There is no middle ground when it comes to 3-D movies – either you love the experience of greater depth to a projected film or you hate the clunky special glasses and the headaches that sometimes accompany viewings. Either way, 3-D has made a profound impact on cinematic exhibition, as witnessed in film historian Ray Zone’s new book “3-D Revolution: The History of Modern Stereoscopic Cinema” (published by University Press of Kentucky).

Film Threat spoke with Zone on how the 3-D experience progressed from the glory days of “Bwana Devil” in 1953 to today’s digital offerings – along with a funky 1970s detour into the skin flick industry!

One of the most interesting aspects of your book was learning about the myriad of 3-D camera and projection technologies. How many of these technologies were created, and which ones were considered the best?
Many.  A dozen dual-band technologies were produced for 1950s 3-D films and just as many in 1980s for single strip. Three or four camera technologies for IMAX 3-D were developed and numerous strategies for CG 3-D with software for digital 3-D cinema.  21st century 3-D camera technologies number about eight to 10.

There is really no best technology, with the exception of IMAX 3-D, which as large format has a clear advantage.  It is the artistic use of the technology that makes it work to advantage on the 3-D screen.  And it is not the technology which advances stereo cinema but the creative use of the technology.

The initial 3-D craze came on strong in 1953, but died within two years. Why did it fizzle out so quickly and dramatically?
CinemaScope killed 3-D.  Widescreen was promoted as soon as 3-D boom was beginning.  When exhibitors were faced with a choice they elected to go wider and not deeper.  There were also many difficulties and expenses associated with the dual projector 3-D of the 1950s.

During the early 1970s, X-rated filmmakers began using 3-D. What inspired that trend – and is it safe to say that the porn industry may have saved 3-D?
The box office success of Chris Condon’s “The Stewardesses” in 3-D inspired the porno trend.  The 3-D porno films came out in the 1970s at a time when there were no other 3-D films in release.  So 3-D porn was a bridge between the 1950s’ and 1980s’ 3-D films.

Do you believe that 3-D will remain a permanent fixture in film exhibition, or will the studios stop releasing 3-D films?
3-D will remain permanent in theatrical motion picture exhibition.  There are 20,000 digital 3-D screens worldwide today and that number is inexorably growing every week.  The studios will start producing smaller 3-D films with budgets less than $100 or $50 million to amortize the “risk” they’ve been taking with $200 million dollar tent-pole films in 3-D.  The real masterworks of 21st century 3-D cinema will likely be produced in the independent sector and not by the risk averse studios at all.

In your opinion, which film offered the most invigorating use of 3-D technology?
“The Polar Express” (2004) still offers the most exciting and invigorating use of 3-D in the current era of stereo cinema. “Beowulf” (2007) was also astonishing.  We have to look to “House of Wax” (1953) and “Kiss Me Kate” (1953) for real 3-D stimulation in the 1950s.  With IMAX 3-D, we have “Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man” (2000) and “Space Station” (2002) as preeminent examples of 3-D excitement in large format.

Posted on August 8, 2012 in Interviews by

If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
Popular Stories from Around the Web

Tell us what you're thinking...

Comments are governed by the Terms of Use of this Site. Click on the "Report Comment" link if you feel a comment is in violation of the Terms of Use, and the comment will be reviewed appropriately.