Hollywood was feeling the effects of television in the early ‘50s. TV had revolutionized both communications and the entertainment in only few short years, after bursting onto the scene only a few years earlier. Big screen Technicolor spectaculars had their appeal, but people were content to stay home and watch the small screen black and white TVs instead of going out to the movies. Looking to change this trend, studio moguls believed 3-D movies could lure people out of their living rooms and back into the theatres.
I was in high school when the first 3-D motion picture was introduced. Bwana Devil came to the screen in 1952 in color and 3-D. American’s flocked to the theatres to don the cardboard glasses with one red and one blue plastic lens. The technology had been around for years prior to this with the first commercial showing of a 3-D film, The Power of Love, making its debut in 1922. But the industry didn’t turn to this technology until they were in trouble, which made the early ‘50s are considered the Golden Age of 3-D.
The House of Wax was unveiled in 1953 and featured the first stereophonic sound to accompany a 3-D movie. A host of others films followed. One genre, horror films, found 3-D as a way to startle and scare audiences and thus enhance the entertainment experience. The most popular was The Creature from the Black Lagoon, which was followed by a couple of sequels. The two Rue Morgue films also did well at the box office. Kiss me Kate, a musical, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder were released in both 2-D and 3-D with the former showing in more theatres and therefore becoming the more acceptable mode.
Problems of quality, particularly picture synchronization caused by trying to match the images from two projectors, was only one of the reasons interest in 3-D waned after a couple of years. However, technology produced a better product with companies such as Polaroid joining the research battle; there was a resurgence of 3-D in the 1980s and again in 2003 with the rise of the digital age.
It was not until 2008, when Bolt was released, that I was re-introduced to 3-D. I saw this animated film, which I watched with molded plastic glasses rather cardboard ones. It was a lot different from the early 3-D experience. Then, on New Year’s Day, I saw Avatar. Wow! I felt as if I were part of the imaginary world created by John Cameron who used 3-D to enhance the story rather than make the technique the focus of the film. You can see it in 2-D, but you haven’t seen it until you see Avatar in 3-D.
So expect to see more movies in 3-D, since people seem to like it. And, it won’t be long before 3-D comes to living rooms across the country. Several manufacturers are getting ready to start selling television sets with 3-D capabilities. Sony, a TV manufacturer and motion picture studio owner, expects half the company’s TV line up will eventually be in 3-D. And next year, the PGA and ESPN are going to offer 3-D programs. We’ve come a long way since that spear was thrown at us in 1952, sitting in a crowded movie theatre and decked out in our 3-D glasses, as we watched Bwana Devil.