Produced as a stopgap measure for Cinerama theaters awaiting the arrival of MGM’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and How the West Was Won, The Best of Cinerama compiles memorable moments from the five produced Cinerama travelogues allowing audiences to catch up on incredible images from previous films they may have missed or to experience thrilling visuals from favorite Cinerama films once again.
The Production: 3.5/5
Produced as a stopgap measure for Cinerama theaters awaiting the arrival of MGM’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and How the West Was Won, The Best of Cinerama compiles memorable moments from the five produced Cinerama travelogues allowing audiences to catch up on incredible images from previous films they may have missed or experience thrilling visuals from favorite Cinerama films once again. It’s clearly a rush job on the producers’ part: there is little rhyme or reason to the slotting of various clips in this roadshow extravaganza with Intermission, but there is no denying the splendid visuals and breathtaking sound present here that afforded audiences of the era an easy way to spend a couple of hours being transported to picturesque spots around the globe while a spectacular sea of sight and sound exploded all around them.
The excerpts have been chosen from This Is Cinerama, Cinerama Holiday, Seven Wonders of the World, Search for Paradise, and South Seas Adventure. Fans, however, will likely be disappointed that individual clips from the films have themselves been edited: we don’t get that entire roller coaster experience from This Is Cinerama to start things off (in fact, we start in mid-journey losing the most thrilling deep dives from early in the ride), but fans of point of view thrill rides in these films won’t feel ignored as we get not only the coaster but also clips from the bobsled ride, downhill skiing, and, saving the best for the last clip in the movie’s first act: the runaway train in Darjeeling. But expect a case of whiplash as the producer and film editor jerk us abruptly from Vienna to Naples to Venice (the Naples clip is literally seconds long) in a helter-skelter fashion in the first act and a similar too-rapid jaunt from Rio (again, seconds long) to New York to Washington, D.C. with hardly a breath in between. Yes, we get to visit every continent on the planet apart from Antarctica, but South America gets short shrift to be sure, and Japan’s beauty also gets the short end of the stick.
Music and dance play major roles in the film. Our only stop in Vienna is with the Vienna Boys Choir and we get the lengthy triumphant processional music and dance sequence from Aida at La Scala. Later we get to enjoy an extended jazz jam in New Orleans and several verses of “America the Beautiful” as we tour facets of our great land, Tahiti hula dancers (which we are reminded are very different and more rapid and nuanced than Hawaiian hula artists), and a Watusi dance ritual that is one of the more special moments from the film’s second half. The film winds up with an extended tour of the Holy Land as Bible references to people and places are recounted as the Cinerama cameras take us over the famous mountains, seas, villages, and plains mentioned in the Good Book, all clips narrated by the voice of Cinerama Lowell Thomas (though he was not the narrator of every Cinerama effort, previous commentary has been rerecorded by him for this film).
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in the Smilebox format to better simulate the feel of the wide, curved Cinerama screen in Cinerama equipped theaters of the 1950s and 1960s. David Strohmaier and his team have brought these films back from the brink of extinction with color that has been revived and the seam joints made much less noticeable (though it would be near impossible to completely erase the joins, even with a greatly expanded budget and today’s best digital tools). While color is generally balanced between the three panels, you will occasionally notice a slight discrepancy in matching hues, and there is every so often some slight wobble between the middle panel and its neighbors, but nothing that is ever very serious or that lasts for very long. Sharpness is excellent, and the clips from This Is Cinerama have undergone additional refreshing and remastering from the previous Blu-ray release looking sharper and brighter than ever before. Scratches and dirt have been completely eliminated for a clean, crisp look. The movie has been divided into 17 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is really stupendous. You’ll especially notice the breathtaking separation of orchestral instruments during the Aida sequence offering as rich a stereo surround experience of that music as you’re likely to hear. Throughout, there are numerous pans across and through the soundstage as objects and people whoosh by on skis, in boats, on trains, or in bobsleds. Lowell Thomas’ narration is clearly heard in the center channel. Overture, Intermission, and End Title music is also present.
Special Features: 5/5
Audio Commentary: Cinerama expert David Coles provides a fact-laden commentary track recounting just about everything you might want to know about all of the Cinerama productions, not just this one.
Shellarama (15:14, HD): a 1965 short subject produced by Shell Oil showing the route that oil takes from its crude unrefined state in the ground to the end products enjoyed by all.
Bridge to Space (28:06, HD): a 1968 documentary short focusing on the launch of the Saturn rocket to the moon from (then) Cape Kennedy. Actor Jim Davis’ voice serves as a tour guide to the Cape and Merritt Island.
The Rangerettes (2:20, HD): a 1955 clip deleted from Seven Wonders of the World featuring the dancing cheerleaders from Kilgore College.
Battleship Iowa Arrives in San Pedro (3:16, HD): a brief news bit filmed in Cinerama in 2012.
Reconstructing The Best of Cinerama (15:12, HD): producer Dave Strohmaier discusses in some detail the challenges faced with reconstructing and remastering The Best of Cinerama with plenty of before and after clips.
Cinerama Troika (11:50, HD): a montage of interviews with three primary individuals who have worked diligently in saving the Cinerama titles for future generations: David Strohmaier, Tom H. March, and Randy Gitsch.
Remembering The Best of Cinerama (22:00, HD): Harrison Engle interviews Norman Karlin, chief film editor on the Cinerama features who recounts his experiences during his basically decade-long employment with the company.
Slideshows (HD): three slideshows offer great background on the people and places involved with the Cinerama experience: “Who’s Who in Cinerama History” (20:52), “Show Places of the 1950s” (39:56), “Filming with the Crews” (6:23).
Movie Trailer (5:18, HD)
Program Booklet: a twenty-four page reproduction of the souvenir booklet for The Best of Cinerama.
DVD: disc enclosed in the case.
The Best of Cinerama will certainly be of interest for those people who like or are interested in Cinerama but haven’t been buying the individual Cinerama releases right along. While clips are edited from their original lengths and are somewhat haphazardly arranged for the feature presentation, there is no denying the breathtaking sights and sounds that this movie offers. Recommended!