3D in Magic Mike: Terror or Delight?

The other night I spent 90 minutes with a genetically blessed group of gyrating, pelvic thrusting, butt-flashing, well-oiled young men. It wasn’t a drunken hen’s something or other, it was, of course, a screening of Steven Soderbergh’s latest celluloid outing, Magic Mike.

by Phyllis Foundis

I. Had. A. Ball.

Why? Well, aside from the fact that there were regular displays of honed male muscle (take that as you will, dear readers), it was a thoroughly immersive, enjoyable cinematic experience.

Okay, before the purists tweet up a storm about the supposed script deficiencies, single dimensional characters, blah, blah, wank, I am not, for a millisecond, suggesting Magic Mike is Citizen Kane.

The film’s naked men are unlikely to attract other naked men (of the golden, bare-buttocked variety). Magic Mike simply did what all good movies should do and that is, entertain.

As the scenes unfolded, I turned off the writer inside and got lost in the magic.

Magic Mike simply did what all good movies should do and that is, entertain.

‘Story, schmory, I whispered to myself as yet another set piece assaulted the senses; smiles and sweat, and dance routines that were nothing short of eye-popping – particularly when Mr Tatum showed us he was more than just a ‘cock-rockingly’ good stripper (the film’s description, not mine).

And frankly, when the fuss subsided between one’s loins, the narrative was actually a viable one. Yes, Virginia, there is a story in Magic Mike. A very believable and often touching tale.

Midway through the flick, I managed to unglue my eyes from the screen to look at the audience (female and male) and they were all doing what they were supposed to be doing – watching, unflinching. No sly texting, talking, fidgeting, not even any popcorn nibbling. All eyeballs faced forward.

So it got me wondering… could you improve on this perfect audience response? Surely Mr Soderbergh should have considered the wonders of 3D in the sharing of Mike’s magic?

To 3D or not to 3D

Well this is the $64,000,000 question isn’t it? And for a measured, informed response unfettered by the libidos of horny audience members, we need to take an intimate glimpse inside the 3D argument.

So here goes…

3D cinema has raised the ire of many a filmmaker, critic and fan ever since moviegoers were persuaded to strap on a pair of ill-fitting cardboard frames for the earliest recorded screening of a 3D film,The Power of Love. It premiered in LA (where else) on September 27, 1922 and decades later the technology has exploded and now nearly every movie that has its day in the dark, is in 3D.
But does this trend reflect the stunning technology on offer?

Not now baby, I’ve got a headache. No, really.

At a recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Reuters interviewed two leading opthalmologists who basically shot down the 3D argument in big, explosive, Hollywood-tastic flames.

Basically, a lot of us are walking around with minor eye problems, for example a muscle imbalance. It’s not a big deal because the brain can deal with this issue naturally. But the minute we subject our eyes to the largely unfamiliar experience that is 3D – our eyes have to work harder, which means our brains have to work harder which translates into one big, fat headache, folks.

In fact, a recently published article in Consumer Reports claims that 15% of moviegoers experience headaches and eyestrain during 3D movies.

Essentially, when you’re looking at something in real life, each of your eyes sees it at a slightly different angle. And the perception of depth is created when this image is processed in your brain. But the illusions you see in a 3D movie just aren’t calibrated in the way your brain and eyes are.

Put simply, your eyes weren’t made for 3D! And uber film critic Roger Eber concurs (very loudly on his blog),
“3D doesn’t work with our brains and never will.”
Shots in the dark.

Put simply, your eyes weren’t made for 3D!

You’ve probably already gathered from the tone in this article that I am not a 3D-ophile. What man can do with technology has never really twiddled my proverbials. It’s fun, sure. But will I be buying a 3D TV so I can see Spiderman’s arachnid ass whip past my cheek as he slings over to the next skyscraper on his way to lunch? Er, no.

But aside from the very real physiological reasons why film lovers should steer clear of 3D, there are some hard and fast technical reasons why it’s actually not such a great visual treat.

3D movies are either produced specifically for the format during filming (a’la Gatsby) or converted in post-production. Either way, in order to create the illusions, 3D movies are screened at significantly lower light levels.

Did you know a typical 3D system can lose as much as 80% of the light used to project 2D images up on the silver screen? Basically, the image you see is projected at only two or three foot-lamberts* as opposed to the traditional 2D film system that projects its images at a giant 16 foot lamberts.

