The third installment in Disney’s series of limited-engagement 3-D performance films, “X Games 3D: The Movie” would seem to have the most obvious appeal of the three, as dirt bikes and snowboards benefit far more from 3-D than footage of pop stars meandering across a stage. Yet a relatively unimaginative take on the proceedings, coupled with occasionally bizarre stereoscopic work and awkward narration, causes the pic to bail out more often than it soars. The one-week release will likely register as a must-see for devotees of the sports depicted, though with nowhere near the volume of last year’s “Hannah Montana” entry.
Taking an army of camera crews to the 2008 X Games in Los Angeles, director Steve Lawrence seems well equipped to offer a distinctive view of the extreme-sports centerpiece. Yet the resulting film is very much a straightforward 3-D version of what ESPN audiences would have seen on TV (even including much of the original TV commentary), interspersed with interviews and a moderate amount of 2-D filler.
Granted, the very notion of seeing the X Games in 3-D will probably be reward enough for fans, but considering the formal innovation seen in recent sports films like “Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait” and “Step Into Liquid,” one can’t help but ponder the possibilities of stereoscopic extreme sports that go unexplored here.
While much of the camerawork is impressive (the skateboarding footage is particularly arresting, and the dust clouds kicked up by rally cars are rendered realistically enough to make audiences reflexively brush off their clothes), some very serious depth-of-field issues persist. For example, amazement at the way so many ramps and half-pipes seem to absolutely dwarf the athletes next to them turns into suspicion when it becomes clear that superstar snowboarder Shaun White, interviewed while sitting on his bed, appears to be roughly the same size as the Les Paul guitar sitting three feet behind him.
Visual eccentricities aside, the ramps are huge, and the film’s closing account of the spectacular and incalculably dangerous skateboard megaramp event is by far its most successful sequence. Featuring an intense duel for first place between veteran skaters Danny Way (who continues to compete despite an excruciating-looking fall early on) and Bob Burnquist, the sequence finally captures the uncanny interplay of adrenaline, giddy excitement and abject terror that define athletic feats of this type.
Interstitial interviews with athletes during training sessions provide little insight, though they do occasion some unintentionally hilarious narration, gamely read by Emile Hirsch (“The present is past; only the future has currency,” “His achievements speak louder than a teenage girl with rollover minutes,” et al).