Comin' At Ya! has been one of my most wanted 3D Blu-Ray titles because it unashamedly exploits 3D like no other movie has. While it has a plot and everything, that's basically just an excuse for this movie to exist as its main purpose is to have things shoved or thrown straight at the camera, and even the title makes no apologies for that. Released in 1981, this kicked off a small revival of 3D over the next couple years, many of which worked in similar 3D gimmicks. None of these were particularly great movies, but they reminded us what 3D could do and it was all the more frustrating when it still failed to catch on and dismissed as a "fad" as it had been in the 1950s.
OK, you still want to know what this movie is actually about? Well, it's a Western, and essentially a revenge flick- our hero is H. H. Hart (played by Tony Anthony, real name Roger Pettito, who also wrote the story, co-produced the movie and at least partially developed the 3D system used here), your basic gunslinger in these types of movies. In an empty church, he marries Abilene (Victoria Abril) but the priest is shot by two bad guys who barge in the moment he says "you may now kiss the bride," and they then wound Hart who falls to the ground and helplessly watches them grab Abilene and carry her away! But he won't let them get away so easily- he stocks up on weapons and returns to the church to find a crazed old drunk man who somehow has all the info he needs- the guys who took his wife are brothers Pike (Gene Quintano, who also co-wrote the script and executive produced) and Polk (Ricardo Palacios) who have been grabbing many women from the area, imprisoning and abusing them before taking them down to Mexico to be sold into prostitution. All Hart has to do now is track them down, rescue his wife and the other captured women, and then blow the bad guys to kingdom come!
While there's not much more to say about the story and much of the dialogue and acting is pretty bad ("You ain't goin' nowhere with all them maybes" is a favorite line however), that shouldn't be anyone's reason for watching this. The real star of the show is the numerous 3D effects, and if the only 3D you've ever seen has been the recent digitally-projected 3D movies which mainly add a sense of depth to the picture then you will be in for a surprise. The cast takes every opportunity it can to shove weapons, random props or even their bare hands if that's all they've got into the camera, making it look like they are coming out of the screen and about to hit you in the face! You'll soon lose track of the story as you become engrossed in this shameless gimmick. Almost every time a gun is used, it's pointed right at the camera. One sequence has an army of bats invade and scare a room full of sleeping imprisoned women- because that makes for plenty of chances for them to fly straight at the camera even if the strings on them show up. There's a number of setups with animals on perches that extend outwards from the screen (they aren't in the scene for much other reason), a handful of coins is dropped into the audience's face, and before the big showdown at the end we get a few minutes of townsfolk playing with yo-yos and peeling fruit letting the skin fall towards the camera. Most of the action scenes are in slow motion, which does get a bit annoying by the end.
While I had missed this movie in theaters, I acquired a field-sequential 3D VHS tape in 1990 from 3D TV Corporation, which sold a number of 3D tapes and a glasses system via mail-order as there were no websites to order from then, and watched it likely hundreds of times. Ironically these tapes will not work on my 3D HDTV or any other current HDTV due to the way they de-interlace analog video. The technical quality of most of this company's tapes was a bit below that of major-studio VHS releases (and many were likely sourced from Japanese VHD videodiscs), and the system halved the already-low NTSC resolution for each eye- while the effect still worked, there was a lot of flicker and the current 3D system has been a HUGE improvement over that.
Unfortunately this 3D Blu-Ray release is different from the version I've been used to- in 2010 the movie was reissued in a handful of theaters using the current digital 3D projection system, and a few changes were made which have made it known as the "noir version". Most noticeably, a few scenes have been changed to black-and-white (usually when not-so-pleasant things are happening, such as the ill-fated wedding in the beginning) with the color red in blood and some clothing left in. When this disc was announced, it wasn't too clear which version it was going to be- the press release and back cover state that it is a "frame by frame digital conversion of the polarized over-and-under format of the original print", but clearly this is the same as the recent theatrical reissue. Other changes include the omission of the opening Filmways Pictures logo and even more black-and-white tinkering with the "highlights reel" that ends the movie (a re-cap of some of the best 3D moments) with remastering credits interspersed with that but omitting the final end credit crawl. There is also an earlier scene missing where Hart robs a bank and then has a "what are you doing with a guy like me?" talk with Abilene which was present on the VHS tape, but I have heard this was never included in the general US theatrical release. At any rate, although even the slightest changes to a movie's original release version, even if it's at the insistence of the filmmakers, greatly annoys me, but as this version was released in theaters and not done specifically for home video I can accept it as an "alternate version" the same way I can accept the 1997 Star Wars Trilogy releases but not the versions with additional changes for DVD and then Blu-Ray.