Oh Mr Luhrmann, what were you thinking? Thankfully, not all big-shot directors are seduced by 3D. Director, Christopher Nolan refused to make Batman in 3D because of the darkness issue,

Oh Mr Luhrmann, what were you thinking?

“On a technical level, it’s fascinating, but on an experiential level, I find the dimness of the 3D image extremely alienating.”
So instead of creating a closer connection between the audience and the movie it’s having the totally opposite effect.

For the love of Leo’s baby blues, why, Baz, why?

When a filmmaker announces that his next film will be in 3D – I don’t care how big the budget (or his ego) is, it feels like a desperate attempt to force some kind of connection between the audience and the story. You will like this movie, you will connect, you will feel like a part of the action, the love, the horror, the squillion dollar sets I had to sell my first born’s soul to afford.

My counsel to the ticket-buying public is simple… If you want real, in your face life – leave the cinema. Get up out of your seat and go outside. You won’t need to wear cumbersome, plastic glasses to get it, it’s all there in full, you-can-touch-it, colour.

If you want real, in your face life – leave the cinema.

As you know, the next big 3D splash will be Baz Lurhmann’s, Great Gatsby. The movie community and DiCaprio fans at large are eagerly anticipating the release. And needless to say, Lurhmann’s take on Gatsby is bound to be a feast for the senses, it’s part of the man’s genius. Which is why his compulsion to mess with tech bothers me.

Baz can make great movies. Big ones, funny, splashy, larger-than-life, colourful, even small-budget forays (Strictly Ballroom anyone?). So why, oh why, can’t we just enjoy the pleasures of Mr Gatsby’s opulent world without the gimmicks? Aren’t the stupendous displays of wealth, hedonism and Leo’s baby blues enough? I thought they were.

When crotch-clutching doesn’t need a crutch.

The argument against the (literally) dizzying effects of 3D is almost fairytale-like, but rings very, very true…

If the story is gripping enough, you will already be ‘in’ the picture in a pleasurable, altered kind of state; as if you’re floating around in the best lucid dream you’ve ever had. You know it’s a movie, you know it’s fiction, but you’re a willing passenger on the joyride.
In other words, if the movie’s world is engaging enough you’ll enjoy more dimensions than your head and your heart can ever cope with.

How spectacular does that sound?

if the movie’s world is engaging enough you’ll enjoy more dimensions than your head and your heart can ever cope with.

I’m a traditional moviegoer. For me it’s all about the story and more importantly the world this narrative creates. Is it a world I want to spend 90 minutes in? Does it make me feel good, provoke thought, laughter, tears… then, yes, I’m yours, in the dark, without question.

The 3D argument is a long and hairy one. And we’re certainly not going to cover all of it in this modest article. Suffice to say, filmmakers should beware – it’s not the be all and end all of storytelling. Let your stories, your characters, your dialogue (!) do the talking.
If a story is written well, it’s engaging and it should have you at, ‘hello’. You don’t need whiz bang to get more for your movie buck.
Which is a natural segueway back to ol’ Mike and his magic.

If a 3D movie is supposed to bring you closer to the action, immerse you in moments as if it were real life, then Magic Mike is as close to 3D as it’s ever going to get. And it could’ve been because of Mr Soderbergh’s skillful direction, or the raw energy of the script, or the copious flashes of glistening naked flesh. But ultimately, I think the movie did what it said on the tin – it succssfully portrayed the magic of Mike.
So the question still begs…

Would this hip-swivelling extravaganza have blown more minds in 3D?
(Somewhere a worried mother cries,‘You’ll have your eye out with that thing!)

Well, given that 3D images are often dark, small and generally distance you from the action on the screen… Ladies and gentlemen, dear fans of the celluloid artform, male, female and beyond – the answer is an unequivocal, resounding, holler it from the multiplex rooftops…


* The unit of luminance by which screen brightness is measured.

Performer, producer, writer, Phyllis Foundis has written for ad campaigns, books, one-woman shows, online articles, scripts and speeches. In 2004, she performed in her self-penned, one-woman show, the virgin club on London’s West End, the Edinburgh Festival and Melbourne’s International Comedy Festival.
Phyllis has also written
 coverage for Hugh Jackman’s production company and acted alongside John Waters in Burleigh Smith’s, Ragtime.
She is the host of her own TV
 chat show, Foundis for Television Sydney (TVS).

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