By Admin | September 12, 2012

One of the most influential productions of all time was this 1952 extravaganza, which ushered in the modern era of widescreen film exhibition. Invented by Fred Waller, Cinerama cinematography employed three synchronized cameras sharing a single shutter; the cameras’ images were projected from three synchronized projectors onto an oversized curved screen that stretched 146 degrees deep, while stereophonic sound engulfed viewers.

“This is Cinerama,” the first feature released in this format, was a plotless collection of nonfiction episodes designed to show the audio-visual brilliance of the system. Sequences filmed from the front seat of a roller coaster and from an airplane zooming over the Grand Canyon created a visceral thrill for audiences 60 years ago.

Needless to say, it is impossible to expect any small screen adaptation to recreate the experience of seeing Cinerama in a theater – and the 1952 film, with its travelogue views of a Cypress Gardens water skiing show, aerial tour of Niagara Falls and sampling of European tourist offerings, can either be seen as quaint or dismally dated, depending on personal tastes.

However, this home entertainment release is important because it preserves the historically significant production in a handsome digitally remastered version (presented on a Smilebox curved screen simulation). And the real tonic here are the special features that celebrate the medium, particularly a documentary short on the laborious work that went into remastering of the film and a tribute to the efforts of the New Neon Movies cinema in Dayton, Ohio, that helped revive Cinerama films for theatrical presentation in the late 1990s.

Kudos goes out to all involved in making long-elusive title available for contemporary viewing. Hopefully, some enterprising theater exhibitors will reconfigure their cinemas to allow the three-camera Cinerama films another chance on the very, very big screen.

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  1. Phil Hall says:

    @Larry: And THANK YOU for all that you and the LOC team do for film history and classic movie appreciation! The movie lovers of the world owe you an extraordinary debt of gratitude for your preservation and restoration efforts!

  2. Larry Smith says:

    Great article about Cinerama and it’s growing revival. I especially like the story about Dayton, Ohio film buff extraordinaire, John Harvey a one man Cinerama projection team. I hope the showings at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles sells out and the Blu-Ray DVD sales hit the roof! I’ve seen Cinerama presented in the 3-projector process nearly 100 times and it still amazes me with the 3-D you are there feel without needing glasses and the sound separation unprocessed (raw and full range).

    Thanks for all that you do for film history, classic movie appreciation.

    Larry Smith
    Nitrate Film Specialist
    Library Of Congress
    Culpeper, VA.

  3. Herb Finn says:

    This should be showing in IMAX!

  4. Phil Hall says:

    Well, that 60th anniversary program looks great – especially having “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm” back on the very big screen! Thanks for the feedback and clarification, Chris!

  5. Chris says:

    Check out the lineup for the 60th Anniversary Cinerama festival in September 2012, including a new film shot in the format:

  6. Chris says:

    I had the pleasure of seeing How the West Was Won at the New Neon in Dayton in 1999, one of the last Cinerama screenings in that theater.

    One small technical correction that goes to the heart of the uniqueness of the Cinerama experience. The three cameras don’t share a single shutter; they are three synchronized cameras, with three separate lenses pointing in three different directions. Painters and photographers know that this means three separate vanishing points.

    It’s not the wideness of the image, or the curved screen, that is Cinerama’s most striking characteristic, is the impression of watching three separate but synchronized films side by side at once. (This is exaggerated when watching in a theater because the three separate film strips have aged in slightly different ways, or are Frankenstein-ed together from a small number of remaining prints.) Imagine looking out of a bay window, but in each bay window perspective vanishes to a separate point, and is perhaps a slightly different tint.

    The recent DVD and BluRay releases have worked hard to erase the otherwise visible seams between images, and they look great. But the fundamentally amazing thing about Cinerama is this slippery, uncanny question of whether you’re watching one movie or three.

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