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Depth Perception: A 2-D Look at Some 3-D Classics

In honor of its 15th anniversary, Titanic — James Cameron’s mega-blockbuster that forever redefined mega-blockbusters — will receive the 3-D conversion treatment when it is re-released in select theaters this week. Ironically, thanks primarily to the success of Cameron’s equally blockbusting Avatar, it seems like you can’t throw a brick at a megaplex these days without hitting a movie that’s in 3-D.

The format has risen and fallen in popularity a few times since its inception in the 1950s, but has been largely relegated to the fringes of the industry because of the expensive hardware required to both film and project them — plus, those friggin’ glasses give us headaches. Nevertheless, it’s back in fashion again, now more than ever: since 2010, a record-setting number of 3-D features (at least three per month) have hit the screens, with more on the way. Here’s a decidedly 2-D look back at some of Movie Ink‘s pioneering faves that helped pave the way:

Bwana Devil (1952). Robert Stack, Barbara Britton, and Nigel Bruce star in this independently made jungle adventure that is considered the first American 3-D movie, and the beginning of the original 1950s 3-D boom that started the craze. The movie tales the story of the man-eating lions of Tsavo (later dramatized in the The Ghost and the Darkness, 1996); sadly, the novelty of 3-D is the only thing going for it, as it ranks in quality somewhere on the level of Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Most In-Your-Face Moment: The lion that seemingly leaps off the screen is surprisingly unthrilling, but the native spear that comes whizzing straight at the viewer works relatively well.
House of Wax (1953). One of the first 3-D movies from a major studio, this remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) starred Vincent Price in one of his most memorable roles, that of a wax figure betrayed, scarred, shattered, and driven towards vengeance. Ironically, director Andre de Toth was blind in one eye and couldn’t even see in stereoscopic vision, let alone 3-D.
Most In-Your-Face Moment: It’s a tie between the museum fire that scars and corrupts Price’s character early in the movie, and a line of 3-D can-can dancers.

The French Line (1954). Howard Hughes (yep, that Howard Hughes) produced this rare 3-D musical starring Jane Russell as a millioniaress looking for love in all the wrong places. Hughes put Russell in costumes so skimpy that the flick was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency.
Most In-Your-Face Moment: The voluptuous Jane Russell in 3-D. As Hughes put it on the movie’s poster: “It’ll knock both your eyes out!” ‘Nuff said.

Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (1973). Also known as Flesh for Frankenstein. An homage to and parody of old-school Italian filmmaking, Warhol’s Grand Guignol sex and gore fest stars Udo Kier stars as Baron Frankenstein,a man obsessed with creating a master race through zombie eugenics. Or something. Incest, dismemberment, and general wackiness ensue.
Most In-Your-Face Moment: A gory 3-D POV shot of entrails spilling through a sewer grate earned this one infamy and an X rating.

Disco Dolls in Hot Skin (1977). Though not the first 3-D porn movie made, it was one of the earliest, and certainly one of the most well-known thanks in part to a revival on the art-house/midnight movie circuit a few years ago. Believe it or not, it’s based on Casablanca.
Most In-Your-Face Moment: Let’s not go there.


Friday the 13th Part III (1982). Intended to be the final chapter of the series (if only), this installment not only saw Jason Voorhees hacking and slashing horny teens in three dimensions, but also donning his trademark hockey mask for the first time.
Most In-Your-Face Moment: This one layed in on heavy with the 3-D gags, with everything from yo-yos, popcorn, snakes, pitchforks, mice, and joints leaping out of the screen, but the best is the eyeball…


Jaws 3-D (1983). Dennis Quiad’s first leading role has him facing down not one but two great white sharks during the grand opening of SeaWorld (seriously). Waterskiers are eaten, the park gets trashed, Lou Gossett Jr. yells a lot, and general mayhem ensues.
Most In-Your-Face Moment: A shot of the mother shark shattering a glass observation window is hoot, but the one of it exploding underwater is even better.


Captain Eo (1986). Originally shown at Disney theme parks from 1986-98, this 17-minute space epic starring Michael Jackson is regarded as the first “4-D” feature — a 3-D film with in-theater effects such as lasers and smoke synced to the movie. At a price of $1 million per minute, it’s also one of the most expensive films ever made.
Most In-Your-Face Moment: Jacko moonwalking in 3-D.

About Gary Dowell

Professional film critic, journalist, Byronic hero.


One thought on “Depth Perception: A 2-D Look at Some 3-D Classics

  1. You are the Benchley of the Blog, my friend.

    Posted by Lora | April 3, 2012, 12:08 am

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