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Third Dimension - The 20 Best Blu-rays for 3D

Add some depth!

by Steve Withers Jun 18, 2014 - Updated: May 18, 2015


  • So you've got that new 3D TV and Blu-ray player combination and you're wondering what you can watch on it?
    Well we're here to help and have chosen what we believe are the best three dimensional presentations available in the current crop of 3D Blu-ray discs. The main criteria for the Blu-rays they have chosen are that the films give the best immersive experience in terms of picture quality. So naturally sound and story have taken a backseat and, as such, there are films listed below that would otherwise never be considered in a 'best of' film list. So, without further ado and in no particular order, we present the AVForums 20 best 3D Blu-rays.

    This article was originally published on the 18th June 2014 and the last update was on the 18th May 2015.
    Using 3D properly takes skill, you can't just shoot in 2D and then expect it to translate into three dimensions.

    Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

    Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's follow-up to their excellent Sin City might have been a case of too little, too late but there's no denying that Rodriguez knows how to use 3D properly. The director has been shooting in native 3D for years and he understands how to layer a shot, taking advantage of the added dimensionality to draw the viewer into the film. He's also more than happy to throw things at the screen, which certainly works with the over-the-top comic book sensibilities of Sin City. The mixture of black and white animation, live actors and splashes of colour just explodes off the screen in 3D and, if that wasn't enough of a reason, Eva Green spends most of the film in the nude.

    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    Matt Reeves chose to shoot this follow-up to the excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes in native 3D and the results are spectacular. The use of the extra dimension means the post-apocalyptic world feels viscerally real and Weta's animated apes look all the more alive. The 3D is very much used to add depth to the image rather than poke you in the eye but effect is to draw you into the world that Reeves has created. The addition of 3D is the final cinematic touch to a film that was far better than anyone could have expected and a brave and unlikely summer blockbuster.

    Gravity

    Alfonso Cuaron's film was designed from the start to be a cinematic thrill ride like no other with state-of-the-art visuals and sound. It may have taken him four years to create Gravity but the results were certainly worth the wait. Although not actually shot with 3D cameras, the film was always intended to be seen that way and given the extensive use of photorealistic computer generated images, the fact that it's a 3D conversion is irrelevant. In fact this is the film that proves post-conversion can really work when done well and Cuaron and his team totally immerse you in the environment. It's as close as we'll ever get to being in space.

    Pompeii

    There are 3D films where the effect is used in a creative and original way (like Life of Pi), there are those that are conceived with 3D in mind like Avatar and Gravity) and there are those that just use the added dimension for pure unadulterated fun. Paul W. S. Anderson's Pompeii is just such an example and whilst the story derivative and the characters shallow, that's the hardly the point. After all, who doesn't want to see a volcano erupt and destroy a city in 3D? The film is designed as a sword and sandal disaster movie and it delivers, with a third act of epic 3D destruction that won't disappoint.

    Exodus: Gods and Kings

    Ridley Scott embraced 3D with his Alien prequel Prometheus and returns to the format with his reinterpretation of the Moses story. The film doesn't always work and the lack of ethnic casting is an issue but no one does epic quite like Scott and the results are often breathtaking. The film attempts to provide scientific explanations for many of the events, which is a shame because it undoubtedly would have worked better by being more supernatural in its tone. However when the big set pieces do finally arrive Scott delivers the goods and the addition of 3D makes them all the more impressive.


    Brave

    Possibly the last decent Pixar movie and certainly their last original work to date, the studio delivered the goods with this Highland-set tale of adventure. Featuring the voices of just about every Scottish actor currently working and with a complex story and some decent laughs, Brave proved that Pixar still had it, even if the film itself did seem more like a Disney movie. The 3D was exceptional of course and the sound design perfectly matches the images to totally immerse you in the environment. The computer animation is beautiful as well and never has red hair looked so gorgeous!

    Pacific Rim

    There was a quite a controversy when Warners demanded that Guillermo del Toro convert his giant robots and monsters film into 3D but thankfully they gave the talented Mexican enough time and money to do it properly. This is the only post-converted 3D movie on this list (Gravity doesn't count) and it's easily the best. There was always a danger that adding 3D would make the robots look small but del Toro uses the 3D sensibly to create an immersive experience that enhances the narrative and definitely adds to the fun; resulting in thumping big visuals to go along with the thunderous soundtrack.

    The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

    Peter Jackson finally brought to a close his epic six-film Middle Earth saga with The Battle of the Five Armies, allowing fans to immerse themselves in Tolkien's world for over twenty hours! And for nine of those hours you can really immerse yourself thanks to The Hobbit being shot in native 3D. Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (who sadly died recently) do a wonderful job of taking full advantage of the extra dimension with beautifully composed and layered shots. The entire film is a joy to behold in 3D but Smaug's attack on Lake Town is a particular favourite.

    Despicable Me

    Despicable Me was a surprise when it came out and the Blu-ray sales were no doubt increased as 3D TV owners rushed out to buy it in the early days of the latest 3D boom. They were probably influenced by the fact that the film was being used for every 3D demo in every store and at every AV show. The crashing spaceship that stops just in time with its nose cone sticking out of the screen is always a favourite. The film, and its sequel are great fun and everyone loves seeing just how far Gru’s nose sticks out from his face?

