Thursday, July 1, 2010

Old 3-D movies from 1950s will provide welcome content for today’s 3-D TVs

Television manufacturers and retailers are pushing 3-D TV, but there isn’t much content for it yet.
ESPN launched a 3-D TV channel on June 11 to broadcast World Cup soccer and future sporting events in 3-D. DirecTV today started broadcasting three new 3-D channels to its subscribers.
Hollywood has released a handful of movies on 3-D Blu-ray Disc, including “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” But that’s about it so far.
The current 3-D craze only really got started with the theatrical release in December of James Cameron’s science-fiction epic “Avatar.” It was produced natively in 3-D. Other recent movies like “Clash of the Titans” and “The Last Airbender” were shot in 2-D but converted to 3-D.
Most of the catalog titles available for release on 3-D Blu-ray Disc are recent animated features, some concert movies and extreme sports films. Major 3-D movies before 2009 were infrequent, with an occasional computer-animated feature amid shorter films for Imax theaters and amusement parks.
But the cupboard is really bare before “The Polar Express” (2004), according to the Illustrated 3-D Movie List and the 3D Movies Database.
You have to go back to the early 1980s for more Hollywood 3-D movies. But these flicks are mostly cheesy horror movies like “Amityville 3-D” (1983), “Jaws 3-D” (1983) and “Friday the 13th Part 3” (1982).
In the 1970s, 3-D was reserved for cheap skin flicks like “Capitol Hill Girls” (1977), “Disco Dolls in Hot Skin” (1977) and “The Playmates” (1973).
To get older Hollywood-grade 3-D feature films, you have to reach back into the vault to the mid-1950s. That was the first golden age of 3-D movies. That’s when we got “Bwana Devil” (1952), “House of Wax” (1953), “Hondo” (1953) starring John Wayne, “Kiss Me Kate” (1953), Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M For Murder” (1954) and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954).
But can those half-century old 3-D movies work with today’s 3-D TV sets?
I didn’t know. So I asked some experts.

Clearing up misconceptions of 1950s 3-D movies

I figured older movies were produced in a different method from today’s 3-D movies. I remember the cheap paper glasses with colored lenses (usually red and cyan) from 1980s anaglyph 3-D movies. The experience was headache-inducing and created muddy colors on screen. I figured that was the old technology and polarized lenses were today’s technology.
Turns out I was wrong.
“There is a very common misconception that all of the old 3-D movies were anaglyph – even the big names like DreamWorks and Nintendo are responsible for spreading this erroneous information,” said Andrew Woods, a 3-D expert who manages the Illustrated 3-D Movie List. “About 99% of the movies in the 1950s boom period were filmed dual channel and exhibited polarized.”
In an e-mail interview, Woods pointed me to an article on the “Top 3-D Myths” by the 3-D Film Preservation Fund.
Woods says the old 3-D movies can be converted relatively easily to new formats for digital exhibition.
“I’ve seen a clip of ‘Kiss Me Kate’ (1953), which was restored this way and it looked wonderful,” he said. “I understand ‘Hondo’ (1953) has also been restored to digital 3-D for limited cinema exhibition.”
Still, a lot of work often needs to be done to restore an old 3-D movie, including rectification of the 3-D image to remove misalignment and color differences between left and right eye, but this can be an automated process, said Woods, a research engineer at Curtin University of Technology in Australia.
If movies like “Dial M for Murder” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” were digitally refreshed and restored, “the viewing experience would be significantly better than their analog presentation,” Woods said.
I posted the same questions I put to Woods on the Today3D Forum. And I received similar answers.
“Have no doubt, all the classics from the ’50s will be available for modern 3-D TV,” wrote 3D Master. “The studios are just waiting for the right timing (more 3-D TVs in the market).”

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