Flash-forward eleven years later and my idle musing turned out to be prophetic. With theatrical exhibition waning Hollywood is choosing to respond not by better quality (silly rabbit) but by embracing the third dimension (and the financial uprise in ticket prices that goes with the process). Today, if you’re releasing a horror film, large scope science fiction or superhero epic and especially a film aimed at children, there’s a 90% chance it will be in 3-D, including several films directed by the aforementioned Robert Zemeckis himself.
While some of these films have grand ambition, call me narrow mindedly old school but the most enjoyable experiences I have had wearing those clunky glasses in the last three years were the throwback horror “throw shit at the screen” stylings of the My Bloody Valentine and Piranha remakes, though even those have some murky cinematography. Screw “immersion” man, I want a detached eyeball flying in my face!
This weekend’s release of Tron: Legacy with its Digital 3-D effects and the inevitable recollection of seeing the original theatrically back in 1982 when the momentary 80’s 3-D boom was in full effect has me in a particularly nostalgic mood. So let’s put on those cardboard glass with the red and blue anaglyph lenses and remember a day when 3-D didn’t mean blue people plugging themselves into trees but rather Star Wars rip-offs, third entries in horror franchises, and, of course, lots and lots of stuff being pointed directly at the camera!
The film that kick started the 80's trend was the Italian western Comin' At Ya, which as a spaghetti western in 1981 and in 3-D, was a double anomaly, but ended up garnering a strong 12 million dollar cume in the US, which is a cool $40 mill when adjusted for inflation. Sadly, I could not locate a trailer online, so enjoy this poster:
About five months after Comin' At Ya's American release, the Charles Band directed horror film Parasite, featuring effects by Stan Winston, hit theatres. Featuring an ensemble cast with future star Demi Moore, Tom Villard (of Popcorn fame) and The Runaways' Cherie Curie, Parasite was able to ride the uniqueness of 3-D and garner $7 million dollars from a $800,00 budget.
Here's the trailer for Parasite which begins with our narrator explicitly promoting the 3-D process and then displays a bunch of parasites jumping out at you, the audience member.
"Be assured Parasite is the most gripping and frightening movie you will ever see...and in 3-D you will be part of the terror!":
You then had your wave of Part 3's.
Friday the 13th part 3 (in 3-D)
"Jason. You can't fight him, you can't stop him, and now you can't even keep him on the screen!"
The next two feature our good pal, Percy Rodrigues, as narrator.
Jaws 3-D, the trailer of which contains a grand total of zero seconds of actual footage from the film (perhaps for the best).
"And for the first time the terror of Jaws won't stop at the edge of the screen"
Amityville 3-D, this explosive trailer also relies more on Rodrigues' sonorous voice as a selling point rather than actual footage of the film
"A new dimension in the technology of terror!"
Unfortunately, I was deemed too young to watch either of those films at the time by my parents, even though both the Jaws and Amityville sequels were rated PG, so I never had the opportunity to experience them theatrically (I did catch a revival screening of Jaws 3-D in 2002), however, I did see the two fantasy/sci-fi Star Wars rip-off films with really long titles that utilized the process.
Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, which was produced by Ivan Reitman and featured a pre-John Hughes collaboration appearance by Molly Ringwald, was not a success upon it's release, probably due to the not so brilliant decision of having it open five days before Return of the Jedi. The film, which I have absolutely no recollection of, has been released on DVD, however no trailer (or very much footage of any sort for that matter) turned up in my searches, so enjoy the poster that tried to entice people away from the concluding chapter of the Star Wars saga, it's the first movie that puts you in outer space!
Released later that year, August 1983, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn features a poster that should be instantly familiar to anyone who either read comic books that year or frequented the science fiction aisle of the video store during the decade. Directed by Charles Band, the James Cameron of the 1981-83 3-D craze, Metalstorm would gross a mere $5 million dollars that year, less than Parasite, and by 1984, it seemed the trend was officially dead.
Here's the trailer for Metalstorm featuring lots of items being thrown towards the camera ("...and they will do all of this for you in 3-D!"):
In 1991, New Line Pictures decided the only way to send off the franchise character that built the studio was to take things up a notch, dimensionally speaking. So Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare featured the character's onscreen demise (there would be two more sequels and a remake), which basically was a ten minute sequence, in 3-D, so you had to wait until prompted on screen. Being a teenaged horror fanatic at the time, I saw it opening day, and it was a bit of a let down, cluing me in that my affection for those previously discussed films were merely a factor of nostalgia.
Oddly, while the trailer shows the scene in which the 3-D glasses magically materializes on the protagonist's face, it makes no mention of the gimmick:
In 27 years (which judging from the gap between the original Tron and the sequel is when we can expect the release of the third film, Tron: Trinity) will the current trend have gone obsolete and returned? Will the likes of the Clash of the Titans remake and that owl movie be an obscure footnote comparable to Spacehunter and Metalstorm today? Who knows, look me up and we can discuss it then, I'll be the one with the cardboard glasses.
Nice commentary on the 3D gimmick, I really never thought the current 3D would last so long. I must admit if I have to see a movie in 3D I will only see IMAX 3-D, and it seems (like you said) the best use of 3D is in horror movies. I recently saw Resident Evil in 3D and it was more enjoyable then any kids movie was in 3D.
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