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By Brian Lafferty

March 26, 2010 (San Diego's East County) -- After I saw Avatar back in December, I was sure of one thing: there is no longer any excuse for filmmakers to skimp on 3D. Avatar, for me, established several precedents when it comes to the quality of these movies. It demonstrated that a 3D flick can have outstanding image quality, that the medium is best when used to increase depth, and that it can really make you feel like a part of the movie’s world. How to Train Your Dragon, the newest animated feature from Dreamworks, grasps these three notions. The result is a fantastic cinematic experience for both adults and kids alike.


The hero of this picture Viking named Hiccup. He’s not your stereotypical Viking; he’s scrawny, clumsy, and weak. He befriends a very rare dragon that he dubs Toothless and the two develop a bond. Hiccup discovers a lot about these creatures including that they can be trained and that they are not the vicious creatures the village perceives them as.

It seems to me that 3D movies have improved significantly over time. A year ago if I had an option between seeing the 2D or 3D version, I’d be more inclined to see the former. In past moviegoing experiences, the images were murky and the colors washed out.

That is not the case with How to Train Your Dragon. Several times throughout the film I lifted my 3D glasses to compare. There was barely any difference at all. The picture is crisp, clear, and the colors are vibrant. The environments in this film are lush. The beaches, cliffs, forests, and villages are breathtaking. It made me feel like I was actually there.

On a related note, I discovered another aspect of 3D that I feel is very important. As illustrated effectively by both Avatar and this movie, the best 3D experiences are those that make you unaware you’re watching it in 3D. I personally can’t stand it when stuff jumps out from the screen. Not only is it cheap but it breaks the illusion.

With How to Train Your Dragon, the filmmakers use 3D to increase depth. This is most evident in wide shots. The flying scenes are spectacular and not just because of the pretty pictures. Because of the increased depth, the experience becomes much more exhilarating. We fly through cliffs, around the beaches, though the clouds. We get lots of good views of the island. The 3D worked so well, it made me feel like I was up there with them.

The screenplay has a lot of surprises in store. There were a lot of things I didn’t see coming and it would be a disservice if I were to reveal them. The characters may look like Vikings but behind the armor, muscle, and accents, there exists real people. They transcend the stereotypes associated with the Viking culture. The movie is intense at times, especially at the end, but it is otherwise inoffensive and easy for children to understand.

Avatar raised the bar when it comes to 3D. I’m happy to report that How to Train Your Dragon knows it and delivers a solid 3D experience.

A Paramount Pictures release.  Directors: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders.  Screenplay:  Will Davies, Dean DeBlois, and Chris Sanders, based on the book by Cressida Cowell.  Original Music:  John Powell.  Voice Cast:  Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, and David Tennant.  Runtime:  98 minutes.  Rated PG.

Brian Lafferty welcomes letters at brian@eastcountymagazine.org.  You can also follow him on Twitter:  @BrianLaff.

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