Transformers: Dark of the Moon – the saviour of 3D?
What strange timing. Not long after my visit to the studio's London offices, nestled in beside a number of similar media HQs in Soho's Golden Square, an interview is being published with DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg, in which he responds to the news that US audiences are choosing for the first time to see blockbuster movies in old-fashioned 2D, even when the more celebrated option is available. The phenomenon emerged for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides last month and continued for Kung Fu Panda 2 two weeks ago.
Previously, filmgoers have always seen 3D screenings in greater numbers, an unbroken rule that has fuelled the format's rapid growth. 3D tickets attract a premium, which means yields are higher and end-of-year box office charts are slanted towards movies that are shown in stereoscope. Directors of mainstream films not available in the more expensive form have begun to find themselves questioned as to why: Inception's Christopher Nolan being the most high-profile example.
In his interview (with the Hollywood Reporter), Katzenberg blames his own industry's exploitative attitude towards the new format for the downturn. Everyone knows that some studios have been embarking on cheap 2D-to-3D conversions to take advantage of the current boom, even when the movies in question were never meant to be seen in stereoscope. Yet to have one of the most powerful men in Hollywood describe the situation as "heartbreaking" underlines the extent of 3D fatigue among cinemagoers.
Which is where Transformers comes in. Despite the latest instalment of the series being about as enjoyable as a role in a real-life re-enactment of The Human Centipede, Michael Bay's movie is being touted as this summer's torch carrier for 3D – its saviour, even. Katzenberg, in particular, reckons it's great. Having previously avoided the format, Bay has conscripted James Cameron's people to ensure his first attempt doesn't end up sitting in the 3D naughty corner alongside Clash of the Titans come the end of the month. So what's the 3D like?
It's very, very good.
Want more? Well it's a bit hard to describe what I saw earlier this week without ... you know ... talking about the story. Suffice to say that the blitzkrieg collision of pixel and steel up on the big screen may well be more technically brilliant than anything yet seen in the current 3D era. One particularly bravura sequence sees robot-in-disguise Bumblebee transform from car to robot and back in slow-mo to avoid a collision, unwrapping and re-wrapping himself around Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky without so much as clipping his earlobe. It drew audible gasps from the audience of critics. Another scene inside a giant alien spaceship I can only describe as like being a small insect flitting through an infinitely complex, mindblowingly sublime machine.
In fact, for the first 10 minutes or so of the screening I found myself spellbound. But then, even in this limited timeframe, a phenomenon we'll call "Bay syndrome" began to kick in: I began to get really, really bored and pissed off.
Now it's quite possible that watching only the "sexy" bits of a Transformers movie might have this effect on most people. The problem is that there's no guarantee that the final cut will see Bay provide any more blessed relief from the on-screen carnage, particularly once he's entered the third act. Transformers II had an apparently inexhaustible armoury of weapons of mass brain battery to throw at its audience, and didn't seem to let up for at least the final hour. I'm not sure I can take that again, even if the stereoscope is so good that it makes me want to sell all my possessions and camp outside Cameron's house until he gives me a job as his 3D gimp.
Bay's new film may well drive all before it at the box office. But if it manages to garner more than the small handful of decent reviews accredited to its predecessor, it will not be because of the amazing 3D. It will be because the film manages to intersperse all that preposterous violence with an intriguing plot and a skilled unfolding of events.
In other words, it will have a good story.