3-D Movies: Coming Back At Ya'!

2007/7/11 #977956: Movie audience wearing 3-D glasses, photo AP

3-D movies, like "Creature from the Black Lagoon," were a novelty during the 1950s, best viewed through old-fashioned 3-D glasses. Well, now a new summer movie is heralding a 3-D comeback, as David Edelstein is happy to show us:

Before I talk about "Journey to the Center of the Earth," I would like to apologize.

I can't replicate, oh flat-screen-TV viewer, any 3-D effects (although I could make like John Candy's Dr. Tongue on "SCTV").

3-D and TV always had a barbed relationship: Hollywood needed such gimmickry in the Fifties to get people out of their Barcaloungers.

There was a circusy, "Step right up!" quality, captured by posters for "Bwana Devil" and Life magazine's photo of its audience.

That technology required two cameras side-by-side and two strips of film. The resulting image was a blur without colored glasses (and often a blur with them - I bet aspirin sales soared).

They were fairly disreputable movies.

The big hit was 1953's "House of Wax." It was made by a one-eyed director, Andre De Toth, who couldn't perceive depth, with Vincent Price skulking around and corpses falling into the camera.

There was one masterwork: "Dial M For Murder," which you rarely see in its 3-D form. Beyond the shocks, Alfred Hitchcock used depth of field and hard edges of furniture to create a vivid sense of entrapment.

The '80s saw a mini-3-D revival - terrible movies, although "Spacehunter" might have worked if it hadn't been a muddy jumble.

In "Friday the 13th Part 3," Jason sent body parts your way - the magic of movies!

(United Artists)
(Left: "Bwana Devil" promised "A lion in your lap! A lover in your arms!")

"Jaws 3-D" was the most pathetic.

Today, digital imagery is sharper, so even so-so 3-D films are happenings. Unlike my ten-year-old daughter, I'm not wowed by Miley Cyrus's song stylings, but "Hannah Montana in Concert" worked! Tweens want to identify with Hannah; 3-D put them on stage with her.

As a piece of storytelling, "Journey to the Center of the Earth" is a clunkerama, but the 3-D rocks.

Morose scientist Brendan Fraser, his nephew, and his blue-eyed Icelandic guide rollercoaster down a mineshaft … fall into a chasm … and fight off carnivorous fish.

With the glasses on, the image is darkish; the underground oceans look fakey-fakey. But who cares, when the background is back and the foreground so fore it seems to tickle your nostril hairs?

Hollywood has finally evolved (or devolved) to the point where 3-D makes artistic sense. So much imagery is computer-generated that today's blockbusters seem to take place inside computers.

So it's nice when they can usher us inside, too.

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