On September 30, 1952, This Is Cinerama premiered in special theatrical venues equipped with curved 146° screens. As the emerging medium of television seemed to threaten the livelihood of theater owners in the early 1950s, new processes like Cinerama, Cinemascope, and 3D were created to bring audiences back to the movie theaters. Cinerama was one of the initial efforts to recreate the full range of human vision on a big screen, and consisted of 3 projectors running 3 adjacent panels of film simultaneously that was intended to appear as one wide image when illuminated on the 146° wide screen. This Is Cinerama was the first theatrical film to be released in this widescreen process and, as its name suggests, was created as a showcase for the highlights of the Cinerama process. Almost 60 years to the day that This Is Cinerama premiered in movie theaters, Flicker Alley is releasing a 60th Anniversary Blu-ray/DVD Combo with a treasure trove of special features in what is essentially a recreation of the Roadshow version of This Is Cinerama, complete with overture and intermission.
Studio: Flicker Alley
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 2 hours, 7 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1(Smilebox)
Audio: English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio
Release Date: September 25, 2012
This Is Cinerama opens with an image of dark velvet curtains covering a curved movie screen. As the overture concludes, the curtains draw slowly back to reveal a black and white introduction in Academy aspect ratio by Lowell Thomas, the avuncular host of This Is Cinerama. Following the host’s brief summary of the history of motion picture technology, the screen changes to color and triples in size as the curtains draw back fully and the viewer has a point of view from the front seat of the Atom Smasher roller coaster as it leaves the ticket collector at the gate and begins its climb in Rockaway’s Playland on Long Island.
This Is Cinerama is a series of vignettes that begins on the roller coaster and transports the viewer around the world to venues like a bullfight in Madrid and an opera in the La Scala opera house in Milan, the gondolas and canals of Venice, the boats and waterskis in the everglades show at Cypress Gardens, Florida, and a flight across the sights of America as seen from the nose of a B-25 bomber plane.
This Is Cinerama is not a traditional film with a full story and narrative. It is spectacle and eye candy in widescreen and multichannel sound, and later Cinerama films would carry the process further by creating feature-length narratives with characters and drama. This film premiered only a few months after DeMille’s The Greatest Show On Earth, which ultimately was awarded the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1952. It is apropos that both these films came out in the same year, since they have elements in common, and must have appealed to the desires of moviegoers at that time. Both films favor thrills and spectacle over drama and character, and may have given audiences sights and sounds that they could not have enjoyed staying at home to watch television. (VistaVision test footage apparently still exists from The Greatest Show On Earth, although it was released in 3-strip technicolor.) While the story aspects are virtually non-existent, This Is Cinerama is fascinating viewing now as it preserves images of many landmarks as they appeared in the not so distant past, and it is easy to see how audiences were wowed by its presentation in movie theaters.
This Is Cinerama is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio in the Smilebox format, which recreates the appearance of a Cinerama presentation on a flat screen by having the far side panels of the screen elongated to simulate the curved appearance of the 2.59:1 aspect ration on a 146° screen.
The producers of this 60th Anniversary edition have worked miracles through their labors of love and made this presentation look as great as it possibly can given their source materials and limited budget. The original negatives were unusable for this restoration due to substantial damage to the perforations. The original negatives do not appear to be beyond restoration at this point, but this type of restoration is usually affordable only by the larger film studios. The source of this restoration was a 65mm composite negative that was created in 1972. This negative was converted into the digital realm and then color corrected so that the 3 separate strips of panels would match and the join lines of the 3 strips could be blended and minimized.
The result is much better than one might expect given the source materials. It might be possible for This Is Cinerama to look better than it does in high definition with a restoration budget in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This presentation is never going to look as good as the Smilebox HD presentation of How The West Was Won on Blu-ray, which must be the gold standard for this type of film. How The West Was Won received a sublime restoration and presentation in Smilebox format by Warner Brothers. Join lines of panels were eliminated, colors were vibrant, and contrast was astonishing in How The West Was Won, which was restored from the original negatives rather than a composite.
If the Smilebox HD version of How The West Was Won rates a 10 out of 10, then This Is Cinerama on Blu-ray rates about a 7 out of 10. The join lines in this presentation are certainly minimized, but not eliminated. Colors are good but not great. There is not as much in the way of fine detail as there might be if the original negative had been usable for this presentation.
In spite of the limitations of the video, the presentation is excellent. Martin Scorsese has been a vocal proponent of the Smilebox process, but it is not to everyone’s taste. The Smilebox presentation is very immersive in this presentation and does much to make one forget the join lines when they are visible. The documentary "Remastering A Widescreen Classic" included on these discs is recommended viewing to gain an appreciation of the miracle wrought by the producers in maximizing the quality and impact of this presentation.
The English DTS-HD 5.1 audio is almost perfect. There is some audible hiss during the introduction by Lowell Thomas, but that is the only perceptible flaw. The orchestral music in the soundtrack has a rich and full quality that rivals and matches anything in a modern film. There is some nice directional audio used following the intermission and in the latter half of the film.
The special features are in 1080p except where noted and include all of the following:
Audio Commentary: Restoration director Dave Strohmaier, John Sittig from Cinerama, Inc., producer Randy Gitsch, and original crew member Jim Morrison provide an informative commentary regarding the sights and sounds seen in the film and the restoration process.
Remastering A Widescreen Classic(19:01): Restoration director Dave Strohmaier and others discuss the source materials and demonstrate the re-mastering process for the film.
This Is Cinerama Breakdown reel(9:52): This is the original interstitial footage that was projected in the theater anytime there was a breakdown of any one of the three projectors.
Alternate Act 2 Opening Titles(1:46): This feature shows the alternate opening titles to Act 2 shown in Europe to introduce the panoramic view of the United States from the nose of a B-25 bomber plane.
Fred Waller Radio Interviews(15:30): These are radio interviews given by Cinerama creator Fred Waller at the time of the original release of This Is Cinerama, with still photos projected during the audio.
This Is Cinerama trailer(3:17): Recreation of the original trailer in HD.
TV Spots(1:44)(SD): These are 2 separate TV commercials promoting This Is Cinerama and Seven Wonders of the World.
Tribute to New Neon Movies(15:57)(SD): This interesting documentary covers the revival of interest in Cinerama at the Neon Theater in Dayton, Ohio.
Tribute To New Cooper Theater(2:58)(SD): This featurette is an appreciation of the futuristically-styled Super Cinerama theater built in the 1960s in Denver, Colorado.
This Is Cinerama Behind the Scenes Slideshow(5:57): This is a montage of still images of production photos and publicity materials.
Promotion and Publicity Image Gallery: These may be viewed using the left and right selection arrows on your remote control.
Also included is a flipper DVD with the feature on one side and the special features on the other.
Also included in the case is a very nice 28 page reproduction of the program guide for This Is Cinerama.
The 60th Anniversary Edition of This Is Cinerama on Blu-ray/DVD Combo is a fascinating travelogue and time capsule of the world of 1952, and recommended to anyone who is a fan of Cinerama. The Smilebox presentation helps in the immersive quality of the film. The video presentation could not be better given the source materials available at this time, and the audio is excellent. The special features are not the usual filler but also recommended viewing to anyone who enjoys the film. The feature "Remastering A Widescreen Classic" is especially recommended. Anyone who enjoyed or was intrigued by the Smilebox presentation of How The West Was Won will appreciate this film, even if This Is Cinerama does not have the narrative power of that other film. No offense intended to Mr. DeMille, but given the choice, I will always recommend This Is Cinerama over the Academy Award winner for Best Picture of 1952.