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Published October 26, 2014

The Vatican Museums 3D is definitely a niche documentary. To be fair, a film about high art in the Vatican is never going to draw mass crowds of people. It isn’t the most thrilling of films to watch either, so it did itself no favours in regards to making the fantastic art housed in the Vatican Museums accessible to a broader public. However, it did have some interesting information and interpretations of the selected artworks (it couldn’t possibly cover all the art in an hour, so it had a selection of the more famous pieces). Overall, although it didn’t exactly have the audience leaping about in ecstasy, it at the very least allowed us philistines in Australia a glimpse into the stunning artworks that make up one of Europe’s finest collections.

For an hour long documentary, it felt quite a bit longer. Although looking at art is, as they said in the film, something that should be done “at your own leisure”, sometimes this film felt a little bit too leisurely. Something I didn’t find particularly interesting was the repeated ‘cut scenes’ that were very artistic shots of a semi naked young man doing a variety of artistic endeavours, such as painting or sculpture. Other similar artistic shots included fire, water and dust blowing around symbolically. Sometimes there was relevance, such as the two dust plumes relating to the competition between Raphael and Michelangelo, or the fires associated with the more violent paintings. But a lot of the time it was accompanied by, admittedly thought provoking, quotes by a variety of Renaissance, Romantic and Classical artists and thinkers. For the most part, they slowed the film down drastically and distracted from the artworks.

Another issue was the interpretations of the artworks. Whilst of course they were obviously going to give a particular view of the depth in the artwork, they did take themselves very seriously. Whilst the constant references to “divine inspiration” and the “search for divine inspiration” may have been overbearing for some, they were to be expected.

It was the seriousness and dryness of some of the descriptions of the artworks that got a little bit much, especially if you have come across other amusing interpretations of the Sistine Chapel, such as Michelangelo and the human brain theory or even the “mooning” theory to name as examples. Another minor thing of irritation was the claim to encompass all of humanity and humanity’s artistic endeavours, and then spending all of the time focussing on a rather limited range from Classical Greco-Roman through to Renaissance artists, with some very brief interludes around Van Gogh and Salvador Dali. It seemed a little dismissive of most other art cultures, even other Europeans (no Russian, British or Spanish, let alone non-European, inputs here). Whilst it is true that these are amazing artists and artworks, it seems a little bit deceptive at best to state that they are representative of all of humanity.

On the subject of the artworks (which is ultimately what the film was about), the 3D aspect was incredible. The director of the Vatican Museums stated at the beginning that it was necessary to “touch” the art works to fully appreciate them. Whilst anyone who actually touches these artworks without express permission of the Vatican ought to be arrested, the 3D imaging added an awesome level of depth for each painting and sculpture. With the paintings, the 3D was able to bring elements of each one forward, adding emphasis and depth to the classic works. Raphael’s work The School of Athens for example, was so well suited to the 3D medium that each character in the painting seemed to spring to life. If for no other reason, this film should be seen by art lovers because of the fact that the art does seem to come to life in a way that no other medium can provide.

On top of that, from what I understand, it’s hard to really appreciate the art of the Vatican Museums when there are thousands of other tourists crowding around them (the Vatican Museums are the sixth most visited museums in the world). If you’re an art connoisseur, the Vatican Museums 3D is an excellent way to see some beautiful art up close without being hurried along.

In conclusion, it was a bit of a dry film, with a niche audience. The film felt a little aimless, dry and stretched out, with rather irrelevant cut scenes between shots of the absolutely stunning paintings and sculptures in the Vatican Museums. The narration was at times a little hyperbolic, but that was to be expected to a certain degree. That being said, the artworks were brought to life in 3D, offering new ways of looking at old classic paintings. Therefore, it is really a film suited for that niche group of art lovers and Vatican enthusiasts.

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