It has taken over 30 years for the 3-D Film Archive to assemble and restore the material in 3-D Rarities, an eye-popping collection of ultra-rare and long-lost movies, which Flicker Alley and the 3-D Film Archive are proud to present here for the first time on Blu-ray.
Selections include Kelley's Plasticon Pictures, the earliest extant 3-D demonstration film from 1922 with incredible footage of Washington and New York City; Lumière’s L’Arrivée d’un Train, first shown at the Academie des Sciences in Paris; New Dimensions, the first domestic full color 3-D film originally shown at the World’s Fair in 1940; Thrills for You, a promotional film for the Pennsylvania Railroad; Around is Around, a 3-D animated gem by Norman McLaren; Rocky Marciano vs. Jersey Joe Walcott, the only 3-D newsreel; Stardust in Your Eyes, a hilarious standup routine by Slick Slavin; trailer for The Maze, with fantastic production design by William Cameron Menzies; Doom Town, a controversial anti-atomic testing film mysteriously pulled from release; puppet cartoon The Adventures of Sam Space, presented in widescreen; I’ll Sell My Shirt, a burlesque comedy unseen in 3-D for over 60 years; Boo Moon, an excellent example of color stereoscopic animation…and more!
Presented in high-quality digital 3-D, all films have been stunningly restored and mastered direct from archival materials. Meticulously aligned shot by shot for precise registration of the original left/right elements, these historic 3-D motion pictures have never before looked this good.
The date of the first documented exhibition of a 3-D film occurred on June 10, 1915. 3-D Rarities commemorates the centennial of 3-D motion pictures!
I have had a long love for 3-D. Ever since I first saw 'House of Wax' on TV when I was a kid and learned that 3-D movies even existed, I was obsessed with seeing one on the big screen. Sadly I was born a tad too late to enjoy 3-D's late 70s early 80s resurgence. In spite of the recent resurgence on cinema screens and home television sets, 3-D is not a new phenomena in the world of filmmaking and distribution. As the 3-D Film Archive and Flicker Alley aim to show with the release of '3-D Rarities,' three dimensional cinema has been a technology long in the making. To speak of '3-D Rarities' in terms of traditional plot structure wouldn't really do this disc service. It doesn't even act as a traditional documentary as it is simply a collection of 3-D shorts, industrial videos, short stories, and movie trailers dating all the way back to 1922 and presented in as a chronological presentation of technological advances.
One of the things that first struck me is actually seeing silent black and white 3-D films from 1922 and 1923. These, while rough, were amazingly effective for their day in creating a sense of depth and proportion out of various locations in Washington DC and New York City. From 1940, there are a pair of rather amazing industrial films, the first 'Thrills For You' is about the ins and outs of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the second is a full color three dimensional stop motion animated short called 'New Dimensions' that was made for Chrysler where a car is built from the ground up with intricately stop motion animated parts rolling and flying into place. Even in these early shorts, the results very impressive.
Perhaps the most impressive, and my favorite segments of this entire disc, was a short from 1952 from Bolex Cameras showing off their new Stereo 3-D lens, that apparently allowed average people the opportunity to shoot home movies in 3-D using only a single strip of 16mm film. If the clip that was actually shown on this disc came from this single strip process then color me amazed! I was floored by this segment for a few reasons, one of them being that I used the same spring-wound Bolex cameras in film school and now I'm actually feeling like my education was missing an important element because a 3-D lens would have been awesome - especially since I shot a short movie about Cookie Monster as a cop with a raw cookie dough addiction who busts up an underground illegal cookie distribution operation in Chicago. 3-D would have been a lot of fun for that shoot. Even with the muted detail levels that 16mm could offer, the depth the process produced was impressive.
There are several 3-D animated shorts from the Canadian Film Board. These were more than likely test shoots as they don't seem to offer any purpose other than to showcase what can be done with layered imaging, I'm guessing they used glass plates to separate the individual elements in order to provide that sense of depth. The results are very strong and provide a "window into another world" type look, but they also have some nice leap-out-of-the-screen pops to them. They're a tad long, but still fascinating.
Also present here is the only 3-D newsreel ever produced that covers the controversial Rocky Marciano Vs Jersey Joe Walcott fight. The effect is actually thrilling as you get to see each fighter train for the bought. The fight itself is kept at a distance but once it's over, the camera changes angles so you get different views with impressive 3-D depth. The peak of this short is when they slow it down to capture Marciano's knock down punch to Walcott's chin. I won't spoil it for you, but there's a reason this rematch fight was controversial in its day and it's all caught on camera - in 3-D no less!
