I was too young to see This is Cinerama when it debuted in 1952 and became one of the box-office sensations of the year. Decades later I traveled to Dayton, Ohio to see it in its original three-screen presentation, but now, to my astonishment, anyone can experience the film at home on Blu-ray and DVD! Naturally, this is not the same thing as being enveloped in the picture in a huge auditorium, but it provides access to a meticulously restored print of this unique and rarely-screened feature film, along with one of its follow-ups, Windjammer: The Voyage of the Christian Radich (1958), which was presented in a process dubbed Cinemiracle.
These two ambitious new releases from Flicker Alley represent an enormous labor of love by Cinerama aficionado Dave Strohmaier and a handful of technically savvy cohorts. The humble, home-made “making of” documentary about restoring This is Cinerama on the disc bears witness to their Herculean efforts, bringing color, clarity, and uniformity back to the film, often one frame at a time. (A background documentary on the making of Windjammer was produced in Norway and features some of the youthful crew members who made that unforgettable journey more than half a century ago.)
This is Cinerama and Windjammer are offered in the “Smile-Box” format that approximates the curved screen that made Cinerama so distinctive. Each film comes with a gallery of bonus features and behind-the-scenes material.
Just for fun, the producers have included the “breakdown” reels that were ready to be run at a moment’s notice if the cumbersome multi-projector presentation broke down. It’s fun to watch Cinerama host (and co-producer) Lowell Thomas ad lib about the making of the film and cue Mr. Projectionist to restart the feature several different times.