Thankfully, while watching the Dave Matthews Band, Ben Harper and Relentless7 and Gogol Bordello in Larger Than Life, you don’t feel at all like you’re there. Rather than try to force an in-the-crowd perspective (look at some audience-taped concert footage on YouTube to see how well that works), the vivid close-ups, hi-def pans and crystal sound quality substitute a whole different kind of energy. You don’t feel like you’re there, you feel bad for the people who were.
The music sounds just about as anyone familiar with the bands would expect it to (jam-rock, jam-blues and gypsy-punk, respectively), but the 3D technology helps bring out the little moments that make live shows so entrancing. When you watch Ben Harper fiddle with his guitar feedback to end his Mile High Music Festival set, his furrowed brow and piercing stare bring out the concentration pouring into the minute sonic fluctuations. When you see Dave Matthews lazily flopping around the stage during “Funny the Way It Is,” it’s like the frat-rock hippie is noodle-dancing right in your lap (whether you want Dave Matthews noodle-dancing in your lap is another matter entirely).
If the choice of performers to break the 3D concert technology to the post-tween crowd has little rhyme or reason – three different tours at three different festivals in three different states – it may be because this film is really a test run, for the technology and for the demand. Reports indicate that AEG, the company behind Larger Than Life…In 3D, filmed much of Phish’s recent Festival 8 shows (hopefully including their cover of the Rolling Stones’ entire Exile on Main Street) and more performances from Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. One imagines they’ll be watching the ticket sales for this film’s one-week engagement quite closely to decide what if anything to do with this unreleased footage.
To be fair, this technology is far from perfect. While mid-range shots looked beautiful, anything with a significant depth of field causes stomachs to turn over. It was hard not to flinch every time an errant beach ball flashed across the screen, but worse still was the random stage equipment which would pop up looking hundreds of yards in front of the rest of the action. If anything, this technology works too well; when Gogol Bordello hypeman Pedro Erazo points at a camera during “Start Wearing Purple,” it’s a wonder no one in the audience lost an eye. Real life isn’t that 3D.
Yes, there’s a long way to go before Digital 3D changes the way we watch concert films. At the screening I attended the inevitable awkward silence at the end of each song where everyone wonders if they’re supposed to clap or not was as uncomfortable as ever. Clap or not, though, the explosive power of Dave Matthews Band’s roaring through “Burning Down the House” in such vibrant quality was hard to deny.
No concert film has yet made you feel like you were there. Most in fact do the opposite: make you wish you were there, experiencing in person what the screen will only hint at. Larger Than Life…in 3D succeeds because you don’t feel like you’re there, and you don’t particularly want to.
‘Larger Than Life…In 3D’ opens in 350 theaters nationwide for a limited, one-week-only screening from December 11-17.