Comin' At Ya! comes at ya in full 3D obviously- while the cover indicates a 2D version is also included, there is no option for that in the menu- and honestly, watching this movie in 2D would be about as pointless as watching Fantasia in black and white. The disc will play in 2D if your system doesn't support it, and I was able to get it to do so by setting my Oppo player's default video output as the analog jacks, but if there's any movie that shouldn't be seen in 2D this is it. The ratio is a bit wider than 2.35, as the left and right eye-views were printed on the film by splitting each frame into top and bottom halves, then combined with a special lens on the projector- the other 3D movies of this era were shot in the same fashion.
The 3D in this is very strong compared to most of the other 3D Blu-Ray titles released so far, and I've read comments from some saying that it was very hard to watch. I had no such problem, but certainly found myself having to re-focus my eyes more on each shot than normal, just as you would in real life going from one place to another. Others have commented on some alignment issues with the two eye views that should have been corrected, but I did not see any major problem there either. A legitimate criticism however which is inherent in the movie's production is that many of the out-of-the-screen effects don't quite work as well as they should have- there's a scene where fiery arrows are shot that seem to have gone a bit off course resulting in a diminished effect, and other shots find objects shoved into the camera but don't go very far beyond the outside of your screen. I remember many of the gimmick shots resulting in double-images on the VHS tape, but they appeared a bit better on this disc.
The picture overall is a bit soft, but a definite improvement over the VHS- strings can be seen in a few special-effects shots that were hidden before. There are a few spots on the lenses that appear occasionally, and the lower resolution from what is essentially a 2-perf frame rather than the usual 4 doesn't help matters. The print used for the 3D VHS tape was quite dirty, but a lot of clean-up has been done here. The single-layer disc shows some slight compression artifacts but not as bad as I've seen on other 3D titles (these typically show up far more often on 3D material than 2D) ; the way this movie was shot doesn't exactly bring out such imperfections as would something shot with a sharper digital picture.
While originally released in matrixed Dolby Stereo, the VHS tape was mono with quite a bit of noise from a dirty optical track. This disc includes a 5.1 mix in DTS Master Audio but does not seem to be based very much on the original mix- there is still quite a bit of crackling noise throughout the movie, and it appears that at least the audio from the first reel was only available for this project in mono as most of the sound including music and ambient sounds stay in the center with occasional panning and what sounds like newly-added sound effects in the rears. The sound eventually opens up a bit more but still seems re-tooled. The use of the surrounds does get rather creative, such as one moment where three guys onscreen are shot and you hear the first gunshot in the right rear, then the middle, and then the left, and the LFE channel is showcased when explosives are set off. There is also a second track with a 2-channel mix, but as the disc is flagged to output as a straight bitstream some receivers (such as my Pioneer) might refuse to pro-logic decode the track and play it as straight 2-channel stereo, and even with the proper adjustments made sounds more like a remix than the original track.Extras:
A 5-minute promo in 3D is included that highlights more of the 3D gimmicks mostly in the black-and-white style with selected parts colored, and there's also a shorter digital-based 2D trailer for the re-release.
Comin' At Ya! is more of a 3D demo reel than an actual movie, which some audiences might not appreciate (especially if they're not equipped for 3D) but others will find it exactly what they've been looking for, especially if they've been disappointed at the lack of out-of-screen effects in recent 3D movies. While it's likely such effects are restrained these days so as to not look so "gimmicky" and show 3D as a more artistically legitimate technology, tossing these into a horror or low-brow exploitation movie wouldn't hurt especially as long as theaters continue to insist on charging extra for 3D. While I wish the original 1981 version were included (with the original sound mix and without the de-coloring), this re-release version still delivers all the blatant, shameless 3D effects and makes no apologies for doing so and is essential to any 3D enthusiast's collection. Much of the cast and crew reunited for Treasure of the Four Crowns the following year, which was the first polarized 3D movie I saw in a theater and at the time I thought it was the best movie I had ever seen- that has been issued on various home formats in 2D but hopefully we'll get a 3D Blu-Ray of that soon also.