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The Past Isn't Over - It Isn't Even Past
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JANUARY 5, 2009 2:15PM

3-D Movies: Tired Gimmick or Wave of the Future?

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wax batman 3-d

3-D in the 1960s: The education of a young film critic

 

wax luna spectrespecs

 3-D in the 2000s: Harry Potter's friend Luna Lovegood

 

3-D movies are getting a lot of attention lately, but they go back at least fifty years to the Warner Bros. horror film House of Wax (1953), directed by Hungarian emigre Andre de Toth, and starring Vincent Price and Phyllis Kirk. (House of Wax was a remake of the non-3-D film from 1933, Mystery of the Wax Museum, directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Fay Wray. This proves horror remakes aren't a recent innovation, either.)

 

As star Phyllis Kirk said in an interview , “the director of the film Andre de Toth only had one eye and couldn't see in three dimensions.” Supposedly producer Jack Warner told de Toth not to wear his eye patch while making the film, because Warner Bros. wanted to make more 3-D pictures, and was embarrassed to admit you didn't need to see in 3-D to make a movie in 3-D. How good could it be?

 

wax de toth hands

Andre de Toth, director of House of Wax

 

Andre de Toth is best known for directing several Randolph Scott Westerns and for being married to film noir siren Veronica Lake (who could also usually see out of only one eye, but in her case due to her world-famous hair style, which she publicly abandoned during World War II so as not to influence female defense plant workers to wear dangerously long hair on the assembly line).

 

wax lake and friend

1940s film star Veronica Lake and friend

 

3-D is back now, in all its anaglyphic glory. (Anaglyphic means using the old style of 3-D glasses with one red and one blue lens that they put in “3-D” comic books around the time House of Wax came out.) As the movie Web site Slashfilm reports, the new animated would-be blockbuster Monsters vs. Aliens will have a 3-D promo during the Superbowl. (From the trailers, Monsters vs. Aliens looks to be about as good as Wall-E, in other words a kids' movie with something more to it, but still a kids' movie.) To see the promo in its three-dimensional awesomeness you will need to get your anaglyphic 3-D glasses from the friendly people at Pepsi (while supplies last, so hurry!).

 

I remember my first 3-D experience. It was with Batman, but not the 3-D scenes in Christopher Nolan's film The Dark Knight, which has apparently replaced Citizen Kane at the head of most people's “best film all time” lists. At least until the next Iron Man movie comes out.

 

wax batman 3-d open pages

The Bat-world in 3-D

 

I got this Batman comic when I was ten or eleven and cut out the Bat-mask shaped glasses, put a string or rubber band in the holes on the side, put on the Bat-mask and entered the Bat-world. This really wasn't a 3-D experience, more a world where objects existed in two parallel planes (one drawn in red, one in blue), one in front of the other.

 

Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill paid homage to (or mocked, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference) this gimmick in the recent graphic novel, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier.

 

wax black dossier 2

3-D returns: The Black Dossier

 

In addition to Monsters vs. Aliens, we have the new horror film My Bloody Valentine 3-D. From the trailer it looks like there's a scene where an exploding fireball jumps off the screen into the audience. Technically, I'm sure this is really something. When I saw House of Wax on TV in the early 1960s, about ten years after it was made, I remember a scene where a man playing with a paddleball turns to the camera and shoots the ball out at the audience. Even on an old black and white TV, without the 3-D glasses, it was impressive. But that ten-year-old film critic knew the ball didn't belong in the story. It was just there to look cool.

 

Comic books. Comic book movies. Slasher films. Are we starting to learn what Jack Warner learned fifty years ago? 3-D movies seem to work for stories meant for kids. There's nothing wrong with that. Call me when filmmakers use anaglyphic “technology” (remember my old Bat-mask?) to make a film about a human being.

 

I don't think adults watching stories about other adults are going to want to be distracted by the new Bat-mask or whatever the twenty-first century equivalent is. And it seems filmmakers only want to use 3-D for kids' movies anyway. Which is as it should be.

wax shock

 

 

 

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Comments

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Good points. I am excited by the posibilities 3-D can offer in genre films. If they are intergrated well, it can create a totally immersive experience. However, I have yet to see a film where it worked in such a manner.

I hold high hopes for "my Bloody Valentine 3-D". i love the original and hope that they can translate the dread into a more visceral form this time around.
Nice bit of pop history! I remember the last 3D movie I saw: the Tower theater, South Hadley, MA, in the early 1990s, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, a midnight showing.

Unfortunately, what with the time, the glasses, the long slow underwater stretches early on... I fell asleep.
Quiz Kid - Thanks for reading.

I keep seeing in the movie Web sites that these "3-D" films are also being released in theaters with normal screens. It reminds me of the marketing tricks producer-director William Castle used in the 1960s (like "Percepto" for The Tingler).

In fact, Joe Dante made a great popcorn movie in 1993 based on Castle--Matinee, set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, starring John Goodman as the producer of Mant ("Half man, half ant. All terror!')
Rob -

How could you fall asleep during Creature from the Black Lagoon!?! Don't you remember Julie Adams in that white bathing suit?
Sad to say, I never viewed a movie in 3D, other than an IMAX production several years ago. Maybe I'll correct that this year!
Procopius -

Let me know what you see if it's good. Thanks.
MANTINEE is one of my favorite films. i think it is proabaly his best work. it's an almost perfect movie.
Quiz Kid -

With Matinee, I think Dante was reliving his early days making movies like Rock 'n' Roll High School and Piranha for Roger Corman.

Miss Togar: "Do your parents know you're Ramones?"
I have no doubt about that. I wish he did it more often. Although his work On "Looney Toons: Back in Action" certianly had a certain "B"-ness to it. His episodes for MASTTERS OF HORROR seemed to reinvigorate that outlaw menatlity that he developed working for New World. The second one 'The Screwfly Solution" was especially dark and brilliant.
Quiz Kid -

I just found a copy of Matinee for a dollar in a library sale. It's a perfect Saturday afternoon movie. Can't wait.