Dolphin Tale features more than its share of splashing water, but frequently that displaced liquid doesn’t even propel toward the viewer. I wasn’t keeping count, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were multiple ten-to-fifteen minute stretches with nothing at all before the window.
Before the Window Score: 1/5
Thanks to its largely absent 3D graphics, Dolphin Tale is a whole lot brighter than anything I’ve previously seen utilize the format. The sea looks very blue, and the people look very crisp. I honestly can’t imagine much alteration in vibrancy at all if I had seen the film in 2D. That definitely says more about the overall lack of usage than any new technological advancement Dolphin Tale achieved, but I’m certainly not going to complain about the positives.
Brightness Score: 5/5
The Glasses Off Test
Typically, if you take your glasses off during a 3D movie and can’t coherently make out what’s going on, that’s a good thing. It means the quality of the effects is better. Not surprisingly, I took my glasses off multiple times during the film, and the picture was ninety percent as clear as it would have been in a 2D showing. Once or twice, I even frantically removed them during a bit that was clearly in three dimensions and I could still tell exactly what was happening. Had I not been shipped off to the theater to write this column, I may have even considered just putting the glasses away for the remainder of the film.
Glasses Off Test: 1/5
Another area where Dolphin Tale scores points based largely on its incompetence. For some viewers, 3D films are a nightmare. Rather than fast-paced excitement, they offer only headaches and upset stomachs. Most researches seem to think these unintended side effects are caused by busy films not offering viewers a clear focal point, but that’s certainly not an issue here. Even the most squeamish of theatergoers should experience no consequences from seeing Dolphin Tale in 3D. The effects are inconsistently utilized and when they do make an appearance, regularity is frequently restored within seconds. The whole thing is like wearing sunglasses for two hours.
Health Score: 5/5
Final Verdict: Dolphin Tale scores a pathetic 17 on the To 3D Or Not 3D analysis, and 10 of those points come from the positives of not really having much 3D. Apart from its introductory scene that is decidedly above average, the film neither benefits from nor frequently utilizes its 3D technology. It’s really no wonder executives screened the movie for some members of the press in 2D and have been offering plenty of showings sans the special effects. Save your money. Go with the 2D.
For more 3D analysis, visit our To 3D Or Not To 3D archive right here.