These days It seems commonplace to scan the local movieplex listings and expect at least one or two features to be presented in 3-D or IMAX. In the early Fifties, however, such a presentation was something of an ‘event’ and, to some degree, still is. Nevertheless, the cynic in me can’t help but feel that it’s all just an elaborate excuse to hike up ticket prices and charge $9 for the obligatory tub of popcorn.
Often 3-D movies from the Fifties featured gratuitous moments where objects or actors lunged and leaped towards the camera, however impractical and awkward those displays might have looked in 2-D. These scenes, clearly staged for the sole purpose of accenting 3-D’s assets, nevertheless complimented their reputations and came to be expected by moviegoers. Modern features like Avatar and Gravity go out of their way to avoid using the process excessively or distract from their stories. As a result, they don’t seem to conjure up particularly memorable three-dimensional scenes— yet everyone remembers the paddle ball guy in House of Wax.
The first film to lucratively mix low-budget fare with color 3-D was Bwana Devil, an indie adventure flick about big game hunters going after killer lions in Africa. It proved popular with audiences and grossed $5 million. Columbia Pictures and Warner Brothers both took notice, producing the 3-D studio features, Man in the Dark and House of Wax starring Vincent Price.
Westerns soon hitched their wagons to the 3-D train with Fort Ti starring George Montgomery, Hondo starring John Wayne and Taza, Son of Cochise. The horror/sci-fi genre, well-suited to the sensational gimmick boasted It Came From Outer Space, Robot Monster, Creature From the Black Lagoon and its sequel, Revenge of the Creature. Other 3-D films included The Diamond, the MGM musical Kiss Me Kate and Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder.
Since then it has seen intermittent reception but 3-D’s implementation is generally a resort the industry occasionally falls back on when returns are low. The more the movies turn their profit and audiences’ tastes favor genres suited to the technology, the more we can expect to see things ‘comin’ at ya.’ Sometimes it’s that extra dimension that makes the difference.
Next week we’ll explore the intriguing and curious industry known as 3D Printing. What is it? How does it work? Will it affect our future? Stay tuned.