Why Pacific Rim is the Best 3D Movie Ever Made


In addition to being the uncontested best action movie of the year, there is a technical aspect of the Pacific Rim’s production that I believe deserves mentioning: Pacific Rim is the best showcase of 3D that has come out of Hollywood since Avatar. Despite being shot in regular “2D” and post-converted to 3D, Pacific Rim’s stereoscopic facelift comes across as genuine instead of janky thanks to a couple of factors, including Guillermo del Toro’s amazing eye for shot framing and style. But let me first lay out what I hate about traditional 3D movies.

Most directors use 3D as a blunt instrument of revenue-garnering retina stimulation. They frame their shots like a 3-layer shoebox diorama: a blurry foreground, a crisp plane of action, and a blurry background. It’s blatant and offensive. They will put a camera above a very tall doorway so that the tops of the doors are blurred, and the hero walking in looks miniature (I think Thor did this). Or perch a camera on a roof top, with blurred shingles, and an actor walking below on a sharply defined walkway (*cough*StarTrekIntoDarkness*cough*). They over-do the effects, and in turn let their obscenely shallow depth of field to degrade the beauty of the environment.

What’s different about Pacific Rim however, is that the heroes of the movie are two hundred and fifty feet tall. Large scenes naturally exhibit vary little parallax. I.e. If you look at something far away and jump back and forth between looking at it with one eye closed and the other open, there is very little change between the image on either retina. If you hold a finger at arms length and swap between your eyes’ perspectives, your finger’s position relative to the background changes wildly. This difference in what your eyes see is what your brain uses to construct a 3D map of the world around you.

This then is why Pacific Rim’s 3D effects just feel right. The parallax effect is subtle, because abusing 3D would diminish the sense of scale in the movie. If del Toro had abused 3D like every other director had, Jaegers would have looked like toys, Kaiju like lizards.

The fine details and texturing are also intentionally preserved due to the deep focus. Del Toro isn’t stupid, he knows that optical resolution is a key reference your brain uses to determine if something is near or far. So between the subtle, unforced parallax and large DOF, everything just feels right. You cease to notice the 3D and become immersed in the richly detailed world before you. Blatant 3D is bad 3D, and there were only one or two shots that snapped me out of immersion (ex. Little Hansen in the foreground with Pentecost in the elevator near the end).

Guillermo’s fine touch and the movie’s occipital lobe-friendly sense of scale are why I consider Pacific Rim the single best movie to watch if you are trying to introduce someone to 3D. There is very little forced perspective and depth of field, so your eyes aren’t fighting the director’s choice of focus. Less optical dissonance = less chance of nausea or headache.

Also, 3D = IMAX = slightly better sound quality. That soundtrack is an adrenaline-pumping eargasm. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go watch it before it’s out of theaters. On the biggest screen you can find.

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