When G.I. Joe: Retaliation officially kicked into gear in January 2011, producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura (Transformers 4) sat down with Paramount to discuss 3D. The technology was considered and rejected.

“Paramount, when they first green-lit it, said to us, ‘We want to shoot in 3D,’” explained Di Bonaventura this week to journalists on the studio’s lot. “We said, ‘We do, too. We can’t mount this movie in 12 weeks and shoot it in 3D—we need more time.’ They said, ‘Well, you don’t have any more time,’ so we said, ‘Okay, we’re going to shoot it in 2D.’” At the time, 3D post-conversions like The Green Hornet were getting terrible buzz from audiences and critics, and with the original G.I. Joe earning terrible reviews (it scored a 32% on Rotten Tomatoes), it made sense that the studio wouldn’t want to invite the bad press that accompanied the rushed 3D conversions of The Last Airbender and Clash of the Titans.

And then in May of 2012—just one month before Retaliation was scheduled to hit theaters, and with toys already on shelves—the studio made the shock announcement that the film would be delyaed to accommodate a 3D conversion. With two months left until Retaliation hits theaters, Paramount hosted a look at their 3D footage to see if the wait (and the concerned publicity that came with the big delay) was worth it.

Ten months is a lot of time to spend in 3D post-production—Clash of the Titans was converted in just ten weeks—but it’s not bizarrely exceptional. Both Thor and Captain America averaged eight months of post-converted 3D work, while The Avengers got by with just four since director Joss Whedon knew the film would be converted from the beginning. However, G.I. Joe director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2 The Streets) wasn’t as lucky. Retaliation will be his third 3D film after Step Up 3D and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, but it’s also the first he’s shot without actual 3D cameras, or even a 3D game plan from the very beginning.

“It was shocking,” said Chu of the studio’s announced decision to postpone Retaliation for a 3D conversion, “but at the same time, we’d had long conversations with the studio like, ‘If we’re going to do this, we need the time to do it right.’” At least the raw footage itself wasn’t a problem, as Chu claimed he subconsciously shot Retaliation like a 3D film.

“I’ve shot two other 3D movies, so we were always thinking z-axis and how do you do that. It was a part of my brain at that moment,” said Chu. “When we were shooting,we were like, ‘Damn! I wish we were shooting this in 3D! It would have been awesome!” because we knew the set pieces were really big and really dynamic. Obviously you want to see The Rock’s pecs in 3D.”

The Ninja Mountain Battle

Instead of screening topless shots of Dwayne Johnson, Di Bonaventura and Chu showed journalists the 3D version of the Himalayan fight between Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes they’d seen being filmed on the set. In the sequence, Snake Eyes ambushes Storm Shadow in a hallway and handily destroys his shooting stars with bullets—a slowed-down trick that looks great in 3D. The fight spills through a window where Jinx helps Snake Eyes stick Storm Shadow into a body bag and lower him off the mountain. But then red ninjas give chase, forcing the two heroes to jump on rappelling lines to swing to freedom, while doubling back to attack the ninjas with swords.

The four minutes of footage we saw were all angles and action. They made it seem almost impossible that the film wasn’t designed for 3D. And just as strikingly: the entire 10-minute sequence that will be seen in theaters is entirely silent—no dialogue, no music, and not even any screams. (“There was actually kind of a ‘Huh!!’ in the middle that we took out, said Di Bonaventura.)

“I remember when we were were shooting it, I was like, ‘Aw, is this going to be really boring? A long hallway?’” said Chu. “But it made you think differently about it, and ultimately when it was in 3D, you’re like ‘This is crazy, it’s perfect.’” To get the physics right during the cliff chase, Chu invited a climbing expert into his office to literally play G.I. Joe, holding figurines and pretending the chairs were mountains.

As for the 3D sequences Chu loves that journalists still haven’t seen, he gushed about getting to build a huge H.I.S.S. tank (“To bring it to life—and not just CG, but physically—was pretty awesome”) and sending it out to do battle with Roadblock’s (Johnson) nimble Ripsaw tank, and while clearly trying to avoid giving anything away, described one more as “a great, crazy scene where Storm Shadow comes back and Cobra Commander arrives and it’s really really fun because it’s all places with water and glass and shards going everywhere.”

The actual work of the conversion is harder than Chu anticipated. “It’s more legwork than I expected,” he said. “To get it right takes not one, three, five, six go-arounds. It takes like 12 to 20—literally—watching these scenes over and over again and just making little adjustments here and there. Which actually feels a little freeing. Even when I shot in 3D, you couldn’t adjust some of the things that we can adjust, some of the edges that you want to clean up.”

Roadblock’s Tank 

Chu and Di Bonaventura, both self-described perfectionists, expect to be fixating on the 3D conversion all the way up until the film opens, and mentioned that even the four minutes we saw might be tweaked and flattened.

“There are scenes that are cut fast and we’re still in that process of finding those things, even in the hallway, they’re going fast and swiping at each other—we’re pushing it right now,” said Chu. “In the final movie, I may compress that so your eyes aren’t jumping around so much and you see a little more clearly. I think that’s something we learned even on the dance stuff: you can do those things, but you’ve got to push it, get all the fun moments, and then go back over it and over it to see where we need to control it a bit more. We’re in that process right now. In our movie, there’s some fast action things that we want to do in it and we don’t want the 3D to restrict those, either. I think the hybrid is a fun thing—we get to play both sides. That just literally takes focus and time.”

At least with Retaliation‘s 10-month delay, Chu’s had all the time he could have asked for.


G.I. Joe: Retaliation will be in (3D) theaters on March 29, 2013.

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