CinemaCon in 3-D: Scorsese and Ang Lee and Oscar Contender 'Life of Pi'

Box Office
by Anne Thompson
April 26, 2012 3:48 PM
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'Life of Pi'
At this point, the folks at Twentieth Century Fox don't need to promote Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" (June 1), one of the most-anticipated of the Summer's potential blockbusters. So at CinemaCon Thursday morning, co-chairmen Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos ran through the summer and fall slates--diverse, something for everyone, etc--and saved the big guns for something new they hadn't promoted before: Ang Lee's 3-D epic "Life of Pi" (November 21).

Three and a half years in the making, the footage (unfinished, temp music, sound etc.) was nothing short of stunning. I spoke to Lee yesterday after his lunch interview with Martin Scorsese, conducted by THR's Todd McCarthy. He admitted that the film might not have gotten made and funded if he hadn't come up with the idea of filming in 3-D--a more commercial and big-event approach. But it wasn't the only reason. The technology simply wasn't there before to achieve the tiger-in-the-life-boat aspects of the bestseller (7 million copies sold) that made it seemingly unfilmable. The Fox co-chairmen made the point that this movie combines all their R & D on the films "Avatar" and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" with Lee's artistry. (Both real and CG tigers were used.) An Oscar contender this film will likely be. "It's an attempt to put you in an emotional space," Lee said at the presentation.

What Scorsese and Lee revealed in their fascinating talk was how individual each director's approach to 3-D is. Each one as he discovers and pushes the limits of this filmmaking tool, which Scorsese suggested could become as "normal" as color, reinvents it for his own use. Lee and Scorsese discussed the use of foreground and close-up, immersion and intense drama. Lee for one kept pulling his actors back. Lee reminded me that this is just the beginning of learning how to use this technology. And Scorsese, a total convert to what he considers to be the dominant new film medium, made it clear that he intends to shoot all his future films in 3-D when he can. "There is something that 3-D gives to the picture that takes you into another land and you stay there and it's a good place to be," he said. Will his next, "The Wolf of Wall Street" starring Leonardo DiCaprio in his fifth film with the director, be in 3-D?

While "Life of Pi" looked stunning--3-D seems right for a film on such an epic scale, with a ship in a violent storm, a zebra leaping into a life boat, a shot of Pi Patel underwater watching the ship holding his family sinking into the depths, his power struggles with the tiger on the boat and yes, a scene with thousands of flying silver fish--I still maintain that there is room for 2-D and that intimate drama may not be the right place to use 3-D. In the right hands, 3-D works magic--James Cameron spent $17 million to retrofit "Titanic" and it looks superb. But I was not convinced by the CinemaCon footage of Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby," a movie that shows no signs of anyone pulling back.

But clearly, we do have sophisticated 3-D from master artists to look forward to, as opposed to tacky, clunky B-fare. At the Fox show-and-tell, "Prometheus," "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" and the latest "Ice Age," animated "Continental Drift," will be in 3-D. Which of Fox's upcoming projects will be in 3-D? Their latest installments of "Planet of the Apes," Hugh Jackman sequel "The Wolverine" (which begins shooting in August), "Diehard" and "Percy Jackson"? Ben Stiller's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"? Steven Spielberg's "Robopocalypse"? While Spielberg enjoyed playing with his performance capture 3-D tool set on "Adventures of Tintin," it remains to be seen if he's ready to jump on board the 3-D live action bandwagon. 

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