Brain-dead and made of money 

'Phish 3D' and the 3D problem

FALLS FLAT: 'Phish 3D' takes the bait, falls prey tot he trappings of the new movie trend.
  • FALLS FLAT: 'Phish 3D' takes the bait, falls prey tot he trappings of the new movie trend.

The title of this article? That's a lyric from “AC/DC Bag,” a goofy rollicker of a jam that opens “Phish 3D.” It's also an apt string of words to start a discussion about why this concert movie defines what's wrong with the onslaught of 3D.

But first, a preface: I'll confess (in print, at that). Yes, I like Phish. Quite a lot, too. Ever since I heard their 1996 album “Billy Breathes” as a high schooler in a friend's truck, I've harbored a sizable soft spot for the four middle-aged stoner soundscapists, one that's earned me a number of scoffs from the hipper-than-thous.

However, while the band's studio albums are built on taut, three-minute pop songs, the infamous live shows are unlistenable to my ears. The band, in signature fashion, will glut a gorgeous tune to bloated proportions with meandering, decadent solos that are technically astounding but usually indistinguishable from the previous one. While feverishly gilding the proverbial lily in concert, they rarely add anything of substance to the track, instead distracting and obscuring the core, the soul of the great songs themselves.

For better or worse, it's the official Phish stamp that defines them. The band's fans love it; it's not for me.

Now, can the same things be said about this extra-dimensional “stampede” of 3D, this “juvenile abomination,” as the increasingly outspoken Roger Ebert recently branded it? Are studios beginning to obfuscate what makes movies great — the simple heart of each — for extraneous 3D technology?

Much like Phish's tendencies to drown out beautiful, small songs with technical braggadocio, “Phish 3D” — like most 3D movies — gains nothing in an extra dimension.

In “Phish 3D,” the camera relies on a handful of shots, repeated ad nauseum, with mic stands and cymbals providing the bulk of the 3D experience, which are crisply shot, but also completely unimpressive. When focused on the band, the cameras don't hesitate to cue in on the guitar work, but, believe it or not, 3D doesn't add much to the three inches of depth found on fingers on a flat fretboard. And when the songs fade away into tedious jamming, all the movie offers for stretches at a time are brain-numbing noodling in boring 3D.

That said, the climax is fantastic: The band is joined by the unbelievable Sharon Jones and a trio of horns and sax from her band, the Dap-Kings. They blaze through four songs from “Exile on Main Street” and end with a beautiful, exuberant take on the Phish classic “Suzy Greenberg.” It's a top form document of a band having a ball. Beyond that, it's hard not to fall prey to the contagious excitement on screen.

But the excitement caught in those moments would have been just as lively and joyous without goofing it up with a virtual depth-of-perception. The 3D didn't add any more jubilation to what was on the screen. All it did was force my eyes to
refocus with every cut, so I just covered up one of my lenses with my ticket stub and enjoyed the music.

In all, the worst parts of the movie represent the worst parts of 3D at large: cheap, unnecessary artifices used to cash in on a fad. It's a trend that threatens to become even more commonplace, aiding in further dumbing down movies into passive spectacles and siphoning studio money away from smaller, headier projects.

But back to the title of this article, cribbed from a Phish lyric: That was only a snippet. In the song, they sing, with wry exuberance, “brain dead and made of money/no future at all.” Here's to hoping the 3D trend follows the bouncing ball to that second line.


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