Explorers tale gets 21st century German reboot

A film that mixes fact and fable to humorously tell the story of two 19th century scientists may not sound like the stuff of 3D film these days. But Teuton filmmakers (think Werner Herzog’s “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and Wim Wenders’ Oscar-nommed “Pina”) have been at the vanguard of re-imagining the use of the format, exploring a new sense of space that might be seen as first steps in the use of the technology as part of a more intimate style of storytelling.

German director Detlev Buck, who has enjoyed B.O. success with his latest comedy “Rubbeldiekatz” (Woman in Love), has just wrapped the biggest project of his career: a film based on the international bestselling novel “Measuring the World” — shot in 3D.

The novel, by Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann, focuses on scientists Alexander von Humboldt, the explorer and world traveler, and Carl Friedrich Gauss, the mathematician who experienced the world through formulas and figures.

According to Kehlmann, “It’s about two people driven by curiosity who understand the world in very different ways.” At the same time, the author says his book was never meant as a serious novel, and calls it “a comedy about German-ness and German history.”

For producer Claus Boje, the 3D in “Measuring the World” draws the viewer deeper into the story. “You want to see more,” he says.

Buck describes his film as “a double biography, playing one life against the other,” with elements of science fiction, in which 3D is used to create a physical space contrasting the cramped internal world of Gauss in pre-industrial Europe with the breadth of Humbolt’s journey to the jungles of Ecuador.

The pic’s €11 million ($14.5 million) budget may seem modest for a historical costume picture shot in 3D on two continents, but the sum reps major coin for a German-language pic. Boje believes the book’s success (2 million copies sold in Germany alone; translations into 55 languages) will deliver the audience. Momentum from “Rubbeldiekatz should also help.

The film’s production company, Boje Buck, had to hit up a long list of sources for coin, including six TV stations, four regional subsidy funds and five federal funds from both Germany and Austria. Austrian co-production partner Lotus Films brought in 20% of the financing. Helmer Buck says that while the 3D component did not make it significantly easier to raise the money, in the end, it increased the budget by only 15%.

The tight budget was made workable by an even tighter shooting schedule of 31 days, using multiple cameras shooting several angles simultaneously to cut down on setup time. This meant having two to three big 3D rigs, with up to four small 3D cameras mounted in different parts of the set — a technique cameraman Slawomir Idziak (“Black Hawk Down,” “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”) used on his first 3D film, the Polish WWI epic “Battle of Warsaw 1920.”

“But genre-wise, a movie like this is much closer to my heart,” says Idziak, who also worked on two of Buck’s earlier movies as well as with Krzysztof Kieslowski on “A Short Film About Killing” and “Three Colors: Blue.” While Buck appreciates 3D asa crowd pleaser, he adds, “you shouldn’t be too much in awe of 3D. We still need to give the audience an emotional entry.”

“Measuring the World” will open in October.

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