As pertaining to motion pictures, describes any film that exploits, in its marketing or promotion, the use of stereoscopic (3-dimensional) filmmaking techniques.

This blog is my notepad as I research a nonfiction book spotlighting 3-D genre films of the last century. While the book will focus primarily on films from the 60's, 70's and 80's this blog has no restrictions.

All articles on this blog are copyright 2010-13 of its author,
Jason Pichonsky, unless otherwise stated.

Images are used for information purposes and remain the rights of their respective owners.

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The tag-line "not your father's 3-D" has appeared in film marketing and 3-D movie reportage since Real-D and Dolby 3-D stepped up its branding in early 2009.  Sometimes this slogan jumps further back in time declaring the current digital projection formats are not your grandfather's 3-D subtly implying that the 3-D film's of yesteryear are inferior to the films being produced today.  While these statements are not wholly untrue they are misleading, by capitalizing on the public perception that the 3-D films which came before them were substandard and poorly made. I take offense to that point of view. In fact there are few films that have been released in the 21st century in 3-D that can touch the stand out dimensional films made between the 50's and 80's. I'll admit that I come from a bias point-of-view, but I plan to defend that POV today.
To start, I'll give this modern version of 3-D its kudos. A primary factor to the negative reputation 3-D of the past was rooted in projection issues.  This failing has to land on theatre owners and projectionists.  In the 50's theatres ran 2 synchronized projectors and 2 reels of film to achieve the 3-D illusion for audiences.  If, and all too often, these reels became out of sync or were miss focused, the viewing audience would experience eye fatigue and headaches, not to mention a unsuccessful dimensional image on the screen.  In the 80's, due to the over-and-under focus, synchronization of the left and right eyes was rarely and issue, but focus and alignment could often be poorly projected by uninformed theatre projectionists resulting in similar complaints of headaches and eyestrain by theatrical patrons.  Modern digital cinema forgoes most of these issues.  It the film has been set-up properly then it is is spot-on perfect for the length of its running time.  There are no film reel changes to mess up alignment or broken and spliced celluloid messing up the synchronization of two projectors.
What our modern day offering of 3-D currently fails to offer is a representation of our real and true world in 3 dimensions.  The majority of films being released today are family fare CGI animated features (Computer-Generated Imagery; or what the term 3D meant to most people through most of the 90's and 00's).  Today's 3-D consists of movies that are produced almost entirely in a computer.  Disney's first foray into stereoscopic movie making was Chicken Little back in 2005 and films like the recent Dreamwork's feature How To Train Your Dragon and the Disney/Pixar update of Toy Story 3-D continue this trend of the stereoscopic cartoon. It's not surprising that the major studios would embrace these films.  The benefits are extremely bankable; children and their parents are an extremely large market share for studios, these films can pull in a lot of capital from merchandising, and from an artistic level the stereoscopic image is very easy to control (ghosting, parallax and conversion can all be custom set within a computer often outside real world parameters). Even attempts at live action films belong in the CGI cartoon realm of stereoscopic film making. Avatar for all it's bravado and realism is 80% cartoon realism CGI. It's not surprising that reviewers have compared it the animated worlds of Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992) and the Smurfs. Then we get the conversion films that hope to cash in on the new 3-D boom and fall short of any true dimensionality; Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans and the ludicrous Pirahna remake. There have been a few brave attempts of real world 3-D film; Final Destination 4, My Bloody Valentine and (going back over ten years) Night of the Living Dead 3-D. These films fail to impress, less by their dimensionality prowess and more by their photostat qualities (for those who don't remember the photostat was the precursor to the photocopier which rendered it's reproductions in a curious purple ink which often shed itself onto your fingers and smelt like gasoline).
The films which fall into my realm of depthsploitation (cira 1955-1990) and the earlier films of the golden era of 3-D (the 50's boom) had to rely on real actors and sets infront its stereoscopic cameras.

Personally, I prefer my father's 3-D, for all its technical inadequices it produced a number of creative and wholly original films. Being a father myself I hope my son will prefer his father's 3-D too.

