Go to Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and you will be handed a pair of glasses that looks like it fell out of Back to the Future—large, square and quirky. The weird spectacles are for the spectacle of watching the film in three dimensions—so when the sabertooth Diego gets going, he literally leaps off the screen. As the first film screened in Jamaica using digital 3D projection, any discussion of Ice Age 3 has to start with technology.
Digital 3D is the latest attempt by American film distributors (like Ice Age’s 20th Century Fox) and global film exhibitors (in Jamaica, that means Palace Amusement) to lure people to the cineplex. In geological time, it comes hot on the heels of other gimmicks like sound (1927), color (1929), old-fashioned 3D images (1952) and widescreen (1953).
Those changes were panicked responses to falling attendance (the Great Depression in the 1930s) and disruptive technologies (television in the 1950s). Times change. Now movie execs are worried about falling attendance (the global recession) and disruptive technologies (broadband Internet access and Blu-Ray discs). Guess it’s time to trot out widescreen 3D movies again.
The first anaglyphic 3D film, 1952’s Bwana Devil, promised viewers ‘a lion in your lap.’ That same year, theatres showing Cinerama widescreen gushed that ‘you won’t be gazing at a movie screen—you’ll find yourself swept right into the picture.’ Half a century later, Ice Age 3 gives us a tiger, while the press release from Palace Amusement wants us to ‘get ready for the movie experience that puts you smack dab in the picture.’ Sound familiar?
To be fair, Ice Age 3 is a more immersive experience than, say, Ice Age 2. Depth perception makes the desolate icescapes more sepulchral and the chase sequences more immediate—when Diego hunts an antelope early in the film, the camera hurtles along for the naked adrenaline rush. And the limited viewing angle and ghosted images that plagued analog 3D have been banished—every seat gets a sharp image.
But immersion is not investment (although Palace’s accountants might beg to differ). No amount of whiz-bang gadgetry can fake a good story. Diego’s chase pales in comparison to the wildebeest stampede in the hand-drawn, two-dimensional The Lion King (what is it with jungle cats, anyway?)—three minutes of absolute terror as a young child, facing death, is saved by his father only to see him murdered, as in Hamlet, by his uncle. It would have been riveting with sock puppets.
The plot in Ice Age 3 skates on thin ice. Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) is taken away by a Tyrannosaurus, forcing the rest of the herd—woolly mammoths Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah), opposums Crash and Eddie, and Diego (Denis Leary)—on a rescue mission. Which would have been fine, except Ellie is massively pregnant. And there’s a tropical jungle under the ice that nobody noticed until now.
So what? It’s harmless fun for kids. That’s why, of the two female characters, one is knocked up and the other is a shrew, prompting both Diego and rock rat Scrat to flee the supposed confines of domesticity. Harmlessly teaching our young men that monogamy and marriage are to be endured, not enjoyed.
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs—three-dimensional image, one-dimensional story.