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The history of 3-D is a rocky road. After a fitful attempt at a revival in the 1980s, 3-D languished for a couple of decades, only to burst back into commercial marketability with the advent of digital projection. Thirty years ago, some collectors and researchers founded the 3-D Film Archive to promote and preserve 3-D history. Hollywood has tapped a few (just a few) of the top features of the '50s craze for 3-D Blu-ray, sometimes aided by the professionals from the Archive. Lucky patrons in big cities have enjoyed 3-D festivals, the most lavish of which were held in Hollywood in 2003 and 2013. They aren't likely to happen again, just because of the difficulty of screening in true Polaroid 3-D.
In conjunction with Greenbriar Picture Shows, the 3-D Film Archive has a produced 3-D Rarities, a truly historical compendium of fascinating filmic oddities, the likes of which one wouldn't expect to see screened anywhere. Most of us started out being fascinated by the View-Master 3-D snapshot toy, and scratched our heads at compromised anaglyphic (red-green) depth presentations. But we never knew that technical innovators have been monkeying around with 3-D since the time of Woodrow Wilson. According to the Archive, theatrical 3-D exhibition is exactly 100 years old this year.
Billed as "A Collection of 22 Ultra-Rare and Stunningly Restored 3-D Films," 3-D Rarities throws its net wide, grabbing up experimental shorts, demo films, films for special exhibition, business promotional pictures, experimental animated short subjects, cartoons, movie trailers and even a couple of striptease exploitation shorts.
Perhaps the best thing about the 3-D Rarities collection is the curatorship involved. Some of these pictures exist only with flawed elements, and the Archive experts have managed, where needed, to restore and realign each eye. Some early pictures only exist on anaglyphic prints, in which both colors were printed on one strip of film. The Archive split the information into left and right eyes with filters. Happily, new home 3-D equipment, with passive Polaroid glasses, gives excellent, consistent 3-D reproduction.
The show is broken up into three parts. The Dawn of Stereoscopic Cinematography starts in 1922 with some silent demo reels. People poke things at the camera, but we also see vintage footage of Washington D.C. and New York City, including a roller coaster ride, a baseball game, and a car ride over the brand new George Washington Bridge. The 3-D effects are excellent throughout. A lengthy look at the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1940 will make railroad buffs go nuts -- the images of rolling stock and fancy streamlined locomotives are lovingly filmed. A more unusual oddity is a full-color animated film for the New York World's Fair, which sets to music the animated assembly of a new Chrysler.
Animator and experimental filmmaker Norman McLaren directed or supervised four Film Board of Canada 3-D shorts in 1951 and 1952; they're presented here in beautiful color restorations. The minimalist animation makes use of advanced camera techniques, including filming images from an oscilloscope. One of these films is a technical precursor to Douglas Trumbull's Star Gate in 2001: A Space Odyssey, although not quite as psychedelic in nature.
Another screwy 3-D format preserved on this disc is a home movie system developed by Bolex in 1952 for its 16mm cameras. Splitting the image in half results in a tall, narrow 3-D image that looks like a vertical cell phone video. It can't have been too popular, as it was very expensive.
The second part, HOLLYWOOD ENTERS THE THIRD DIMENSION, begins with an 'intro to 3-D' short subject starring Lloyd Nolan. As Nolan speaks, the impate pops from flat to 'depth', perhaps hoping to imitate the dramatic way the screen opened up in This Is Cinerama. There's even a 'Miss 3-D' posing on screen.
The selection becomes more colorful and varied in the balance of the show. We're given excellent 3-D trailers for It Came from Outer Space, Hannah Lee, Miss Sadie Thompson and The Maze. A full prizefight between Rocky Marciano and Joe Walcott has excellent 3-D effects. The maker of Robot Monster produced Stardust in Your Eyes, a record of the act of standup comedian Slick Slavin. Another short subject, Doom Town goes along with the press contingent who will observe a nuclear blast -- it turns out that some of that atom blast footage we've been seeing for sixty years was originally filmed in 3-D. The blast itself is in color. The Adventures of Sam Space is a Puppetoon-like story of two boys and a professor and their trip to another planet. Paul Frees does some of the voices.
I'll Sell My Shirt is a perfectly dreadful but perversely hilarious, record of a Burlesque comedy act, that includes a couple of striptease artists that aren't exactly perfect 10's. 3.75's, maybe. The final Hollywood short is a Casper cartoon in excellent 3-D, Boo Moon. Casper flies to the moon and intervenes in a war fought by some Gulliver's Travels- like moon men and creepy walking tree creatures.
The Bonus Features addendum contains a color and 3-D scene Francis Ford Coppola filmed to insert into 1962's The Bellboy and the Playgirls, which we learn was a German film augmented with scenes with Playboy's June Wilkinson. Finishing up the Rarities collection is a 3-D still gallery -- photos from the set of the 1923 The Hunchback of Notre Dame, from the New York World's Fair, a View-Master series called Sam Sawyer, and a selection of 3-D comic book panels.
The disc presentation is handsomely done, with fine graphics, menu-ing and music choices. Thad Komorowski and Jack Theakston provide some commentary tracks. A 22-page insert booklet, beautifully illustrated with 3-D promo art, brings out fascinating facts and opinions about the shorts.
The 3-D Film Archive has more excitement in store; they've hinted that 3-D disc presentations of The Mask (1961) and GOG (1954) are on the way. Hopefully the 3-D Rarities disc will do well enough to justify licensing more great 3-D treats for the home viewer. It can't be all IMAX shows and Marvel Heroes.
Flicker Alley's Blu-ray of 3-D Rarities is on a single disc. The technical quality is excellent throughout, and limited only by the quality of some of the recovered and restored short subjects.
On my LG 3-D Blu-ray player I went directly to a short subject, which apparently confused the machine. On the second attempt I began by hitting 'play all' and everything aligned properly. I think it was a one-time glitch, but I thought I'd mention it.
The packaging and disc artwork is good too -- I like the image of 'Miss 3-D,' sitting on a large letter 'D', and holding up three fingers. In context, it looks like she's giving us a smiling invitation with an obscene Italian hand gesture.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The version of this review on the Savant main site has additional images, footnotes and credits information, and may be updated and annotated with reader input and graphics.