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By now you know that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is not your average 3D movie-- or at least, that's what Michael Bay wants you to think. After famously calling the technology "a gimmick" Bay came around to the other side to shoot the third Transformers movie, using 3D cameras and just this week writing to theater owners to make sure they project the movie brightly enough so you can see all the 3D robot madness the way he intended it.
So was it worth it? Does his final installment in the Transformers franchise really demand that you see it in the third dimension? To answer that burning question, we're back with our regular feature To 3D Or Not To 3D, in which we weigh all the pros and cons of strapping on the glasses and let you know exactly where your movie ticket money ought to go this weekend. This isn't a review of the movie itself-- you can go here for that-- but a specific focus on what 3D adds to the experience of watching robots whale on each other while destroying a great American city in the process.
Does It Fit?
The general rule of thumb is that 3D works well for animated films but not live-action. More than virtually any other live-action film you'll see this summer, though, Transformers: Dark of the Moon blurs that line, relying so heavily on the all-CGI Autobots and Decepticons and the digitally enhanced havoc they wreak. That plus the fact that Bay used 3D cameras and has significantly altered his rapid-cut shooting and editing style to accommodate the technology means this is probably the best-suited live action film for 3D since Avatar.
Fit Score: 5/5
Planning & Effort
As previously mentioned, Michael Bay used special 3D cameras to shoot much of the film, and now that he's best buds with James Cameron, presumably had all the good advice he could possibly need. Even though there's some post-conversion 3D in the mix as well, the conversion process was started nearly a year ago, and is blended in with a lot of action scenes shot on the best 3D cameras they have out there. You could argue that Michael Bay's filmmaking technique of shooting quickly, editing rapidly and swerving the camera all over the place wasn't great preparation for the deliberate style needed for 3D, but for this particular film, he seems to have put in the effort to make up for it.
Effort Score: 5/5
Beyond the Window
We think of 3D as the technology used to pop things out of the screen and into your face, but it's used more often these days to create a sense of depth, as if you're peering into a window into the many dimensions of space beyond it. Michael Bay has always done this in his films, cramming the screen with as much as action as you could handle watching-- and sometimes more-- and in Transformers 3 he does it even better with the 3D to help him. Granted, that's pretty much only in the action scenes, and the first half of the movie has a lot of scenes between people or Autobots indoors where there's no significant sense of depth. But when the action starts on the streets of Chicago at the end of the film, the devastated city streets and collapsing buildings seem to stretch on forever, an awesome use of the technology and probably the best reason for the movie to be in 3D.
Beyond the Window Score: 4/5
Before the Window
This is where we talk about that aforementioned traditional appeal of 3D, where robots or blood and guts or whatever else comes flying at you, seemingly going beyond the frame of the screen. Live-action movies typically aren't very good at this, and while Transformers: Dark of the Moon doesn't use it that well, it has a handful of good moments, including an opening sequence featuring all Autobots and some truly vertigo-inducing scenes on top of Chicago's skyscrapers near the end. It doesn't lean on the trick enough to seem gimmicky, but that's kind of what you have to do to score high here. There's enough that they don't seem to be wasting the technology, but maybe not as much as they could have gotten away with.
Before the Window Score: 3/5
As we've been hearing so much lately, including from Bay himself, this score may depend a lot on your local movie theater-- 3D projectors have to be cranked up extra bright to compensate for the darkening effect of the 3D glasses themselves, and a lot of theaters aren't willing to burn through their bulbs quickly enough to get the proper effect. If Transformers: Dark of the Moon is projected correctly, though, it will look terrifically bright. As a director Bay loves shooting at sunset but rarely at night, so all the action scenes in the movie are lit brightly and clearly, half the time without any shadows to be seen. The indoor scenes are well lit too, mostly taking place in fluorescent lit offices or giant military hangars, but the 3D matters less in these scenes. You really need that brightness in the fast-moving action scenes, and it delivers spectacularly there.
Brightness Score: 5/5
The Glasses Off Test
At the very end of Transformers: Dark of the Moon I took off my 3D glasses to get ready to leave, only to snap back to attention on the screen when a bonus scene popped up-- a bonus scene I couldn't make out at all because it was so blurry. When you take your glasses off in a 3D movie you usually see the images in a blur thanks to the two camera lenses it takes to create the 3D image; the blurrier the images, the deeper and often more effective the 3D. That particular credits shot was probably one of the best examples of deep 3D in the film, but there were a few other ones too, particularly in the "wingsuit" sequence where military men soar like birds through downtown Chicago. When I took my glasses off in all the character and dialogue scenes, which there are a lot of in the first half of the film, it didn't really make a difference. But in the action sequences, which is clearly all that was actually important to Bay and probably anyone who wants to see the movie, the 3D went deep and the picture went blurry without the glasses.
Glasses Off Score: 4/5
I expected to feel violently ill thanks to the collision of camera-flying, quick-editing Michael Bay-- if the action sequences in Transformers 2 made me feel a little woozy, what on earth would a 3D version be like? I'm happy to report I had no nausea issues following the action onscreen, though it did take a little time to get used to like most other 3D movies. Apparently I'm the lucky one though-- Head Honcho Josh Tyler, known to have a slightly weaker stomach for 3D anyway, reported feeling a little ill when he walked out. And if you've had trouble with 3D nausea in the past, the sheer amount and intensity of the action in Transformers 3 may give you the urge to get some fresh air, even if the 3D isn't used nearly as violently as I expected.
Health Score: 3/5
Will you see Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 2D or 3D?
Final Verdict: Transformers: Dark of the Moon is definitely the best live-action 3D I've seen since Avatar, and given where the 3D trend is headed, it might be the best example we ever get to see. Bright and energetic and engaging without making you feel (too) ill or overwhelmed, it's the first action film this summer that actually feels worth seeing in 3D. Whether or not you think the movie is worth seeing is another question, of course, but if you find yourself at the ticket booth and only 3D screenings of Transformers are available, know that you'll get your money's worth of 3D technology up on the screen.
For more 3D analysis, visit our To 3D Or Not To 3D archive.