The Martian and Dolby 3D

I attended another press screening at Dolby Labs Thursday night, and once again, it was all about a man left for dead in inhospitable territory. Only this time, instead of The Revenant, I saw The Martian.

And just like last week, I’ll tell you about the movie, then a bit about the technology.

As you probably know, Matt Damon plays the title character, but he is not a native-born Martian. He’s an astronaut who’s left behind, assumed dead, when his companions are forced to abandon the mission and get back to Earth. The film’s running time is split about equally between his struggles to survive on Mars and everyone else’s struggles to save him (once they discover that he’s alive).

Unlike The Revenant, the filmmakers didn’t feel the need to turn The Martian into a revenge story. The marooned astronaut doesn’t blame those who abandoned him. The villain here is outer space–and Mars. These aren’t survivable environments for human beings.

The Martian drips with science, and as far as I can tell, it’s pretty accurate. Damon’s character experiments and finds ways to make water, grow potatoes, and make contact with NASA (the air issue is dealt with quickly and not totally satisfactorily). Those on Earth and returning to it have to figure out the best way to rescue the poor guy.

For all its suspense and realism, The Martian has a light touch. Damon’s character jokes to relieve his tension (“I’m the best botanist on this planet!”) and complains about his captain’s choice in music (disco). Back on earth, Donald Glover has a fun turn as an asocial and unhygienic science geek.

Speaking of Earth, there’s one artistic choice that bothered me. We’re decades away from sending people to Mars and bringing them back alive–and the scenes on Mars and in the spaceship show advanced technologies we don’t yet have. But the scenes on Earth make no attempt to look futuristic. The phones, cars, fashions, and so on all set this film in 2015. Perhaps director Ridley Scott didn’t want to distract people.

This was my second movie in Dolby Atmos (after The Revenant), and I liked this mix much better. It didn’t overdo the surrounds, and I could hear what people were saying.

This wasn’t my first experience with Dolby 3D, but I had a conversation with a Dolby employee about the technology before the movie.

Unlike other theatrical 3D systems, Dolby 3D doesn’t use polarized lenses (the differences are all in the projection; the DCPs are the same either way). And that means the theaters don’t have to use special, polarized screens.

Like the earliest versions of projected 3D, Dolby 3D uses colored lenses to control what light reaches what eye. (The technical term is anaglyph.) If you look at Dolby 3D glasses from the right angle, you can see the magenta and green in the lenses.

But Dolby 3D doesn’t have the awful look of anaglyph. Thanks to some 50 layers of filtering in the glasses, plus color correction in the digital server, the colors look accurate. At least they do if you keep both eyes open. Close one eye, and you’ll see a color cast. But only a geek like me would close an eye while watching a 3D movie.

I do have one problem with Dolby 3D, and it’s probably not an issue with people who don’t like the front row. Everything gets distorted on the periphery of your vision. Sitting very close with a really big screen (not possible in Dolby’s theater) could be a real problem.

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One thought on “The Martian and Dolby 3D

  1. Yeah, I was skeptical about the “breathing” thing, too, but my Science Adviser, Robin Weber, tells me that The Martian’s “oxygenator” is a real thing. Who knew?
    Like you, I was pleased to see a movie that did not have a dark, sinister plot. We have all grown so accustomed to suspecting everyone’s motives, and assuming there are dark forces behind everything, so that even the natural death of a major political figure is assumed, by many, to be foul play. Good to see just a bunch of competent, capable people who care about each other, doing the best they can. The nearest thing the movie had to a “villain” was the PR gal, and they’re always suspect, anyway.

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