Image copyright Paramount Pictures
Hollywood's 3D kick died down somewhat in 2013. That has been a good thing for the format because it has made 3D releases something to look forward to rather than a tedious inevitability. Here are three of the best examples that debuted on Blu-ray 3D over the last year.
Star Trek Into Darkness
Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment
According to the packaging Star Trek Into Darkness was the best-reviewed blockbuster of the year. If that's the case, it was also the most overrated.
The script is riddled with incredulous contrivances, bogus science and violations of established Trek conventions. Together with Benedict Cumberbatch's overacting mouth that made him sometimes look like the salt monster from the Original Series episode "The Man Trap," these faults somehow evaded the attention of critics (although thankfully not the guys behind Honest Trailers).
The box office was less forgiving, however: contrary to Robert Orci's contention that this was one of the biggest Trek movies ever, J.J. Abrams' Star Wars warm-up was only moderately successful in terms of profitability and ticket sales even by Star Trek movie standards.
It's not all bad news, though. Michael Giacchino's score is excellent and retains some of the epic quality of his music for Abrams' 2009 reboot. There is also the enthusiastic cast, with Karl Urban deserving of a special nod for his scene-stealing interpretation of Bones.
Like the other movies here, Star Trek Into Darkness is also a blockbuster that looks at its best on Blu-ray 3D. The impressive special effects show where most of the movie's $200 million budget must have gone.
Admittedly, too much of the action takes places in confined spaces for this to feel like the ultimate 3D Star Trek experience. Nonetheless, the third dimension enhances several scenes, particularly the space jump where it emphasizes Kirk's sense of isolation in the vastness of space.
There are also times when 3D provides a new perspective on the U.S.S. Enterprise that should give many fans of the great ship a thrill even if they don't appreciate those overinflated nacelles. If only they could only give the script the same sense of depth.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition
Warner Home Video
This first chapter in Peter Jackson's new Middle Earth trilogy takes forever to get going and feels far too familiar to be as fresh as Lord of The Rings. Nonetheless, it is exuberant enough to become exhilarating before the end of its excessive running time.
Purist fans of the book might be aggrieved by the liberties Jackson has taken with his source material. Moreover, it's hard to avoid the cynical notion that some changes were primarily driven by a desire to stretch the story into another trilogy and generate three Extended Edition home media releases.
Even so, there can be no doubt that great effort has gone into supporting the script with a strong sense of authenticity. The detail in everything from the costumes through to the recreation of the saga's principle locations is phenomenal. It would do that achievement a disservice to see the results in anything other than HD.
One effect of this, however, is that 3D doesn't do a great deal to enhance the experience and it can even be distracting when the action moves quickly. Where you have time to admire the scenery, though, such as in the Rivendell scenes, the illusion of depth helps to blur the distinction between reality and computer graphics by creating a sense that you could be there, too.
Unlike its predecessors for Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey's Extended Edition is far from essential. It lets you feast your eyes tad bit longer on some scenes of characters hanging around (and has more jarring moments of inappropriate humor). Otherwise, though, there is no really pressing reason to favor it over the theatrical version unless you are a completest. With work of this quality, though, why wouldn't you be?
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
This might seem like an odd choice for one of the top 3D releases of the year, especially given that the original theatrical release preceded the 3D revival. What's more, like Planes it feels like another attempt by Disney to wring every possible drop or merchandising potential from the one franchise born out of its lucrative partnership with Pixar that is generally frowned upon.
Yet, this is one of those rare examples of a post-conversion that feels worthwhile. Cars was already one of the most colorful films to have ever hit the screen. Moreover, with every bit as much detail as we've come to expect from Pixar productions, it is a visual treat in HD.
Surprisingly, on top of that 3D doesn't feel superfluous. Unlike Disney's post-converted version of The Nightmare Before Christmas, which largely looked flat, Cars seems like a natural fit for the format.
Of particular note is the opening race sequence, which feels so immediate and exciting that it is hard to believe it wasn't meant to be seen this way all along. Later, when Lightning McQueen gets to Radiator Springs, the wide open desert vistas also benefit from the sense of space and distance that 3D affords. Even though the world of Cars is obviously a CGI contrivance, sometimes you can't help feeling like you are there.
Cars' three-dimensional paint job might not win over anyone who is put off by the mass marketing of this franchise. Yet, on top of the film's existing merits, it gives this version an edge over the 2D edition if you have the kit to play it and haven't already added Cars to your collection. Vrooom.