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The evolution of 3-D Richard crouse, for metro canada 16 January 2009

l-arrivee-du-train-en-gare-de-la-ciotatHollywood hotshot Jeffrey Katzenberg thinks 3-D movies are the future of big screen entertainment. New eye-popping pictures will be, he says, “the single most revolutionary change since colour pictures.” He’s not alone. George Lucas is converting the entire Star Wars saga into 3-D and Maple Pictures is releasing My Bloody Valentine 3-D this weekend, a remake of the 1981 slasher classic, but with effects that appear to pierce the screen.

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has looked to 3-D to help fill empty theatres. June 1915 saw the first screening of 3-D films before a paying audience but the results were less than boffo.

Since then 3-D technology has greatly improved — the shimmering lake effect replaced by effects that broke the fourth wall — but audiences have yet to fully embrace the experience. In the past the problem was the uncomfortable cardboard glasses that made the wearer resemble a member of Devo dressed for Halloween, but audiences likely would have accepted the dorky glasses if the movies had been better.

The novelty of props flying off the screen wears thin when there’s no story, something director André De Toth realized. Perhaps it’s because he only had one eye and couldn’t see the 3-D effects he used in House of Wax that he concentrated on plot rather than flashy effects. The resulting movie about a wax museum proprietor whose subjects look a little too lifelike earns the ultimate stamp of approval for a 3-D flick — it’s enjoyable in 3-D and 2-D.

The best known 3-D films generally are in the horror genre but there are 3-D films of all shapes and sizes.

In 1895 L’arrivée du train, a crude one minute 3-D film of a train gliding past the camera’s lens and pulling into a station was so realistic it caused unsophisticated audience members to run from the theatre in a panic. Nobody ran from the theatre when Kiss Me Kate debuted, but because the 3-D run of the film was limited, those seeing it in 2-D were perplexed when actors repeatedly threw things at the audience.

To sum up the enduring appeal of 3-D Katenberg paraphrases an old cliché.

“There is that old cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words,” he says. “Well, a 3-D picture is worth 3,000 words.”

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