During the 1950s Hollywood executives scrambled to find ways to lure Americans away from the latest gadget in their living rooms -- the TV -- and back into theaters. So what did they do to top the little magic box? They made films in 3-D.
And we're talking every type of film. As audiences huddled in their seats wearing those goofy cardboard-and-plastic glasses watching campy vehicles like the sci-fi flick Cat Women of the Moon, rocks, spears, crashing automobiles, even Rita Hayworth's bra "flew" off the screen (in 1953's Miss Sadie Thompson).
From 1952 to 1954, the movie industry pumped out some 65 3-D flicks, but as audiences learn in the latest IMAX offering, 3-D Mania: Encounters in the Third Dimension, the phenomenon began long before the '50s. Narrated by a slightly daft character known only as the Professor, the new giant-screen film takes viewers through the history of 3-D.
With the invention of the first stereoscopic viewer, a device that allowed the integration of two separate images into one more-realistic one, photographers created the first 3-D experience way back in 1838. L'Arrivée du Train, one of the first films ever made, was a 3-D thriller that frightened audiences in 1903. Created by the Lumière brothers of France, the one-minute clip featured a steaming locomotive that seemed to burst right through the screen in a cloud of smoke -- an effect that was reportedly a bit too much for some freaked-out Frenchmen.
Today's audiences demand a more intense experience; after showing a revamped version of L'Arrivée, the Professor indulges viewers with clips from his collection, putting them face to face with the menacing chrome spider from Terminator 2: 3-D and in the path of rampaging dinosaurs in The Return to Dino Island.
Here's a historical conundrum to ponder: Which looks funnier, those nerdy cardboard glasses of yesteryear, or the big cyberhelmet you have to wear in the IMAX theater? Hmmm.
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