Cinema exhibition has survived several mutations over the years, but the loss of true showmanship and invention has been the most damaging. "Cinerama Adventure" transports the viewer back in time to the 1950s, when theaters were hurting for audience attention and were trying anything to get patrons back to the cinemas.
Perhaps the most successful gimmick of them all was Cinerama, an exclusive three-projector system that immersed the audience into the frame, using a curved screen to best mimic the eye's reach. Invented by Fred Waller as "Vitarama" in the 1930s, the elaborate projection system was initially employed to help train WWII pilots, placing the troops into the front seat of combat without shoving them into the line of fire. Sensing the potential for theatrical originality, Waller soon teamed up with "King Kong" director Merian C. Cooper to promote their exaggerated concept, now branded "Cinerama," to the masses.
"Cinerama Adventure" tracks the creation of the format, emphasizing that its introduction literally saved the motion picture business from certain death. With the television boom swiftly erasing the public's interest is traveling to the cinema, the industry needed a crucial helping hand; Cinerama, debuting with 1952's "This is Cinerama" was the lightning strike of wonder and profitability, ending up the top grossing film of that year. An amazing feat when you figure it only played on a single screen.
Directed by David Strohmaier, "Cinerama Adventure" is a meticulously crafted document of the glory days of feature film exhibition; a candy land of sorts where innovation was seen as the way to entice people back into theaters with spectacular presentation that they couldn't find at home with their newfangled televisions. Strohmaier laboriously documents the history of Cinerama, employing newsreel footage and interviews with experts, fans, and production members to arrange a wickedly detailed recounting of a format that rode a ten-year wave of monumental popularity, continuing to bewitch the dreams of film fans to this day.
From a purely technological standpoint, Cinerama is nearly impossible to fathom. With three synched projectors pointed at a mammoth screen, it's a wonder the system ever worked (though Waller was prepared for hiccups). The specificity of the format is what was so impressive and thrilling about it; a one-of-a-kind viewing experience that Hollywood would later steal with their own knock-off inventions (Fox's "Cinemascope" being one of the more famous ones) which failed to match Cinerama's success due to a simple lack of majesty.
The jewels of "Adventure" are the clips of the Cinerama productions. Presented in a "SmileBox" process to capture the illusion of the curved screen, it's fantastic to not only watch the rare pieces of film again, but to witness such concentrated effort to replicate the theatrical experience for today's audiences.
"Adventure" spends a large amount of screentime recalling the production of the Cinerama films. Primarily made up of travelogue features, whisking audiences to places far and away, the creation of these films were often completed by daredevil means. An outrageous anecdote concerning a Cinerama crew and a live volcano is a film highlight.
Production talk eventually leads to "How the West Was Won," one of two dramatic motion pictures shot in the Cinerama process. Here, the stars of the picture discuss the filming process with such an unusual camera setup and pay specific attention to the limitations of shooting in Cinerama. Unfortunately, little information is offered on "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm," the other, less celebrated, narrative endeavor.
When I look at today's theatrical standard, those lifeless blocks of multiplexes that eat up huge amounts of real estate, it reveals the true apathy of the film industry to engage their audiences. The moviegoing experience has been turned into a towering profit machine, viewing patrons as mindless sheep meant to be corralled in and out of theaters every two hours. As crushingly intricate as it becomes at times with the details, "Cinerama Adventure" stirs up a glorious moment in film exhibition where the bottom line was to provoke wonder, not strip audiences of their every last coin with perpetual mediocrity. To be reminded of this golden age results in an exquisite, tenderly bittersweet viewing experience.
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