For, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the early 1980s, the 3-D craze of the ’50s resurfaced, but it didn’t last very long, which may be surprising to young people who, today, see 3-D as a common movie-watching option for dozens of films each year. This column, under the headline ‘3-D: Revival or a passing fancy,’ was published Aug. 27, 1982, and offers an overview and a brief history of the movie-watching gimmick.

There have been five 3-D movies shown in Salt Lake theaters since the first of the year, three of them new and two reissued oldies.

Last month, a Salt Lake television station ran a vintage creaky 3-D film, and it was a phenomenal success.

The TV station will probably show more in the future and several 3-D films are now in production for theatrical release in coming months.

What’s going on here? Wasn’t 3-D a passing fancy, used by filmmakers to lure customers away from that newfangled box that became a permanent piece of living room furniture in the early 1950s?

Well, of course it was. But now it’s becoming a more refined process, one used to lure customers away from their videocassette recorders and cable-TV stations in the early 1980s!

Unlike Cinerama, Todd-AO, CinemaScope, Sensurround and other such movie gimmicks, 3-D has seemed to come and go at regular intervals since the early ’50s (though it was actually experimented with as early as 1935 by MGM).

The first 3-D movies were B-actioners. “Bwana Devil,” a truly dreadful film with Robert Stack and man-eating lions, is credited as the first widely distributed 3-D film, in 1953.

Dozens of other cheaply produced thrillers followed, peaking with “House of Wax,” a good remake of “The Mystery of the Wax Museum” with Vincent Price and Charles Buchinski (later Bronsen). By the time some big-budget producers got around to making “Hondo,” with John Wayne; “Kiss Me, Kate”; and Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” in 3-D, the fad had waned. And it was only 1954!

The problem was the process more than the films. Two interlocked projectors were required with two simultaneously running films synchronized, and the inevitable breakdowns played havoc with projectionists and audiences alike. And the flimsy glasses, with one green and one red lens, were uncomfortable, with many customers complaining of eyestrain.


The latest film to refine the process is “Friday the 13th, Part 3, in 3-D,” being run on a single projector, and the glasses just have a dark tint. They’re still uncomfortable, however — and those of us who already wear glasses have twice the problems with them.

But the illusion of things flying off the screen, of depth not felt in regular “flat” films, is greatly improved. And indications are that even better 3-D effects are in store in the near future.

The real question is whether new 3-D films will be any good, despite their technical qualities.

The two reissued 3-D films shown in theaters this year both had problems. “Dial M for Murder” is a good film, but director Alfred Hitchcock had no real interest in 3-D and only used two brief scenes to thrust things out at the audience. “The Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth,” written and directed by Arch Oboler, who also did “Bwana Devil,” was an attempt to revive 3-D in 1970, but the film is so bad no one cared. The ’70s also produced “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein,” which will be brought back by Plitt Theaters on Oct. 1.

All three of the new efforts this year are filled with R-rated gore. “Dynasty,” a Japanese Samurai picture set a record for decapitations; “Parasite” ripped off “Alien” at every turn; and “Friday the 13th, Part 3, in 3-D” is just another horrible horror ripoff of “Halloween.”

All three films suffer from ridiculous plotting, idiotic dialogue and terrible acting. Oh, sure the 3-D effects are good — progressively better with each film — but we have the same problem we had in the ’50s: 3-D movies are generally just gimmicked-up garbage.

Meanwhile, the very industry that theaters are trying to take audiences away from is also experimenting with 3-D. And with amazing success.

Locally, the first 3-D movie to be shown on television was “Gorilla at Large,” a plodding mystery with a young Anne Bancroft and several other notable actors. The 1954 melodrama drew a very large audience, with local 7-Eleven stores selling some 165,000 3-D glasses for the televised event.


The glasses sold at 69 cents apiece, with a nickel from each sale going to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. They went slowly at first, but as the days for the telecasts approached, sales gradually picked up. More than 70 percent of them went on the Friday and Saturday that KTVX, Channel 4, televised the film — and crowds at the fast-service outlets were enormous.

“At one store the police were called,” according to KTVX promotion manager Sam Dalton. “There were close to 300 people in that little store, and a fist fight broke out over the last pair of glasses.”

Dalton said that though there are no immediate plans for another 3-D film to be shown, the station is enthusiastic about the response and probably will show another in the near future. Very little negative feedback has come in, and a lot of favorable comments from some 200 phone calls.

Meanwhile, other TV stations around the country have also had responses to 3-D showings — but some less friendly than those received by KTVX. New York audiences saw “Gorilla at Large” in 3-D form last month, too, but a lot of complaints about eyestrain and the film itself were called in. In Chicago, “Revenge of the Creature” (a sequel to “The Creature From the Black Lagoon”) was shown, and literally thousands of viewers called to complain that the 3-D process was inadequate. But in both cases, incredibly huge ratings were also tallied.

It should be noted that the FCC has approved the 3-D signal, but even black-and-white movies must be viewed on a color TV set in order to get the 3-D effect.

And adding impetus to the 3-D craze is a news story out of Columbia, S.C., about three university professors who claim to have developed a 3-D color TV system that does not require the glasses at all.

Meanwhile, 3-D movies will keep coming to theaters over the next year or two, with literally dozens in production now and others preparing to begin filming.

Several horror films are ready or near-ready, and they will no doubt continue to substitute gore for imagination, but on the horizon are also “Jaws 3,” to be shot in 3-D in Orlando, Fla., and “Treasure of the Four Crowns,” a “Raiders of the Lost Ark”-type adventure film from the team that gave us “Comin’ At Ya!” last year. That team will next begin a 3-D sword-and-sorcery epic, “The Legend of the Mystical Knight.”

Whether those films will be of any better overall quality than what’s come along so far remains to be seen.