May 5, 2018

THIS IS CINERAMA...and You Should Be Grateful
Narrated by Lowell Thomas. Directed by Robert L. Bendick. (1952/127 min).


Review by Stinky the Destroyer😾

Everyone who loves the visual & sonic eye candy of today's blockbusters probably owes ol' Fred Waller a tip of the hat.

Once upon a time, television was the scourge of Hollywood, threatening the studios' livelyhood by beaming moving images right into people's living rooms...for free. Studios fought back the only way they knew how, with technical advances that tiny black & white boxes simply couldn't reproduce. This was when 3-D and widescreen came into prominence, not-to-mention hucksters like William Castle peddling such glorious gimmicks as "Emergo," "Percepto" and - my favorite - "Coward's Corner."

Then there was Cinerama, a technique developed by Fred Waller that utilized three projectors to present a single image on a super-wide curved screen. Depending on where you were seated, the result was as close to a completely immersive experience as you could get, the picture filling your entire field of vision. Cinerama wasn't without its limitations. The way films were required to be shot was not conducive to close-ups, which generally meant the process lent itself best to documentaries.

However, if it weren't for the visual and audio advances introduced by Cinerama, chances are we wouldn't have eventually gotten CinemaScope, Todd-AO, Panavision, 70mm, Dolby, THX, IMAX or HD, to say nothing of motion simulator theme park rides and massive curved screen TVs. This is Cinerama was the world's first look at this technical milestone.

This is Cinerama re-release one-sheet.
This is Cinerama is not-so-much a movie - or even a documentary - as it is a promotional tool that was used to show people what they were missing by being couch potatoes. And the public responded by making it the highest grossing film of 1952. 

It goes without saying that watching the film at home is an entirely different experience. No matter how big your TV is, This is Cinerama is simply not going to look or sound as impressive as it did on all those super-screens popping up in the 1950s. It helps, of course, if one remains aware of Cinerama's impact at the time. From a historical perspective, this is one of the most important films ever made.

That doesn't always make it interesting. In fact, after the iconic opening scene - a rollercoaster ride from the view of the lead car - the first half is kind-of meandering as it moves from one location to the next - mostly in Europe - capturing operas, bullfights, dancers and a humorously out-of-place performance by the Vienna Boys Choir. But after a brief intermission (this disc retains the film's original roadshow presentation) interest picks up significantly as the film returns to the wonders in its own backyard, such as a water-skiing show in Florida and, most impressively, a coast-to-coast aerial tour of the United States.

Aesthetically, This is Cinerama is a bit dated, with some of the human subjects looking like they just stepped out of a Devo album cover. However, even six decades later, some of the imagery remains colorful and visually jaw-dropping. The film has been released on Blu-Ray before. This time, however, it's been restored using the original three-panel negatives, meaning the frame overlaps are clearly visible. But they were always noticeable in every Cinerama film back then, and seeing them here is part of the disc's charm. That, coupled with the "Smilebox" presentation (simulating the old curved screens) and outstanding audio make this disc the closest thing possible to the original theater experience.

Flicker Alley has also included a bunch of informative bonus features that are just as entertaining as the movie itself, maybe even more so for passionate cinephiles.

"THE BEST IN THE BIZ" - This is an hour-long retrosoective dicumentary focusing on many of the composers who score various Cinerama films.
"RESTORING THIS IS CINERAMA" - An extremely detailed summary of how this new restoration was accomplished, narrated by Dave Strohmaier, by one of the guys in charge.
ALTERNATE OPENING TO ACT II OF THE EUROPEAN VERSION - This has not been restored, which helps demonstrate how good the new restoration of the film itself really is.
"CINERAMA EVERYWHERE: French-made short
"CINERAMA! AT THE NEW NEON" - This my favorite extra, a short about a theater in Ohio who began reviving Cinerama movies after a guy named John Harvey built himself a Cinerama projection system in his home.
RADIO INTERVIEW - With Fred Waller
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By John Sittig (of Cinerama Inc), Dave Strohmaier, Randy Gitsch (historian & producer from The Cinerama Restoration Team) and Jim Morrison (an original crew member).
2002 TRAILER - Made for the 50th Anniversary showing at the Cinerama Dome.
"BREAKDOWN REEL" - This film was shown to audiences whenever there were one of the reels broke (featuring Narrator/Co-porducer Lowell Thomas).
BOOKLET INSERT - With an essay by Randy Gitsch (Producer from The Cinerama Restoration Team).

No comments: