Among the seven (Irony? I think not.) box office records that “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″ broke its opening $169.2 million dollar weekend were two related to IMAX. The finale to the epic “Harry Potter” eight-movie franchise played in more than 3,100 3D locations, accounting for 43% of the domestic box office — $72.5 million. Of that, IMAX contributed $15.5 million, making “Deathly Hallows: Part 2″ the Best IMAX Opening ever, out-earning last year’s $12.2 by “Alice in Wonderland.” Globally, Potter also takes the Best Worldwide IMAX Opening title, beating the recent “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” with $23.5 million.
This final movie is the only one to go completely 3D; portions of previous movies were converted and last year’s “Deathly Hallows: Part 1″ contained no 3D footage as the movie wasn’t finished in time to be converted. But lightning was not going to strike twice where that was concerned. Planning began last November, according to IMAX Sr. Vice President of Film Production Hugh Murray, who served as 3D Stereographer on “Deathly Hallows: Part 2.” His team had meetings with David Yates, who directed the last four of the franchise’s movies, to get a sense of his overall vision. “‘Harry Potter’ is a story told in pictures and it’s a world of its own that people know and respect. It’s a kind of magical version of the everyday world,” Murray told The Seven Sees. “It was really important that there be nothing in the movie that distracts you from the story and nothing that makes that world seem less magically real.”
After taking inventory of all of their material, 12 different companies began the painstaking process of converting the 130 minutes of movie footage in February. “April and May were just crazy insane getting it all done,” he recalls. “It was nail-biting at the end, I have to say. It wasn’t a comfortable finish, it was a close call with a number of shots.”
The movie did get finished, of course, and then it was nail-biting time for movie-goers, anxiously awaiting that July 15th release date. What audiences saw in IMAX 3D was a treatment handled appropriately, adding incredible visual depth to the movie’s action-packed moments.
“There’s a wonderful sequence where [Harry, Hermione and Ron] are trapped in Gringott’s Bank and escape on the back of a dragon, and we took every advantage of 3D through that whole sequence. It’s really spectacular,” Murray proudly says of their work, saving a bit of excitement for their work on another portion of the movie. “Of course, the big battle is where 3D shines because it just lends that sense of immensity and scale to what’s going on.”
But it’s not just the big scenes in “Harry Potter” where 3D makes a difference. In fact, this movie may include some of the best uses to date of the visual medium in scenes where there is no action at all, that solely focus on the characters and the advancement of the story, scenes where Murray describes the 3D as “deliberately conservative.”
One of those scenes Murray says the 3D team particularly enjoyed was this one, seen here in 2D, of course.
“3D adds an extra sense of creepiness and a sense of presence in that forest that takes it beyond the 2D sequence,” Murray points out. Fortunate for him, his director gave the seal of approval. “That’s one that David really liked, too. For him, it added a layer of kind of theatricality that’s sometimes hard to capture on film … You feel that space, you can see that it draws off between the trees and you can’t really see too far off but you know there’s a space there, and there are things lurking. It just adds to that sense of menace.”
Though the recent “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Deathly Hallows: Part 2″ have been primarily praised for their use of 3D, it’s no secret that movie-goers and critics alike have trashed movies where the extra dimension seemed like an afterthought, simply a ploy to make more money at the box office. Given the proper time and money for the conversion process, Murray seems to think the 3D in those movies could have been better. But there’s also another ingredient to the conversion formula, the most important. “A lot of this has to do with experience. IMAX has been doing 3D for years, I’ve been working in 3D at IMAX for almost 20 years. And so, you get an instinct for when a shot is right and when it’s not. I’ve worked with a number of people now and I know that not everyone shares that instinct,” Murray says, explaining that early versions of this movie didn’t meet his approval. “We were often sent shots that…they were just wrong. I mean, things just weren’t interpreted correctly, so I’m sure that’s leaped into some conversions that are going out there.”
Director James Cameron has been one of the staunch opponents of conversion, for reasons that Murray experienced. But the “Avatar” director’s 1997 smash hit “Titanic” will be re-released in April 2012 in 3D, currently in the midst of a long conversion process. Even he knows it can be done properly. As long as folks like Murray and those at IMAX, Cameron and even Michael Bay, who just used 3D for the first time with “Dark of the Moon,” continue to make great use of the format, you’ll definitely see me in those screenings.
“It’s about getting an audience lost in the narrative, and if the 3D takes you out of that or fails to keep you lost in the narrative, then it’s not doing its job,” Murray explains, noting what could and should be the 3D Golden Rule. “3D is just another visual medium that you can tell stories and you can tell stories well in, and it can be a very rich way of telling stories because, after all, we do live in a 3D world.”