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OF THE 1940'S & 50'S





3-D Glasses  3-D Glasses


Bwana Devil, the first 3-D full length movieThe 3-D craze all started in 1952 with Arch Oboler's 1952 BWANA DEVIL.   Although never really became a theatrical standard, it has also never completely disappeared.

None of the 1950's fad movie gimmicks made quite the splash that 3-D did, nor faded as quickly. In its first year or so, the film industry hanchos predicted that all filming would quickly convert to 3-D, just as talkies replaced silent films only 23 years before.

BWANA DEVIL, hit the big towns with ballyhoo posters showing lions leaping out of the screen, and promising an experience that wasn't just a movie, but participatory reality. LIFE magazine carried surreal photos of hundreds of viewers laughing and cringing, all wearing similar 3-D glasses that looked like sunglasses. Press coverage of the initial audience enthusiasm was so good that the fad snowballed into a craze that confused and frustrated studios, exhibitors, and audiences for years to come. This led directly to the surfeit of bizarrely-named film processes or formats, each touted as the ultimate in cinematic amazement: CinemaScope, VistaVision, SuperScope, Technirama, Todd-A0.

Mention 3-D now and you'll probably hear a lot of talk about eyestrain, those miserable glasses, and blurry effects that don't work. Screenings constantly happened where some of the audience oohed and ahhed in approval while the rest could be heard mumbling, 'I don't see any 3-D, what's going on?' It wasn't always that way. 3-D demands precise projection, the kind that wasn't always the case in the '50's, and today is almost extinct. In modern 3-D systems and in the original NaturalVision, 3-D is breathtaking when screenings go well.

Don't these folks look fashionable?  3-D at its' best!Photographing the 3-D scenes was fairly straightforward. For viewing, Polaroid filters were placed in front of each projection lens. The light from the left projector, Polaroid-screened on the vertical axis, would bounce off the screen and through a matching-axis Polariod filter over the viewer's left eye. With the Polariod filter over the right eye rotated 90 degrees, the image reaching each eye from two overlapping projected images stayed completely separated.

In test screenings and original theatrical runs in major cities, with NaturalVision experts personally tweaking the projectors, 3-D got enthusiastic reviews and the kind of reception that sold stock in optical companies. Show Biz was convinced that Hollywood would have to be retooled from the floor up to accommodate this next step in movie evolution. Warner Brothers, perhaps wanting to benefit from early adoption the same way it had scooped the talkie craze, jumped on the bandwagon from the get-go. For better or for worse, 3-D was launched.

3-D was tough sledding for the industry, both technically and economically. The laws of optics decreed that filming, lab work and exhibition all would have to be refined to higher standards for 3-D to go over with audiences. Appreciation of the format went from high to nil when 3-D screenings with mismatched color or focus or a hundred other problems ruined the effect.

Technically Hollywood was certainly up to the challenge; its engineers and camera machinists welcomed the opportunity to show how well they could grind precisely matched lenses, how reliable their cameras could be. From all reports, most 3-D shooting went smoothly because the production teams prepared well. Hollywood labs also did amazing work, preparing what were in essence two movies, a left and right eye version, that matched perfectly cut for cut and color for color.

Exhibition is where it all broke down; projection in 1953 was of a high standard, but it just wasn't possible to make every booking of a 3-D film, in every town, mistake-proof. Many an owner who refitted his theater felt cheated when shows were cancelled because of film problems, or audiences were furious because of imperfect projection.

Modern attempts to re-launch the fascination with 3-D have met with mixed results, even though the systems have apparently been perfected to eliminate the difficulties showing NaturalVision. The modern systems are of the single-film variety. One of the FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels was 3-D, as was JAWS 3-D, a gimmick opportunity if there ever was one.

In the 90's 3-D has found its place not in films but in film-based amusement park rides and short special-venue film systems like IMAX and the startling CAPTAIN EO. These 'special curiosity' venues seem the perfect place for 3-D, the movie miracle that never quite found its place in movieland.


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