Dunking the Audiences: CinemaScope vs. 3D

October 18, 2017 | By

When Fox debuted their CinemaScope process in 1953, it was billed as the wonder process ‘without he use of glasses,’ a pretty frank jab at 3D which required the cardboard Polaroid sets to immerse viewers. CinemaScope also boasted Stereophonic sound, which some 3D films in fact did possess – the recent restoration of It Came from Outer Space (1953) and the prior DVD release of House of Wax (1953) have stereophonic mixes – but perhaps the studios’ short love affair with 3D over a roughly 2 year period was doomed for the same reason the format kept getting whacked down in the 1970s, 1980s, and 2010s: the films weren’t very good, the glasses were annoying, and the format had an aura of carny tackiness.

Don’t get me wrong – I actually love 3D, headaches & all – but if the studios are unable to produce compelling works by innovative directors with solid stories, you get premium priced carny gimmickry. That seems to be what the studios are parlaying today, because the whole post-rendered 3D nonsense is just a budgeting goosing of otherwise flat productions to extract extra cash at the box office; home video is inconsequential unless it’s a major comic franchise.

It’s worth saying a few words about the two films paired today, because they possess differing contradictions.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray of Fox’s deserved hit Beneath the 12-Mile Reef featured a great cast, plenty of romance and underwater mystery, sharp & witty dialogue, and unlike the format’s debut in The Robe, a camera that actually moved.

Director Robert D. Webb seemed to have ignored the memos mandating a dominance of sprawling epic vistas and had pans, tracking shots, and medium close-ups, and cinematographer Edward Cronjager either had the ‘good’ CinemaScope lenses, or was well aware of the peripheral warping that squished material at the edges and did everything within his power to minimize the aberrations to make sure our eyes didn’t get headaches from the flaws.

Case in point: Night People (1954), another early stereophonic ‘scope production which had the flawed lenses. The movie is exceptionally lit – beautiful warm pastels – but if you glance to the sides, especially frame left, anyone standing in that zone is smooshed. The flaw is even worse in fast panning motions: instead of following the centrally framed characters as they cross an intersection in post-WWII Berlin, look at the edges. The compression of peripheral objects – people, buildings, cars, light poles – is so severe it’s actually more headache inducing than 3D.


Because 3D is constant, and the eyes get used to the split perspectives, but when the next ‘scope shot is a staid, neatly framed dialogue scene between two seated characters, the flipping between normal and strobing is horrible. Fox knew the lenses were problematic, being prototypes developed in the 1920s by Dr. Henri Chretien, so it took a while before Bausch & Lomb made knew ones with less aberrations. It took a few years before the issues were minimal, but you could often tell when the old lenses were used on cheaper productions, just to be able to boast the releases as true CinemaScope.

Like the later format re-appearances, 3D had good & bad movies, some shot with care and skill, and directors using the process to expand the dramatic dimensions of scenes instead of tossing stuff at audiences (which was fine at the right time), and although Gun Fury was directed by Raoul Walsh, it’s short on dynamic action montages, and there’s a section in the film bungled by the use of optically timed day-for-night, which I detail in my review of Twilight Time’s Blu-ray.

As for Night People, the movie has looked like utter crap in prior full screen and non-anamorphic widescreen editions, so it’s a real stunner to see the movie looking so sharp and beautiful in the new Blu from Kino’s KL Studio Classics / Unobstructed View. I’ve updated a prior review to reflect the new HD transfer and my turnabout on a movie I originally found dull and meandering.

Lastly, Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) is finally getting released in Canada, and Toronto’s Royal Cinema is screening Synapse’s new 4K restoration of this baby, sporting a mix featuring material from a newly discovered muti-track mix. Being part of the Ladies of Burlesque series, there’s a pre-show, set to Goblin’s music (!), and being co-presented by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura (Toronto), the event’s being augmented with a post-screening Q&A with the film’s composers, Goblin, including Maurizio Guarini.

Guarini’s been important in bring the band together for Toronto shows, and he was also commissioned by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura to score a restored version of the silent classic Dante’s Inferno / L’ Inferno (1911), which screened earlier this year at Innis Town Hall. (I interviewed Guarini for a short podcast back in April, 2017.)

Coming soon: in advance of Saturday’s Video Store Day, a free streaming link to my experimental documentary BSV 1172: Your Friendly Neighbourhood Video Store (2016), filmed at Toronto’s Bay Street Video, who’ll be selling related physical media at The Royal tonight. Yes, that’s a blatant plug.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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