What the Bwana Devil! I’ve been trying on various kinds of glasses to take in Channel 4’s 3D fest—but none transport me into the third dimension. Turns out, viewing the weeklong series of films and specials, culminating in a “3-D Magic Spectacular” and a clipfest of “The Greatest Ever 3-D Moments”—requires special goggles that can only be obtained from a certain chain of supermarkets whose reach does not extend to Mid Wales. By the time we got around to driving some 100 miles down south, the glasses had already been snatched up. The thought of having a digital recording of “The Queen in 3-D”—contemporary film footage of the 1953 coronation—without being able to take it in makes me want to jump out and hurl flaming arrows at whoever devised this regionally biased marketing scheme.
Had the coronation taken place only a year or two later, this experimental and previously unseen documentary might never have been shot right at you. After all, 1953 was a big year in three-dimensional filmmaking; but it proved little more than a fad. By the time Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder was released in the spring of 1954, the novelty had already worn off and, to this day, few viewers get to experience the climactic scene in the way it was re-conceived for the film.
I caught up with the stereoscopic movies of the 1950s—among them It Came from Outer Space, House of Wax, and Miss Sadie Thompson—when they aired on German television back during the early 1980s 3D craze, which was similarly brief yet decidedly less distinguished: Parasite, Metalstorm, Spacehunter, and the inept Indiana Jones knockoff El Tesoro de las cuatro coronas.
Ever since I got my first stereoscope, known as a View-Master, I have been enthralled by three-dimensional images, or at least by the idea thereof. Rather peculiar, this, considering that those of us fortunate enough to have a set of matching peepers get to experience the same effect without having to sport ill-fitting, nausea-inducing eyewear.
So far this year I have put up with putting on special spectacles to see five 21st-century 3D movies, among them Coraline, The Final Destination, and Up (not counting the partially 3D IMAX presentation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). It seems that 2009 is even a bigger year for 3D than 1953. Yet while I rejoice in the prospect of further excursions into space, it strikes me that, as 3D goes mainstream at last, the technology has lost some of its rogue appeal. Movies like Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs do not exploit the potentialities of the medium with the abandon the added dimension invites. I mean, why throw money at 3D films if they don’t throw anything back at you? Maybe I’m wearing rose-colored glasses, but I am still hoping for a throwback to those 1950s throwaways. In the meantime, I’ll gladly return to radio drama, the invisible, immaterial theater whose action unfolds in the fourth dimension.