And it very much is a visual breakthrough. “U2 3D” is a truly impressive use of three-dimensional technology, brought to life by the co-directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, with the help of stereoscopic specialists 3ality Digital. There are shots I’d never seen before in any kind of movie, especially those of the enormous crowd in the Argentinean stadium where the show was shot. You’ve never seen a concert movie until you’ve seen a three-dimensional camera render an endless sea of fans, their ecstatic bodies undulating in waves around U2’s ridiculously vain stage set. (As an aside, there is an unintentionally ironic quality at work when the band’s lead singer, Bono, is projected fifty tall and pushed right into the audience’s faces; he’s never looked quite so short before.)
As a kind of sensation candy then, it delivers. More than that even, this movie is very much a suggestion of what blockbuster cinema might look like in the not-too-distant future: overwhelmingly immersive and tactically complex in the way home theaters can never be. There’s a tremendous amount of visual innovation throughout the movie — not all of it successful, but enough of it is sufficiently novel as to raise the stakes for concert movies going forward.
How to Dismantle an IMAX Movie
It got me thinking, though, about the nature of how we innovate. One of the things I kept thinking while I was watching “U2 3D” was what a shame it was that only a band as big as U2 could get their hands on this technology. More to the point, it’s unfortunate that very few directors can tap the kind of capital necessary to experiment on the giant canvas of three-dimensional IMAX.
In many ways, a concert experience as ridiculously scaled as what U2 can create is an ideal use of this medium, and the filmmakers, for the most part, don’t squander their opportunity. But at the same time, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how 3D IMAX might interpret less hyperbolic subject matter? Or, more to the point, what could a director like Spike Jonze do with the same tools? Or someone even further afield from popcorn fare, like a Pedro Almodóvar? Hell, I’d like to see Woody Allen play in this space.
Priced by the Foot
As Web designers we’re lucky, I suppose, that for the medium we work in, the tools that enable technological innovation are largely affordable. Say what you will about the price tag hanging off an Adobe Creative Suite 3 box, but relative to what it takes to shoot a film or create some special effects, it’s well within reach. Many of the tools we value most are in fact free. The medium requires very little for a young artist to get up and running; experimentation is largely a product of personal ambition and not of capital resources.
That’s good, right? On the other hand, it would also seem to confine us to a modest corner of artistry. Some amazing and far-reaching experiences are possible within digital design, to be sure. But vanishingly few of them will ever have the scale of 3D IMAX; it may take a lot of money and reputation to get to paint on that canvas, but once you’re painting on it, boy. You’re fifty feet tall.