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Hondo In 3-D at the Academy

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin December 1, 2008 at 7:37AM

Earlier this week, I was honored to be asked to host a screening of 'Hondo' (1953) at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Hondo is one of the few major films of its time that couldn’t be shown at the World 3-D Film Festival in recent years, so hardly anyone has seen it projected in 3-D since its original release.
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Earlier this week, I was honored to be asked to host a screening of Hondo (1953) at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Hondo is one of the few major films of its time that couldn’t be shown at the World 3-D Film Festival in recent years, so hardly anyone has seen it projected in 3-D since its original release. There was a television airing in anaglyph red-green 3-D in 1991, and of course the film itself is now available on DVD. This past spring, however, Gretchen Wayne, who now runs Batjac (the company her father-in-law founded and her late husband Michael Wayne headed), presented a new, state-of-the-art digital version of the 3-D western at the Cannes Film Festival. Apparently it was a sensation, and completely sold out.

Similarly, the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater was full for this landmark screening, which used new, heavy-duty 3-D glasses (with batteries inside) and didn’t require a silver screen. Since the showing at Cannes, a number of improvements have been made in the digital print, realigning some scenes that didn’t look right and repairing some halo problems. Batjac still thinks of this as a work in progress, but I must tell you, it looked sensational. 

I began the evening by issuing a mea culpa on behalf of the Academy, which unwittingly believed, as Gretchen herself did, that Hondo had very few 3-D engagements in its original release. 3-D experts Bob Furmanek and Jack Theakston have posted an exhaustive article on the history of Hondo and 3D with many interesting active links that you can find at 3-D Film Archive. I thanked them for bringing this to light. I also remarked that the high-flying predictions about a renaissance of 3-D that I’ve been reading in the trade and consumer press over the past few months sound amazingly like the hyperbole of 1953: “It’s going to lure audiences back into theaters”...”It’s going to revolutionize big-screen entertainment,” etc. It seems to me that everything depends on the quality of the films themselves. People don’t pay to see technology; they want to be entertained. If they get to see movies even half as good as Hondo, they will be lucky indeed.

I interviewed Gretchen before the screening, and she was forthright and charming, recalling her husband’s experiences on location in Mexico. He was in his teens and courting her back then; he wrote letters home from the sun-baked location, where the temperature rose to 120 degrees, and where a torrential downpour destroyed the sets. She brought along behind-the-scenes props and a Hondo Lane outfit (which were on display in the Academy lobby) and behind-the-scenes photos which were projected on screen as we spoke. Some audience members gasped when they saw how incredibly bulky the 3D camera was that had to be transported from one setup to the next. Given that, it’s amazing how good Hondo looks and how seamlessly it plays, with sparing use of in-your-face gimmicks but incredible planes of action in its rugged western setting.

Gretchen hopes to finalize the restoration and reissue Hondo to theaters in 3-D. I hope she does; I have a feeling people would pay to see it.

This article is related to: Journal, 3-D, AMPAS, John Wayne