Getting the hardware and software in line and synchronized for a new high tech product introduction isn't always easy. In the case of 3D TV, the complaint "there's nothing to watch" may have initially held some weight. But this holiday season, there are wonders galore to explore on 3D Blu-ray video discs. And some pay TV customers can have it really good too, if they've invested in a 3D-ready television and companion glasses (the latest generation of which barely weigh one ounce, virtually floating on your nose.)
The Class Acts: While James Cameron was the only film director of note to jump early on the 3D bandwagon with "Avatar," this year major figures like Martin Scorsese (with "Hugo"), Wim Wenders (with the equally acclaimed ballet-on-film "Pina") and Werner Herzog with the documentary "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" are classing up the field.
Herzog's movie, just out on 3D Blu-ray (from Sundance/MPI), explores the Chauvet Cave in France where the world's oldest cave paintings (dating back 30,000 years) were rediscovered in pristine fashion. The artists wrapped their paintings (of horses, boars, lions and more) around the rock walls and protuberances, lending the work a sense of presence and movement that comes through amazingly well with the 3D imagery.
The ever progressive musical artist Peter Gabriel has put out a most stunning looking and sounding concert video - "New Blood - Live in London in 3Dimensions" (Eagle Vision). Camera angles, special effects and the DTS surround sound mix are all superb in the performance, which rethinks Gabriel's music with a huge symphony orchestra and backup singers. (There's no rock guitar, bass or drums, but you won't miss 'em.)
Disney To the Rescue: No film studio's done more to promote the 3D cause than Disney - this season fillling store shelves with a bunch of worthy stereoscopic, family friendly animated films. All three Pixar "Toy Story" films are available in 3D, though I'd start with "Toy Story 3," as it was shot from the git-go with the new tech in mind and strikes me as the most charming, poignant and smart.
Also highly recommended is the stereoscopically updated "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D" - the mildly scary but mostly amusing tale of the Halloween King's takeover of the Christmas holiday. The stop action animation really pops while the surround sound mix of Danny Elfman's diverse musical score is constantly tickling the ears from all sides.
Most critics found "Cars 2" a disappointment, too much a slam-bam takeoff of secret agent flix (and with the voice of Michael Caine leading the pack.) But the globe hopping 3D cartoon scenery and smart parade of world cars (and jokes about historic "lemons") kept Gizmo Guy grinning.
More Family Friendly Fare: There's enough adult skewing material mixed in with the cute characters to make "The Smurfs in 3D" (Columbia/Sony) a very sweet treat for all ages. It's one of those animation/live action hybrids, as the Smurfs land in New York and are befriended by the likes of Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays (the doe eyed school teacher from "Glee").
A big heart's a-beating in "Dolphin Tale 3D" (Warner Bros.) a true, live action story about a tail-less creature named Winter who's given a new lease on life - and does the same for all the people around her. The 3D work is not that remarkable, but the tale is.
Conversely, the saga of "Kung Fu Panda 2" (Dreamworks, 3D edition exclusively at Best Buy) didn't grab this overgrown kid nearly as much. The Asian themed art design and many eye popping effects are pleasing, though.
Home Front Covered: I've said it before, I'll say it again. Nobody's doing more for 3D on the home front than DirecTV. Yeah, most every pay TV service now offers 3D movies on demand and ESPN 3D which keeps improving its game coverage in 3D and this month leans heavy on college football and basketball matches and Friday night fights).
But DirecTV also has two full time 3D channels all to itself. The Discovery/Sony/IMAX backed 3net has the season's best treat - "IMAX Nutcracker" - a British made rendering of the story (and Tchaikovsky score) melding ballet, Cirque style acrobatics and Monty Python-esque humor that the Brits like to call "pantomime."
Non seasonal, but also intriguing is 3net's new four part series "Fields of Valor: The Civil War" which integrates stereoscopic still images shot during the war with new, live action recreations.
Over on the DirecTV/Panasonic-backed n3D channel, you'll find Jessica Simpson's "Happy Christmas Special" in all its three dimensional wonder, plus good cooking tips from the "3D Chef" and conscious music from Tom Morello (on the "Guitar Center Sessions" series).
And, for those wishing Summer was still here, you need to dive into the very special, fun filled episode of the 3D baseball park/city visiting "On Deck with Jamie and Mike" celebrating Citizens Bank Park and our kind of town. You get your Tony Luke's and Chickie and Pete's in 3D! Betsy Ross House and the Museum of Art, too.
Happy holidays and happy viewing - in your face.