In light of the recent and steady downhill decline of 3D and all of it’s intricately gimmicky glory, it’s sometimes refreshing to reflect upon the key highs and lows of what the technology managed to accomplish. Contrary to popular belief, 3D can ultimately pay a great service to the final presentation of a film. Some films are specifically designed with 3D in mind, with the narrative or experimental nature of said films coinciding with the technology. While many have rejected the idea of 3D as a filmmaking tool, there are still a few filmmakers to this day who utilize the technology to further advance their stories and messages. As a farewell to the technology before it’s eventual extinction in the market for the next couple of decades, let’s reflect on some of the greatest hits of 3D, and the artists who utilized the technology for their own unique advantages.

Welcome to On The Clock’s 3D Retrospective. 


If any reader can recall, the summer of 2013 was packed with plenty of bombastically flashy blockbuster fare. Some flicks which come to mind are Man of Steel, Grown Ups 2, Oblivion, The Conjuring, This is the End, and The Internship. Ranging from comedies to the casual comic book adaptation, the summer season of this particular year was your normal steady release docket you would expect from Hollywood. Though the most visually stimulating film of the season was arguably the most unconventional success out of the line up. 

This is a film which would later win two Academy Awards, and garner both critical traction and critique against its ambitious direction. This film is of course the pop art mind bender The Great Gatsby. Not only was it a financial splash, it also impressed numerous industry individuals at Cannes Film Festival, where it was selected as the opening night feature. But what makes The Great Gatsby so special? What is it about this intricately layered and glossy adaptation with an all star cast that made it such a hit? All of it comes down to the implementation of it’s 3D technology; both in terms of it’s visual effect material and the method of production in which Luhrmann produced his film with.

Luhrmann shot The Great Gatsby with an Red Epic camera and 3ality Technica 3D rigs and Stereoscopic Image Processor. His intended goal was to make the viewer feel as though they were part of Carraway’s recollection of memories, as if the audience was literally spying through his internal head space. The intended effect is a marvelous achievement, where Luhrmann and Co immaculately crafted each shot on set, for it to be designed with 3D viewing. When looking through some behind the scenes material, a display panel was always on deck, where the cast and crew would review each scene with a pair of 3D Opera glasses, in order to achieve the desired immersive experience.  

In the most obvious of ways, the 3D technology behaves like a character that’s part of The Great Gatsby. For reference, the first binge drinking scene is filled with grotesque closeups, raunchy partying, and a plethora of shots of a downtown 1920’s New York. As the champagne bottles are popped open, the richness and depth of the entrapped apartment adds an additional aura of intoxicated claustrophobic depth. The 3D enhances the perspective and state of mind of our lead character. This is incredibly essential in this particular scene, where in a drunken state, Nick Carraway describes as one of the only times he’s gotten actively intoxicated. Because this the first time the viewer is introduced to the depicted prohibition-era environment, Luhrmann uses 3D to create an intentional hyper active effect with successful drunken results.

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway

Other examples include the wardrobe scenes, where Gatsby and Daisy are frantically goofing around and having a good time. The merging shots to the hyperactive editing and pop-fueled soundtrack adds to the glorious lifestyle of rich excess. It also emotionally encapsulates the state of mind of its characters; which in this case is Gatsby is his disoriented lubby-dubby perspective. Time becomes almost like an enigma for him, where his affection and time with Daisy swifts by rapidly like an off beat montage. As the edits continuously shift like clockwork, time is fleeting away from Gatsby’s grip. The 3D enforces this passage of time, as the camera swiftly covers the groundwork of Gatsby’s estate.

Other notable 3D sequences can be found in the Gatsby’s residence. Producing a “Wizard of Oz” effect, the 3D pop outs of streamers, fireworks, and crowds of dancing intoxicated people ultimately create a sense of claustrophobia and hysteria in every frame. Just like in the aforementioned Nick Carraway scenes, the party scenes in stereoscopic 3D create a zesty and incredibly sexy environment, where danger and seduction lures around every corner. The additional depth of field before Gatsby’s face reveals also adds thematic weight to the spreading rumors and hysteria which surround his occupied estate. With modern remixed track blaring in the background, the party scenes which are featured in The Great Gatsby are the textbook definition of cinematic sensory overload. There’s so much frantic chaotic energy occurring in every frame, where Luhrmann lulls the viewer into a state of pure exhaustion. 

Even the two major death sequences (the hit & run and Gatsby’s demise) are enhanced dramatically by the 3D technology. In the car crash sequence, Luhrmann presents his key subjects like actors participating in a tableaux. The shards of shattering glass breaking from the impact of Myrtle Wilson’s lifeless body adds a level of intensity and jolting action. As her body passes by the screen, Luhrmann cuts to the billboard which features the iconic eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. While incredibly melodramatic, this immersive decision of presenting this crucial moment in the film with such stylistic nuance is an applaudable achievement. It makes the viewer feel increasingly uncomfortable with the quick editing decisions in 3D, as if they were part of this tragic event.

A very similar stylistic tableaux rendition repeats itself in Gatsby’s death. The moment when Gatsby’s body hits the pool — a sudden pullback reaction to a bullet affliction — his lifeless corpse floats towards the audience as the water sinks across the screen. Luhrmann’s intent is meant to be suffocating, where the 3D technology creates an effect where the audience feels as though they’re drowning with Gatsby, as the chaos continues to unravel in the background.

Director Baz Luhrmann onset with actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan

Minor details are also drastically enhanced in 3D, including but not limited to the usage of Carraway’s writings popping and floating across the screen. This simple effect adds a level of personality to the film but also strengthens the film’s perspective, Meguire’s narration and Carraway’s arc. The film switches perspectives during multiple essential scenes, where without a clear visual indicator of who’s telling what story, it is impossible to truly track the perspective shifts. Without the text and the floating 3D effect, the film would lose some of it’s pulpy style and character consistency.

The emerald light, both thematically and metaphorically is essential in both the novel and the film. The 3D technology makes use of the light, where Luhrmann uses fog effects to create the dim image of the light. The 3D ultimately adds depth, both literally and thematically to the context of Gatsby’s relationship. We’re seeing the light through Gatsby’s eyes, and how his love is so far out of his reach to the point where he reaches a point of self-destruction. It’s clever three-dimensional interplay at its most creative and innovative.

The Great Gatsby is one many auteur features where the 3D ultimately adds an additional layer of satisfaction and narrative depth. For those who declare 3D as just a mere gimmick, Luhrmann’s feature proves that with the right material, direction, and budgetary needs, 3D can be proven essential to the cinematic medium. Even some notable 3D trickery which can be found in other features released today, such as archival 3D colorized footage, can be traced back to this influential film. It’s a boundary breaking achievement. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that The Great Gatsby is a thematically rich visual accomplishment in all of its three-dimensional glory. 

The 3D Bluray edition of The Great Gatsby is available to purchase on Amazon and Ebay

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