It seems that every new 3D movie that comes out is heralded as the greatest achievement in 3D so far. I avoid most of these films entirely, or try to see a 2D screening, but there have been a few films in which this is simply not possible. I have yet to see a live-action 3D film in which the use of 3D has been anything but a detraction from the movie, and Pina (pronounced pee-nuh, not peen-ya like everyone seems to think) is now the best example I’ve seen of how the use of 3D can absolutely cause irreparable harm to a film. But Pina is a failure on just about every other level as well, so it’s not like it would have been good if it had been in 2D. It just would have been a lot less bad.

Pina Bausch was a German choreographer who was known for a style of expressionist dancing called Tanztheater. Some of her most noted dances include Café Müller (which takes place in what looks like a ransacked restaurant with dancers who appear to be imitating mentally handicapped zombies) and Rite of Spring (whose dirt-covered stage may well have been the inspiration for the soil room in Zoolander), and Pina provides performances of these and other works by some of the most aggressively ugly people I have ever seen. For the most part, the film is a sequence of dance numbers, but there are a handful of “talking head” scenes in which the dancers talk about their experiences with Bausch, except that it’s not really talking heads because the people are just sitting there while their separately-recorded commentary is played. I suppose those scenes are what allow the movie to be considered a documentary, but it is absolutely a crime for the film to receive an Oscar nomination for best documentary when truly spectacular documentaries like Senna, Tabloid, and Thunder Soul went unrecognized.

I am absolutely baffled at how anyone could consider the 3D in Pina to be anything short of abysmal. It committed just about every transgression possible for a 3D film. It doesn’t use infinite depth of focus, which means that only part of the scene is in focus while other things in the background are blurry. It is plagued by horrible ghosting, and this even frequently impacts the subtitles used to indicate what non-English speakers are saying. The illusion breaks down when there’s fast motion (like a lot of the dancing, but it’s also particularly bad in one scene with a leaf blower, and in several scenes with rain or falling drops of water) or when there’s something between the camera and the subject (like filming through glass, sheer cloth, or falling drops of water). Chain link fences seem to be the absolute bane of 3D, since there can be extreme differences in depth of the fence itself and what you can see through it, and Pina has one of those, too. At least some of the 3D was added or “enhanced” in post-production, and as a result we get a handful of items which look flat and/or have an odd kind of sparkle to them.

While the poor 3D is certainly the most obvious problem with the film, I had other issues with it as well. I found lighting to be a problem throughout the movie, with some scenes that are so dark that it’s hard to make out detail and others having such excessive backlighting that the action is washed out and equally hard to see. There is more than one lens flare, in which the light source creates a reflection off the camera lens that is visible in the film (which also cause serious harm to the illusion of 3D), and at least one scene in which the dancers are holding lights which are occasionally pointed directly at the cameras.

The subtitles are also poorly executed. Although there isn’t a lot of talking, a lot of the talking that is included is non-English, and there are a wide variety of languages represented by the various dancers. Unfortunately, the subtitles have 3D effects, which often makes them hard to read, and even if they were completely flat, it’s less than ideal having to read them through 3D glasses. I also found it difficult to follow on a couple of occasions in which someone started a sentence in language other than English, but then about halfway through changed to English (often with a heavy accent), and subtitles were only provided for the non-English part of the sentence. This means that you have to listen carefully to what is being said because it’s easy to be taken off-guard when you have to switch from understanding what you’re reading to understanding what you’re hearing mid-sentence.

I could go on listing faults, but I don’t really want to keep beating a dead horse. There is some dance in the film that is genuinely fun and innovative, although I found most of it to be featured in the trailer. I actually had high hopes for the movie based on its trailer and its Oscar nomination, but the repeated and pervasive failures just serve to make it a big disappointment.