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U2 in 3-D: The Future Has Arrived

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 25, 2008

To watch already larger-than-life Irish rockers U2 become even larger on a 60-by-90-foot Imax screen is one thing.

In "U2 3D," the band seems so . . . up close, personal and dimensional, it's as if they're slipping off the screen into your lap.

Welcome to the future of the concert film, where you'll duck your head as the Edge's guitar neck pops out with such immediacy you'll want to retune it! Or you'll want to slap hands with singer Bono as he reaches out to you in the middle of "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own."

Even better than the real thing? Maybe not, but surprisingly close and accessible.

Director Catherine Owens, who has collaborated with U2 on the band's elaborate concert visuals for 15 years, recalls a discussion with a colleague that "the future of entertainment would be that bands don't actually have to go on the road -- somehow they'll be holographically beamed. And we were joking around, 'Not in our lifetime.' But in a funny way, this film is that."

State-of-the-art cameras and editing technology have made "U2 3D" the first live-action feature shot, produced and exhibited in digital 3-D. Filmed during the South American leg of the 2005-06 Vertigo tour, the footage is mostly from a Buenos Aries stadium show before 80,000 fans, some of whom you'll feel like tapping on the shoulder to sit down.

Speaking after "U2 3D" debuted at Sundance last week, Owens said U2 members were "very, very conscious about how they perceive themselves and their history of editing styles, which is a lot of short, sharp edits. We had to find a way to maintain the imagery and power of U2 while accommodating the reality of 3-D to make it work for your eye and your mind."

Shot with 18 digital camera/recorder rigs (the most assembled for any single project), "U2 3D" reflects major advances in areas of convergence, perspective and multilayered imagery. Convergence -- the distance behind or in front of the person or object you're looking at -- can tire the eyes with quick cuts, but new technology allowed the filmmakers to eliminate that problem. The technology also allowed movement from close-ups and medium shots of the band to wide-angle crowd shots and superimposing 3-D images on top of one another, creating effects that have never before been available.

U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr., whose kit may be the single most dimensional object in the film, "had an interesting comment when he saw early reviews," Owens reports. "He said, 'You know, Catherine, this is as raw as I've ever seen us . . . and I'm liking us.' They feel very exposed but think that exposure is probably what's going to thrill the fans."

Viewers will hear 15 songs, mainly U2 hits, beginning with "Vertigo." That's appropriate since there's a vertigo effect throughout the film, with a lot of point-of-view flying around the stadium and hovering around and above the band on stage. It's a thrilling meeting of motion and emotion.

U2 is clearly breaking new ground here and it's going to be hard -- perhaps impossible -- for conventional concert films to measure up. Going from 2-D to 3-D is like mono going to stereo, or black-and-white TV going to color.

For now, "U2 3D" will be shown exclusively in theaters with Real D or Imax 3-D projection systems, including the National Museum of Natural History's Samuel C. Johnson Theater and the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore.

Owens also sees a significant, albeit delayed, afterlife for "U2 3D."

"It will never come out in 2-D, but we've already tested it for our own entertainment on the Samsung 3-D TV, and it looks pretty spectacular," she says.

And forget those flat, ugly glasses that 3-D movies usually require. The ones for "U2 3D" look like sunglasses, though not quite like the designer brands Bono sports 24-7.

"I'm sure when 'U2 3D' gets to the home market, we'll absolutely have Bono wrap-around [3-D] shades," Owens promises.

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