3D was the next big thing in the early 1950s, as cinemas battled television over potential viewers; it rose in popularity again in the early 80s (with the advent of home video) and now (to combat piracy?) it´s here to stay, or so they tell us, with a 2010-11 lineup full of Transformers and Harry Potters and Jackasses and Saws.
But otherwise, I´d say the gig was up, with moviegoers sick of the high ticket prices and headaches induced by quickie 2D conversions like Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender; disappointing returns at the US box office for Piranha and Step Up 3D – both of which are surprisingly decent films – would seem to confirm this.
Going in to Step Up 3D, my expectations weren´t high: the first two Step Up films were nothing special, the second an improvement on the first, but both rather mundane updates of the 80s street dancing craze exemplified by the Breakin´ movies.
And, coincidentally, the last 3D experience I had was the objectionable StreetDance 3D, which was more ambitious in terms of plot and character but was an out-and-out mess in three dimensions: hyper-editing and shaky camerawork produce total incoherence in 3D, and a nauseating experience I wasn´t looking forward to repeat.
But Step Up 3D gets one thing right: the 3D. The film might be worthless in two dimensions (and most likely is), but its technical proficiency in three simply won me over.
It´s simple, really: the 3D just needs to be conceptualized in advance. Step Up 3D features camerawork and editing so polished and conventional that it may as well be a golden age movie musical rather than a gritty, urban street dancin´ flick. Indeed, the film´s best sequence is a duet featuring Moose (Adam G. Sevani) and Camille (Alyson Stoner) doing an old Astaire-Rogers routine (“I Won´t Dance”) in a 2.5-minute unbroken take that – forget the 3D – allows us to appreciate the skill of the dancers more than in any other contemporary quick-cut dance movie.
Likewise, the big dance routines are so sensible in their style that we can really appreciate the craft. And the 3D provides the extra dimension of a stage that calls attention to the performers and isolates them from crowded backgrounds, allowing us to focus even more on the action. That they´ve employed 3D to make this film even more coherent than the average dance movie is simply wonderful. Like My Bloody Valentine 3D, which provided an extra dimension for the killer to hide in, this film finds a perfect use for 3D that, in its own little way, is almost as impressive as the alien world brought to life in Avatar.
Oh yes, there´s a story in here somewhere too, and it´s more cornball and hopelessly cliché than you might expect. Would you believe that Moose, who has sworn off dancing as he attends NYU, is drawn back into the fold? Or that the rec center (here a club/home to dancers) is in danger of being shut down, and the only way to save it is to enter the big World Jam dance competition? Or that Natalie (Sharni Vinson) might be hiding something from Luke (Rick Malambri)
Not that anyone cares; the plot here is innocuous and inoffensive and such background material that it only serves to redirect the focus on the other aspects of the movie. All part of the plan: good music (including Madcon´s Four Seasons remix Beggin´, which was the main theme in StreetDance), good moves, great 3D. While this movie will only appeal to a very specific audience (who should eat it up with a spoon), there´s an almost revelatory use of 3D on display for the rest of us to admire.
One quibble: the product placement (and I´m not one to complain about this kind of thing) is absolutely insane here, as a nonstop parade of advertising is, quite literally, thrown at the audience.
Director Neil Jordan´s Ondine is a highly watchable film, well-paced and interesting throughout, but it´s also strangely aloof, distancing itself from viewers until the end when everything is revealed. It works well enough up to that point, but then degrades in retrospect the way a B-movie thriller might. A little ambiguity would have gone a long way here.
It´s a self-referential fairy tale. Some will know exactly where Ondine is headed based on that description alone. The characters know they´re living in a fairy tale, but they accept it anyway. They want to accept it, they want the fairy tale. Don´t we all? For Jordan to play the is-it-real game here shows a kind of disconnect with his audience.
Syracuse (Colin Farrell), a lonely fisherman, pulls a woman (Alicja Bachleda) up in his net. She is, magically, alive. A mermaid? No, she´s a selkie: a mythical creature that can shed her sealskin and become a human for seven years. Or so Syracuse´s daughter Annie would like everyone to believe.
If this sounds familiar, you may have seen John Sayles´ excellent The Secret of Roan Innish, a straightforward adaptation of the selkie legend. Or the Tom Hanks/Darryl Hannah romance Splash, or the M. Night Shyamalan misfire Lady in the Water, both of which explored similar themes. Or maybe you´ve heard that joke about the fisherman and the mermaid
At its best, Ondine is touching, even heartwarming, full of gorgeous seaside Irish locations and rich Christopher Doyle cinematography. It´s always great to look at. There´s also that patented Irish whimsy, on full display during scenes between Syracuse and his priest, played quite wonderfully by Jordan regular Stephen Rea.
But at its worst, Ondine seems to become something else entirely. At the end, I found myself picking apart plot contrivances and asking how-didn´t-she´s and why-didn´t-he´s and thinking that this is exactly the kind of movie I shouldn´t be doing this after.
If nothing else, I applaud Jordan for taking chances; his best films, The Crying Game and The Butcher Boy, have also played with narrative tone and audience expectations. So Ondine doesn´t work out as well in the end, but it´s a pleasant-enough ride until then.
Beware some thick West Cork accents, which distracted me here more than the usual Irish film. Ferrell is quite good and very likable; clearly more at home here than in some US productions, despite a variation on his usual Dublin brogue. But Polish actress Alicja Bachleda frequently steals the show as the titular selkie. And she looks great in the water.