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Cinerama Comes Home

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin September 25, 2012 at 1:00AM

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!
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I’m not sure what contemporary audiences would make of these films, which are so much a product of their time. Not only has the travelogue passed out of fashion, along with stentorian narration and overstated orchestral music, but IMAX and other flawless large-format films have become commonplace.

In the 1950s Cinerama offered audiences something startlingly new and different; today these films seem positively quaint, but they appeal to me all the same. It’s like comparing Ray Harryhausen’s frame-by-frame stop-motion animation to the CGI effects of the 21st century: some of us still appreciate the hand-made quality of Ray’s work, in spite of the many advances that have come in the years since he was active.

If you live in Los Angeles and want to see the complete Cinerama canon, don’t hesitate to buy tickets to the festival that starts this weekend. Some of the films will be digitally projected, while others will be shown in their original three-projector format at the historic Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. Click HERE, for more information, 

Here’s the report I filed in 1997 about my first-ever experience with Cinerama fifteen years ago…

LEONARD MALTIN IN FOCUS – This is Cinerama! – 1997

I’ve just made a pilgrimage to Dayton, Ohio to fulfill a lifelong dream.  When I was ten years old I received a copy of a wonderful book called The Movies, which helped to feed my nascent interest in movie history.  Toward the end of this panoramic, pictorial book was a picture of an audience experiencing a roller-coaster ride in a film called This is Cinerama.  Wow!  It looked so incredible, I had to know what it was like…but the film had long since disappeared from theaters.

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Cinerama—which promised to “put you in the picture” by using three cameras and three projectors, with a deeply curved screen--was still around when I was a kid, but I never got the opportunity to see it.  My first experience was a bogus one, when I went to Manhattan to see a first-run presentation of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World in 1963“Presented” by Cinerama, it was actually shot with a single camera in UltraPanavision 70, but shown on the famous curved screen.  It looked great, but I didn’t feel any heightened sense of involvement in the picture and was somewhat disappointed.  Then I saw MGM’s  How the West Was Won at my local theater in New Jersey, after the Cinerama print had been shrunk to standard 35mm; I enjoyed the movie, but was distracted by the dark “join lines” between the film’s three panels.

So when Larry Smith told me last year of his plans to revive Cinerama at his New Neon Movies theater in Dayton, using both equipment and prints slavishly preserved over the years by projectionist John Harvey, I knew I’d eventually have to make the trip. It’s been eight months since the Neon started showing Cinerama movies every weekend, and many thousands of people have preceded me—from 36 states and ten foreign countries. The response has been both heartening and astonishing for Smith and Harvey.

This article is related to: Journal, Cinerama, DVD reviews, Blu-ray, Flicker Alley