    Finding Nemo

    Although Finding Nemo was never intended for 3D, you really wouldn't know it when you watch the Blu-ray. Once again Pixar went back to the original files to render a full 3D version and the results are just amazing. The film's underwater setting really lends itself to 3D and the results are incredibly immersive, whilst the audio adds to the experience by totally enveloping the viewer. The fact that the film is a bone fide classic just makes the 3D experience all the better.
    All the films on this list use 3D in an imaginative and creative way to enhance the narrative.

    Life of Pi

    Ang Lee's film of the award-winning novel is easily one of the most beautiful 3D films you will ever see and the Taiwanese master became the first person to pick up an Oscar for directing a 3D movie. He is clearly having fun with the entire medium, using the extra dimension in a host of imaginative ways that truly enhance the viewing experience. Every aspect of the production has been conceived with 3D in mind but it's the flying fish sequence that really stands out, as Lee deliberately changes the aspect ratio to increase the 3D effect even further.

    Dredd

    As if it wasn't enough that we got the Judge Dredd film we all dreamed of, it was also a fantastic 3D movie to boot. Like all the best 3D movies it was shot natively and the added dimensionality was used to creative effect, especially during the 'slow-mo' sequences. The result was a brutal and largely faithful representation of the comic book character that totally immersed you in the world of Mega City One. A stunning example of how to really use the format effectively.

    Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

    Strangely (no pun intended) this film wasn't as well received as the previous trilogy, despite being a lot more fun than the pompous At World's End. It still managed to take a billion dollars at the box office and, thanks to an excellent stereographer on the set, it 's a great 3D experience as well. The film is full of beautifully deep compositions and highly effective use of 3D that really adds to the overall enjoyment. In fact the 3D Blu-ray is so good that it actually improves on the theatrical presentation!

    Creature from the Black Lagoon

    This originally turned up as part of the Universal Monsters box set but has since been released as an individual title. The film itself was made during the 3D boom of the 1950s, which makes it the oldest film on this list by 50 years and the only one in black and white. Still it's old school 3D with plenty of 'comin' at ya' effects and a staggering amount of depth; so if modern 3D movies are too tame, this is the one for you. It must have been incredibly difficult to shoot 3D back then with two synchronised film cameras but thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the 3D Blu-ray is the best this film has ever looked.

    Avatar

    This is the film that really kick started the current 3D boom and remains the best example of how to effectively use the medium. The film was James Cameron's first in twelve years and was conceived from the start as a complete 3D experience. Cameron and his team pushed the limits of modern technology and were rewarded with the biggest hit of all time. Whatever you may think about the film itself Cameron, like Peter Jackson, is a fan of 3D and knows what he's doing. Every aspect of the film is enhanced by the added dimensionality and the 3D is a genuine part of the narrative, making it an essential purchase.


    Hugo

    If there's one person you just knew would do 3D properly it's Martin Scorsese. He's probably seen every 3D film ever made, so when he decided to shoot the film version of the children's book 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret' you knew it would be special. And it was, with wonderfully composed 3D cinematography that was designed to enhance the sets and move the narrative forward. It seems fitting that a film about the early days of cinema should use modern technology to such great effect. A dazzling and, at times, genuinely moving 3D experience.

    Coraline

    This stop-motion animated film works surprisingly well in 3D and the slightly unnerving tone of Neil Gaiman's story is well served by the format. Whether it's needles sowing eyes in the opening credits, epic tunnels to another world or a giant spider web to trap you, the 3D just adds to the overall impact of the film. Imaginative, funny and creepy in equal measures, Coraline's adventures prove that 3D can enhance any style of film when done properly.

    Resident Evil Afterlife

    Say what you like about Paul W. S. Anderson but the guy knows how to shoot in three dimensions, which means he gets two films on this list. Just like Pompeii Anderson delivers the 3D goods with this fourth instalment in the Resident Evil franchise. It's a fun film where the 3D takes centre stage and Anderson isn't afraid to use a bit of hyper-reality or deliver some great in your face action, for the amusement and enjoyment of 3D fans everywhere.

    The Great Gatsby

    Baz Luhrmann's take on the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald was always going to be a full frontal audio video assault but given Baz was also dabbling in the third dimension, it promised to take 3D to another level. And so it did. Luhrmann fills each frame with so much detail and depth that it's hard to take it all in with one sitting. Whilst it might not be the definitive version of the story of Jay Gatsby, it's certainly a feast for the eyes and ears as you experience a version of the Roaring Twenties that's been filtered through Luhrmann's unique vision.

    Drive Angry

    OK, we'll admit this film is no cinematic masterpiece, it's about a guy who breaks out of hell for God's sake. However this latest instalment in Nicholas Cage's ongoing string of films intended to pay off his tax bill is hugely enjoyable nonsense. What's more the native 3D is top drawer, with loads of negative parallax and tons of depth. You'll be constantly ducking to avoid some fairly cheesy 'poke-you-in-the-eye' moments but by the end you'll have a big stupid grin on your face. Oh and Amber Heard in 3D is a pretty good reason to own this disc as well!

    Well, that’s our 3D Blu-ray top twenty list, do you agree or is there something obvious you think we've missed? Let us know.

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