Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tormented (aka Rabbit Horror 3D) and the 3D Video Wizard

I'm eighty-five, ninety percent kidding when I say that this movie cost me a hundred dollars: Twenty for the Blu-ray itself, forty for a new 3D Blu-ray player, and forty for a device to play a 3D Blu-ray on a 2D television. And while this is something I wanted to see in 3D ever since I heard about it - after all, it's cinematographer Christopher Doyle shooting a Takashi Shimizu movie named RABBIT HORROR in three dimensions - I was looking to do some upgrading anyway.

Not a lot. I am, after all, a thrifty New Englander who likes to use things until they wear out, and as much as I hated my Blu-ray player - a Samsung BD-P1000 which is painfully slow to boot and can't even do certain standard features - it was still basically functional. At least, I figured it was until I tried to watch the box set of Treme I bought at the Borders yard sale a year or so ago, and it showed a cool menu screen with awesome music, but wouldn't actually let me select anything. So, excuse to upgrade that, but not the TV.

But, I'd been accumulating 3D Blu-rays. Not deliberately; it's just that certain movies with niche appeal weren't bothering to put out separate 3D versions. So I wound up with dual-format versions of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Dial M for Murder, Dredd, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, and Tormented, with Upside Down on the way. And while it would be cool to just have them around for when I upgraded someday, I spotted a converter box in Radio Shack while looking for a new power supply for my laptop.

So, I waited for a good deal on Woot and pounced.

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My new toys, and the discs that spurred their purchase (well, I picked up the Resident Evil movies when Best Buy had them on sale for less than the 2D ones usually cost)

So, how's the new equipment? Well, so far the Blu-ray player seems to be a reasonably capable Blu-ray player. It boots reasonably fast, plays movies, and has a number of other apps that I haven't tried out much yet - YouTube, Netflix, Vudu. Doesn't seem to be much way to add new services, and when I put Dredd in, it said that I would need to connect a flash drive with at least 1GB of capacity to use the BD-Live functions. Lame, as was not coming with an HDMI cable or even batteries for its (small, flimsy-feeling) remote control.

As for the "3D Video Wizard"...

Well, to be fair, it does what it says on the box - connect the 3D Blu-ray player to one port, the TV to another, and it takes the input from the first, does a little color-shifting math, and outputs it to the TV in an anaglyph format so that you can watch it with amber-and-blue glasses. And most of the time, it's pretty fair. I looked at the TV, saw depth, and occasionally flinched as things threatened to break the plane. It's not nearly as good as seeing something in 3D at the theater or likely for a TV with active-shutter glasses, but sometimes a movie doesn't play in 3D or you don't upgrade your television because that's not a device where people feel compelled to get the latest model; it's more furniture than a laptop.

(Note: Although I saw this box for about $150 at Radio Shack, it can be found for $35-45 at Amazon regularly, though from other sellers more than Amazon itself, despite the $130 SRP.)

So far, Tormented is the only movie I've watched start-to-finish with the device, and in general what I've found is that it's pretty good so long as the focus is on something in the middle distance, and the things in front of them or behind are mainly meant to give perspective, rather than be things that the audience might focus on. The logic to this, I suspect, is that the further away from the center in either direction, the further off the different colored images are going to be. Bright whites are problematic, as well; the colored portion bleeds onto them. This made a certain scene in Tormented kind of painful to watch, as the camera zoomed down the middle of a spiral staircase with a white center; what would have been a cool shot in the theaters made me look away. It's also hell on subtitles; being white and generally in a low-res font made them shimmer terribly.

Most of the other discs worked fairly well: Cave of Forgotten Dreams showed me the texture of the cave walls quite well, and the action in both Dredd and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate was pretty clear. There was occasional ghosting and halos, but I suspect that when I'm just watching a movie, as opposed to trying to suss out how the hardware is working, it will be easier for me to ignore. I also suspect that disc space is at a real premium with these things, and something like Flying Swords, which gave the 3D version its own disc rather than trying to fit it on the same disc as the 2D version, is generally going to look much better, with less chance for compression to create differences in the two video streams.

Dial M for Murder, on the other hand, was borderline unwatchable. Part of it, I suspect, is being sourced from film that's been around a while, so that the left-eye and right-eye images degraded differently. I also strongly suspect that the way Hitchcock and cinematographer Robert Burks shot it has something to do with it, too - they seldom seemed to really lock the camera on a plane that has someone or something that demands the audience's attention in it, but rather on the front of the room, so that everything seemed to be behind the screen. That's a nice effect when using polarized or shuttered lenses, but with anaglyph, it means that everything has a ghost, and the one really great 3D shot, of Grace Kelly reaching toward the audience to grab a pair of scissors, becomes a distorted, ghost-y mess. I've seen it in 35mm 3D, and it was fantastic, but this combination of equipment does not work at all; I'll be watching the 2D version from here on out.

Speaking of the equipment, I found myself wondering if a new pair of 3D glasses might be called for. The two pairs included were nice and sturdy compared to the old cardboard variety (or even the flimsier plastic ones at the theater), but the blue lens on the right seemed much darker than the amber on the left: Alternating which eye was open showed a much clearer picture in my left eye, and when watching the film itself, I actually felt my right eye getting more fatigued after an hour or so.


I wouldn't recommend one of these boxes to everyone, even if I didn't seem to be one of the few folks I know that really likes 3D. For $30-40, though, it's a fun thing to add into my home theater set-up since a new TV is years in the future (like, when I can replace my big screen with a 3D/4K monitor of equal size for relatively little), especially if you're like me and winding up with 3D Blu-rays on your shelf anyway. As to how often I'll buy new movies in the format now that I've got something to play them on, I'm not sure. I won't be getting Iron Man 3 that way, for example, or Hansel & Gretel, but I am thinking of switching up my pre-order for Oz: The Great and Powerful to get that version. For something that's an extra $5, and how relatively imperfect an experience 3D currently is, I think actually being designed with 3D the intended experience is going to be a necessity.


Tormented (aka Rabbit Horror 3D)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 May 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Blu-ray 3D converted to anaglyph)

"Tormented" is not a bad title for this particular Takashi Shimizu movie - it's generic, sure, but it does reflect some of what's going on. I must admit to favoring its original title, "Rabbit Horror 3D". I like that because as enjoyably creepy as the movie is, it gets there in large part by being genuinely weird, and you just don't get that from a one-adjective name.

A little while ago, ten-year-old Daigo Imazato (Takeru Shibuya) put a suffering rabbit down in his school's playground, albeit messily, and as a result he's being ostracized by the rest of the students. He therefore spends most of the day with his mute half-sister Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima), the school librarian, especially since their father Kohei (Teruyuki Kagawa) is inattentive, fully engrossed in his latest job as a pop-up book illustrator. One day, Daigo and Kiriko go to see a movie, and one of the 3D effects has a rabbit backpack pop out of the screen - and that Daigo is able to grab it and take it home is only the start of things getting weird.

The movie they see is Shimizu's own Shock Corridor, amusingly and helpfully one of the previews that plays before the movie on the American home video release. In some ways, it's kind of a weird choice, as it only emphasizes the fact that he is repeating some elements from his last movie in this one (both involve scary hospitals, too). And while it's easy to make a crack about how the guy who made six Ju-on/The Grudge movies in as many years obviously doesn't mind repeating himself, it's worth remembering that at least one of those movies got somewhat self-referential. He and co-writers Diasuke Hosaka and Sotaro Hayashi are up to something a little more clever than just a silly hook and easter egg here; the crossing between genuine and imaginary realities is an important part of the story, as are the early and repeated references to Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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