Of all the film technologies to come along in the last century, 3-D may be the most contested in popularity. Those who adore the effect of objects jumping out of the screen are equally matched by those who refuse to see any film in more than two dimensions.
What is striking is that for a process that has been around for nearly a hundred years, we are now in the new renaissance of 3-D movies. Technologies have advanced significantly in the last decade. Gone are the days of red and blue glasses, out-of-focus images, and headaches due to eyestrain. Top theatrical films are released in both 3-D versions as well as traditional for those who favor a flat image. Many of these are then released in 3-D Blu-ray for home use, with clarity equal to that of the theatre. Simply put, for the 3-D lover, the medium today is better than ever.
Like color, sound, and wide-screen, 3-D had origins in the silent era. Edwin S. Porter experimented with 3-D test footage in 1915, and the first 3-D feature, The Power of Love, had at least one booking in Newark, NJ, before being released flat as The Forbidden Lover (1923). But 3-D experienced its heyday in the fifties, when the studios looked for any way to combat the threat of television. Its popularity was short-lived, lasting only a few years, but it continued to reappear throughout the subsequent decades.
It should be noted that not all modern 3-D movies are actually filmed with 3-D cameras. Many are what have been termed “3-D video conversions” with a flat film processed into 3-D. This technology has made it possible for older films to be given the 3-D treatment, examples being Titanic, Top Gun, Jurassic Park, and Disney’s Little Mermaid.
This ability has also allowed the studios to release some classic vintage 3-D titles that look better than they ever have before. The Vincent Price chiller, House of Wax—arguably the best 3-D film of the fifties, is now out on Blu-ray, as is Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. Neither of these have been released before on home video in 3-D. Meanwhile, Universal released a stunning Blu-ray of Creature from the Black Lagoon, previously only released to home video in 3-D back in the eighties with the red and blue glasses. The new conversion eliminates the two-color treatment of the black and white film. Now, it is truly black and white, with 3-D layering never before seen in the film.
Here is where it gets interesting. Some of the lesser 3-D titles from the fifties are beginning to appear in Blu-ray form. Twilight Time, a video company that produces limited-edition titles, released the Noir drama Man in the Dark (1953) in a limited edition of 3,000. This was the first 3-D movie to be released by a major studio, shot in eleven days, and beating House of Wax to the theatres by a mere 48 hours. The Blu-ray comes with both 2-D and 3-D versions.
While this is a treat, and suggests that other little-known 3-D titles may find their way to the home market, it also showcases how preservation is now targeting what many once considered a cinematic gimmick.
Dragonfly Squadron is an even rarer bird. This black and white war film was made in 1954, right at the end of the 3-D craze. While filmed as a 3-D picture, it was never released in that format; the distributed prints were all flat. This is the first time—ever—that the public has ever seen Dragonfly Squadron as it was originally intended.
Does this mean that other vintage 3-D titles might soon receive a proper Blu-ray release? There is a wealth of titles that have not been properly seen in their 3-D format, and would benefit from a home release. Hondo with John Wayne, MGM’s Kiss Me Kate, the softcore antics of The Stewardesses, and the infinitely bad Robot Monster are among those that could find new 3-D life.
Having already released Creature, one can only hope that Universal’s It Came From Outer Space will soon find it’s way to Blu-ray. Then I can finally retire my old VHS tape from the eighties that came with the colored glasses.