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Immersed in Movies: Talking 3-D with 'Men in Black 3' Director Barry Sonnenfeld

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood April 21, 2012 at 12:19PM

I recently sat down for a private 3-D demo of "Men in Black 3" with director Barry Sonnenfeld, and the first thing that dawned on me was that there haven't been any noteworthy 3-D comedies during this current renaissance. It's all been shock and awe so far.
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MIB III 2

I recently sat down for a private 3-D demo of "Men in Black 3" with director Barry Sonnenfeld, and the first thing that dawned on me was that there haven't been any noteworthy 3-D comedies during this current renaissance. It's all been shock and awe so far. And there's a very good reason why: most of the popular comedies today by Judd Apatow and his colleagues are verbally funny but not physically conducive to stereoscopic shenanigans.

Which is why I found "MIB 3" such a 3-D revelation. The eye-popping footage I saw of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones blowing up a Chinese restaurant or Smith leaping off the Chrysler Building or Smith squirming while being interrogated by Josh Brolin (playing a spot-on younger version of Jones circa 1969) or Smith sweating inside a giant neutralizer was not only funny but also spatially interesting in 3-D. The 3-D actually enhanced the physicality of the performances and the interaction between the characters. It was intimate as well as in your face. In fact, I was fixated on their faces in a way that I probably wouldn't have been if this were flat. By god, what great faces they have for comedy. Sonnenfeld even admitted that Brolin's got the biggest face he's ever worked with.

But then Sonnenfeld has always had a "Looney Tunes" visual quality to his work, even going back to his cinematography days with the Coen brothers. Just think of the squash-and-stretchy "Raising Arizona." He's been primed for comedic 3-D. "I've always seen in 3-D and have always shot as if I was shooting in 3-D," he boasts. "There are certain things that 3-D really likes: on-axis and straight-ahead moves, which is all I've ever done as a director and cinematographer. And 3-D hates over-the-shoulder shots and panning and I hate panning. I never let the Coen brothers pan in their first three movies: I was all about the tableaux."

This article is related to: Franchises, Production, Will Smith, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Coens


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.