Jon de Vos: 3-D movies make scents
February 26, 2009
In the 1950s, Hollywood was dismayed by how quickly television was making inroads on the family entertainment dollar. For the first time since the 1903 film, “The Great Train Robbery,” they saw their revenues shrinking. “The Great Train Robbery” was the first film intended to tell a story. It was ten minutes long and shot in Thomas Edison’s New York studio. Revenues climbed steadily for almost 50 years until television began to catch on and eat into filmmakers’ profit. Hollywood decided their salvation would be found in the third dimension. The technology of 3-D movies had been around for more than 30 years as a novelty but it took the impetus of dwindling revenues to dust it off and put it back on the big screen. There were a number of notable 3-D films made around that time, like the 1952, “Bwana Devil,” based upon the true story of the building of the Ugandan railroad. The movie’s tagline was, “A LION in your lap! A LOVER in your arms!” The original “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “House of Wax” were just two of the dozens of horror movies made in 3-D in the early ’50s.
3-D technology is simple. Two cameras are tied together with lenses three inches apart, filming the same scene. Then they were projected separately side-by-side. One film was projected through a red filter, the other through either a blue or a green filter. Corresponding glasses, worn by the viewer, blocked one side or the other so the left eye saw the film from the left camera and the right eye saw the other. The brain put the two split images back together into one stereoscopic scene that often left moviegoers with a splitting headache.
Technology came to the rescue again with polarized lenses. The film, projected through vertical and horizontal screens not unlike Venetian blinds, made 3-D viewing a lot more tolerable, reducing the mental fatigue. Interestingly enough, the highest grossing (good choice of words) 3-D film of all time was the 1969, X-rated but nonetheless soft-core porn movie, “The Stewardesses.” I guess audiences were interested in what sort of thing would be thrusting out at them.
In the past few years, big screen revenues have declined again, this time due to (my guess) high popcorn prices. So major studios are dusting off 3-D in a big way. Dreamworks and Lucas Films have announced that all of their future films will be released in 3-D. RealD, the leading manufacturer of 3-D equipment has retrofitted 1,700 screens in the last 12 months and has scheduled another 5,000 in the next two years.
Probably the oddest enticement to hit the movie theaters happened in 1960 when Mike Todd Jr. produced “Scent of a Mystery” in Smell-O-Vision. Scents, pertinent to the action on the screen, were piped under the seats in strategic locations throughout the theater. More than 50 different scents were used in the course of the film.
This stinker (Oh, come on, you knew it was coming) bombed big time, costing Mike Todd his entire investment and caused him to leave the film industry, not exactly smelling like a rose, despite that being one of the scents used in his movie.
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