Last night 20th Century Fox treated me to a screening of the new 3D version of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which is in cinemas now. As I got to see it for free, it only seems fair I should let you know if it's worth spending actual money to see it.
First off, it's worth mentioning the obvious. No amount of 3D can change the fact that there's waaay too much about trade taxation routes in this film. The whole 'is Natalie Portman grooming a child?' sub-plot is still there. Jar Jar Binks hasn't been digitally erased. But if you're reading this, you probably already have your own views about the artistic merit of this movie, so I'll stick to the techy stuff.
None of the Star Wars films were shot in 3D, so the makers have gone back and converted the old footage to 3D. Normally this process makes a film look terrible, because it's really hard and time-consuming to do, and studios mostly rush them out too quickly.
But Lucasfilm has done a smashing job on Star Wars -- it's easily one of the best post-3D conversions I've seen. The key to this is that most of the 3D effects are relatively subtle. In other 3D post-conversions, the makers are so keen to make it clear it's in 3D they make the effect too stark.
There are times when it doesn't work very well -- occasionally an object is pushed too far into the foreground and you start to see two images rather than one, but that's rare. Occasionally the 3D gets in the way of a scene. When Anakin and his mum are saying their farewells on Tatooine, for example, the 3D effect distracts from one of the film's few tender moments. But mostly it looks pretty natural.
But although the 3D conversion is technically very good, the 3D effect adds little to the overall experience other than slight eye strain. As always, you have to watch the movie with glasses on, which aren't terribly comfortable and make the screen seem smaller than it is.
My screening was in the mammoth Empire in London's Leicester Square, but because I was looking through the rims of the tiny glasses it looked more like my front room than one of the UK's biggest cinema screens. The IMAX is much better for 3D in my experience -- its glasses seem about half the size of your face.
The one stand-out 3D moment is the podrace. Remember those theme park rides you used to go to where you stood in front of a massive screen, watched a movie of a roller-coaster and felt like you were actually there? This is like that. The 2D podrace never did it for me -- it always felt way too long, but 3D brought out more of the excitement George Lucas originally intended.
Hand in wallet, is it worth it?
So is it worth paying to see? If you've got young kids that haven't seen the film before, probably yes (kids like Jar Jar and 3D, right?). If you're family-free like me and have seen the film before, the Blu-ray discs are probably a better way to watch it again, if only because you can pause the thing and have a cup of tea when it sags in the middle. 3D doesn't add enough to make a cinema ticket worthwhile.
Unless the idea of a 3D podrace appeals -- that bit is seriously good. Also, Darth Maul is cool. And the music is amazing. Let's face it, you're going anyway. Da-daaa. Da-da-daaaaaaa!
Have you seen Star Wars in 3D? Let me know in the comments below or on the Facebook wall.