The Strange Case of Dr. Marlowe and Mr. Blake

I’ve been hoping to get to this film before the ink dried on the 100th issue of Rue Morgue Magazine as something of a tie in to the feature interview with Sir Christopher Lee. Well, the ink seems to be firmly set, but it’s also timely that Mr. Lee has just released a rock opera (he and his cohorts prefer the moniker symphonic metal) based on the life of Roman Emperor Charlemagne, who brought Christianity to the pagans, united the European world into what we know it to be today, and of whom Christopher Lee is a direct descendant.  Maybe I listened to too much Yngwie Malmsteen and Jason Becker as a kid and have a soft spot for the film musicals Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)and Litztomania (1975), but I’m really digging the album, for all its gaudy operatic lyrics and its grandiose orchestral music.  However, this blog’s about 3-D movies and today we’re going to take a look at the closest thing to a Hammer horror film in three dimensions-- that fortunately was never to be shown in 3-D.

I, Monster (1971) is a retelling of the Jeckyll-Hyde story. Produced not by Hammer Studios but by it's rival Amicus Productions. Best known for omnibus features such as Tales From the Crypt (1972) Amicus often exploited audiences' confusion between themselves and Hammer by offering similar subject matter (focusing mostly on the horror genre) and frequently casting known Hammer stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  I, Monster shares an even closer tie to the Hammer line of re-envisioned classic monster films by utilizing a well known classic literary monster tale.

The film, while remaining faithful to the original Robert Louis Stevenson story, adds a layer of drug use and Freudian psychology to explain the good and evil split in personality of the protagonist. Yet the producers thought it wise to distance their film from the original tale, by renaming its main characters.  So Dr. Jeckyll becomes Dr. Marlowe and his unchecked superego Mr. Hyde adopts the moniker of Mr. Blake.  Both, of course, are played by Sir Christopher Lee.  His performance is the highlight of the film, presenting psychiatrist and mad doctor Marlowe as a cold repressed figure, who with the help of his fantastic drug releases his inner demon the playful yet deadly Mr. Blake. Lee accomplishes the first transformation scene with little more the a curled smile and a glee in his eyes.  As the film progresses he gets more help from make-up artist Harry Frampton, but it's Lee's performance that sells this metamorphosis from Marlowe to Blake and gives us the audience some insight as to why, at 87 years of age and over 260 films later, this gentleman is still working today.  Peter Cushing also makes an appearance in the film, though to a lesser magnitude, as Frederick Utterson (Gabriel John Utterson in the novella) as Marlowe friend and Blake's foe.

Directed by Stephen Weeks, I, Monster was intended to be shown in 3-D.  Production had begun in the process but quickly abandoned.  Why?  After all Hammer stars Cushing and Lee were part of the cast. Cushing sums it up in a Q & A from the era;

The reason "It just didn't work, dear boy" was due to the method of 3-d used, known as the Pulfrich effect.  Named after Carl Pulfrich, the  Pulfrich effect is more of an optical trick than a stereoscopic image. To create the effect viewer wears glasses with a dark lens over the right eye and views a scene in which the camera travels horizontally.  Our brains process the image with the darker lens more slowly than with a neutral (or no) lens.  As a result the brain fuses the two images into a stereo image.  The real issue for film-makers attempting to use the process in a film is that they must keep the camera moving at all times, at a constant speed and avoid actors moving or crossing in the opposite direction to the camera move.  That's a lot of elements in a shot to keep in control and is almost impossible to sustain in a feature length film.  It's pretty compelling reason to drop the effect from a film.  For fun I've created a few anaglyphs from the film that indicate what the 3-D effect may have been (Red lens over the left eye this time, I'll try to be more consistent in the future).
Even though the film was never promoted or shown as a 3-D film much of the initial footage shot in the Pulfrich method still exist within the film itself.  You'll know when it was intended to be in the third dimension when the camera tracks across the lab of Dr. Marlowe. If you have a set of glasses from NBC's 3-D Week way back in 1997 and a lot of patience you'll be able to catch some of the intended 3-D scenes.

 Why the Pulfrich effect fails the film.