DeVos: New movie dimensions
October 29, 2015
In the 1940s, Western movies were in their heyday, so to speak. They were ubiquitous, so much so they were called "oaters" because of all the oats that had to be hauled around for the horses.
The very first Western was filmed in New Jersey in 1903 and featured the first 100-horse pileup on the George Washington Bridge. Well, the pileup part's not true but it was filmed in New Jersey. It was a 10-minute re-enactment of Butch Cassidy's great train robbery of 1900. Fittingly, it was titled, "The Great Train Robbery".
The movie industry grew by leaps and bounds for the next 50 years until television began seriously chipping away at big screen revenues. Fighting back, cinema moguls saw their salvation in the third dimension. 3-D had been around since the 1920s but only as a novelty. They dragged it out when Hollywood audiences waned as families gathered around tiny screens watching "Dragnet" and "Bonanza".
Halloween was good to 3-D with "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "House of Wax" two notables among the dozens of horror movies made in 3-D in the early '50s. Wait! That gruesome head Lieutenant Brennan holds aloft at the end of House of Wax, is it really Charles Bronson? Don't worry, you can still get red/green glasses on Amazon, be happy.
3-D technology is simple. Two cameras are linked together with lenses three inches apart, filming the same scene. Filters separate the projected images so the right eye sees what the right camera saw and same with the left. Early 3-D filtered the image with a red and a green lens leaving moviegoers with an amazing experience and splitting headache. Modern 3-D uses polarized lenses, a little easier on the eyes.
Interestingly enough, the highest grossing (excuse the choice of words) 3-D film of all time was the 1969 soft-core porn movie, "The Stewardesses". Even though it was an "R" rated movie, the producer self-imposed an "X" rating to appeal to the trench coat crowd. Produced for $100,000 with profits over $25 million, audiences were seemingly enthralled with the things the movie pointed out to them.
Technology, especially Dreamworks and Lucas Films, all embraced exorbitant popcorn prices as key to financial success, using 3-D movies to drag customers in. Across the nation, tens of thousands of theater screens were retrofitted to meet patron's demand for paper glasses that didn't quite sit on your nose.
An odd footnote in the history of movies was Mike Todd Jr.'s 1960 "Scent of a Mystery" in Smell-O-Vision. Scents, pertinent to the action on the screen, were piped throughout the theater. This stinker (you knew it was coming) cost Todd a fortune and a promising career in movies.
Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and dozens of streaming services have handed movie makers another challenge. Once again they reached into another dimension to lure back audiences with 4-D.
4-D movies are like 3-D movies with leg-ticklers, rocking seats and smoke blowing in your face; kind of like Grampa's Sunday drive with popcorn. Theaters are slow to upgrade due to the staggering expense to retrofit for what may be a passing fad. There is a 4-D theater at Denver's Downtown Aquarium. Decide for yourself if it's for you or perhaps you want to hold out for 5-D.
I don't know if I'm relieved or disappointed by 4-D's tiny disclaimer that the experience "does not actually take you to another dimension". Earthquake-hardened Californians may not even notice the shaking seats.