Vatican Museums get 3-D treatment in theatrical feature

The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums (CNS/Paul Haring)

For those who have never been inside any of the Vatican Museums, seeing a documentary about them done with a 3-D effect on the big screen could be a real treat.

"The Vatican Museums 3D" begins a theatrical release on hundreds of screens around the country in December.

Even for those lucky enough to have traveled to Rome, "The Vatican Museums" distills eight days of around-the-clock filming into 80 minutes showcasing some of the world's most treasured works of art, a tour no visitor could pull off singlehandedly.

"It was a lovely experience to see the museums and the treasures collected in them," said Cosetta Lagani, the producer of "The Vatican Museums 3D," who also supervised the editing of all that footage.

Lagani spoke of the pain of having to leave so much material on the cutting-room floor. "Of course, we had to do some choices because the Vatican's museums are so big and there are so many works inside the museum," she said. "It's a one-hour documentary. ... You have to show some of the Sistine Chapel, Caravaggio, Raphael, frescoes and paintings, but also discovering all the treasures that really everyone could value."

Lagani, speaking to Catholic News Service from Rome, said she met with the director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, in March. "I sent them this new project that was an unprecedented project -- that was the possibility to film with ultra-HD (high definition) 3-D technology with the aim to spread the Vatican film experience throughout the world to all the people who were not able to come to Rome and visit."

Her pitch met with receptive ears. "They entered into a co-production with us," Lagani said of the Vatican. "They believed in this project. They believed in the opportunity to do this project to bring the museum experience throughout the world."

The process used is called Ultra HD 4K/3D. It's the same process director James Cameron used to make a 3-D version of his 1997 movie smash "Titanic." Even looking at the trailer of "The Vatican Museums 3D" on a computer screen, one can take stock of the enhanced presence of the selected art object without it looking hokey.

The movie includes 15 minutes of behind-the-scenes features exclusive to theatrical audiences, as the Vatican Museums' director Paolucci, documentary director Marco Pianigiani, and the film's director of photography as they recall both the challenges and triumphs involved in the making the movie.

Lagani said she is most pleased with "the dimensionalization of the frescoes" in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel masterpiece. "It is very long work," but gratifying in the end, she added, noting that it took four months of post-production work to get the film in its final state.

"The Vatican Museums 3D" bows on most U.S. screens Dec. 10, although a handful planned to debut it earlier -- Dec. 7 for one cinema in Minnesota. Other opening dates are later in December, with a few in January. One upstate New York movie house won't premiere the film until after Easter.

Before the theatrical run is finished, the movie will have played on 2,000 screens in 55 countries, according to Lagani.

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