The Edgar Rice Burroughs-created hero Tarzan has been a big screen character for decades, brought to life as far back as 1918. We've seen the jungle man adapted in many different ways in that time, from his live-action origin story to a Disney cartoon. What we haven't yet seen, however, is the hero presented in a 3D blockbuster, but now we have director David Yates' The Legend of Tarzan fitting that bill.
You can read our full review of Legend of Tarzan right here, but as we do with every newly released 3D film, what you'll find below is a full breakdown of the experience to determine exactly the best way to see the movie on the big screen. To 3D or not to 3D is the question, so read on for the answer...
What kind of material lends itself to 3D? Animation is certainly a friend, as entire worlds can be built to maximize the effect. In the live-action realm, however, it's all about the big action blockbusters -- which is why they're almost exclusively the ones made in 3D nowadays. The Legend of Tarzan certainly qualifies here, if not especially because the character classically does so much swinging. On paper, David Yates movie makes plenty of sense for the technology.
Being in development since the early aughts, The Legend of Tarzan actually started on the road to theaters way before 3D movies were a big thing again -- but the extra dimension certainly became an important factor along the way. When Warner Bros. committed to making the movie years ago and announced that it would be coming out in July 2016, it was confirmed that there was a plan in place to present it in stereoscope. This is plenty of planning and effort in our minds -- and while the film doesn't get a perfect score because it's converted instead of shot natively in 3D, the improved quality of conversions over the years still allows us to give it a high score.
While you might hope that a new 3D Tarzan film would use at least one scene to have the titular hero swinging on a vine into your local theater, the sad fact is that David Yates movie never actually does it. There are a couple of animal-based utilizations of the technology's Before The Window factor -- one including a butterfly and the other an ostrich -- but beyond that everything in the movie stays completely contained within the screen.
As The Legend of Tarzan cuts back and forth between the actions of the movie's heroes and villains, there are included a number of big, sweeping establishing shots that give the film the chance to crack its knuckles and craft some 3D dazzle. Beyond that, there is sadly very little to say about the movie's use the "Beyond The Window" factor. Even in scenes featuring wide open areas, in which good 3D can get you lost, there still isn't a tremendous sense of depth. For most of the film it's completely ineffective.
We've officially arrived at The Legend of Tarzan's biggest issue in the 3D arena. Every movie shown in stereoscope has to deal with the fact that audiences are watching the action through a pair of tinted glasses, but that's usually combated with a bit of compensation and adjustment. This new film, sadly, feels like you're watching it through a thick layer of mud. A big part of the problem is that the cinematography utilizes an extremely desaturated color palette, leaving nothing to really pop, but it also doesn't help that a great deal of the action is set within canopy jungle.
Want to see exactly how effective the 3D in a film is in any given moment? Just lift up your glasses. Without using lenses to adjust the stereoscopic image, what's revealed are the artificial layers that create the extra-dimensional experience -- and as a rule of thumb, the harder the screen is to watch, the stronger the 3D. I did this numerous times while watching The Legend of Tarzan, and was frequently disappointed. While the aforementioned sweeping establishing shots looked decent, I wasn't impressed that you could clearly make out almost every face in crowd scenes.
"At least it didn't make me sick" isn't exactly what someone might call triumphant praise, but it is one of the better things that I can say about The Legend of Tarzan's 3D experience. Some movies leave audiences with headaches or motion-sickness as a result of not creating solid focal points, but I walked away from the blockbuster feeling just as healthy as I did going in. Of course, it's hard to make someone sick with 3D effects when the intensity of the effect is low.
Final Verdict: We've seen 3D movies come a long way since the rough days of 2010, when every blockbuster was trying to emulate Avatar's success, but The Legend of Tarzan feels like a step backwards. I wasn't the fan of the extra dimension utilized by David Yates for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and his latest feature has many of the same issues -- particularly in the brightness category. If you're going to go watch the Lord of the Jungle back on the big screen, you're best off going for some 2D action.
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Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.