Once the program gets into the 1950s the offerings work quite a bit better as the industry had moved passed doing simple industrial shorts for fairs or trade shows and test shoots. Now they were going big time Hollywood and needed to showcase their best materials in this new technology. Universal International provided a lot of cheep sci-fi/horror fodder in this format and seeing restored trailers for a movie like 'It Came From Outer Space' in full 3-D makes me hopeful that a full restoration effort is underway for this title - I'll buy it up in a heartbeat. After the trailers comes a nice little short 'The Adventures of Same Space' as well as a hand-drawn animated Casper Short where he flies off to visit the moon.
As a whole '3-D Rarities' turned out to be a fascinating two and a half hours. While the 3-D effect could be either engrossing and engaging or off-putting depending on the age of the short - it was no less amazing. To be able to see these things restored to their best possible condition and then exhibited is a real treat. Especially the silent film material when you consider that it is estimated that nearly 90% of the films made from that era are lost forever. Is this a viewing experience for everyone? No, not really. I know there are detractors to 3-D out there and that's fine, but this material simply is not for them. Even though there is an option to see the shorts in 2-D, there just isn't any point in doing that - especially when you consider you miss out on the fun of getting a pie thrown at the screen courtesy of Charlie Chaplin's Tramp character! '3-D Rarities' is a celebration of three dimensional movie making in all its forms and should be viewed as such. If you love 3-D and want to see what some of the earliest examples looked like - this is a fantastic set.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'3D Rarities' comes to 3-D Blu-ray thanks to Flicker Alley and 3-D Film Archive. Pressed on a Region Free BD50 Disc and housed in a standard clear case, the disc opens to the main menu that allows you to play all, view just the early segments, or view only the 1950s Hollywood produced materials. Also included is a 23 page booklet filled with essays covering the development and exhibition of 3-D films over the years.
Picture quality is somewhat difficult to score since each of the shorts is a product of its own current condition. The elements involved have clearly been carefully restored to their best possible shape, but obviously some are going to look rougher than others. For the most part things look absolutely fantastic. Color - when present - looks sharp and accurate and often exhibit that glorious Technicolor vibrancy. Black levels are also a tad tough to grade short to short seeing as how each one was made under different conditions, but for the most part they're spot on and there doesn't appear to be any kind of contrast boosting or tinkering on that end as each short maintains its own unique look and feel.
Now for the 3-D presentation. All in all this is a beautifully effective look at three dimensional filmmaking. Some of the earliest shorts shared their own issues with ghosting and cross talk, clearly they didn't have the spacing of the twin camera setups sorted out at the time - but even at its worst the depth '3-D Rarities' has to offer is rather striking. Along the Z-Axis there is quite a bit of distance to appreciate, especially in the early silent material as the camera was kept far away from its subject and allowed items to move towards the camera to create the sense of perspective. There's a segment on a roller coaster that is amazingly effective and provides a wonderful sense of vertigo. The Bolex Cameras 3-D lens segment was also very effective, but often the results felt very "pop-up book," but even then, those results for single strip 16mm film were impressive making it all the more surprising that the format died out when it looked so simple to produce those kinds of family films at home.
To put it simply, its very difficult to find any fault with this presentation. The fact that elements for the earliest of 3-D shorts ven exist is a call for celebration and not nitpicking age related issues. They're still able to create a great three dimensional experience and are a lot of fun.
With an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, sound is an equally subjective experience with this disc as about a third of the film features silent era short films with the only sound being background music. Once the era of talking films come into things, the sound is nice and present throughout. Many of these shorts simply offer voice over narration to accompany the background music. The results are very good as there are very few, if any, drop outs, breaks, or skips in the track. Where applicable, imaging is present, but only slightly as most of the shorts were made before the considerations of stereo sound recording. All around the audio track is in fine shape, but since this is a series of shorts about 3-D, the sound isn't the main draw here. The restoration efforts clearly worked to mitigate any age related anomalies and there is little age related hiss or background noise to contend with.
Audio Commentary: Thad Komorowski and Jack Theakston talk about the various aspects of the shorts while providing historical context.
3-D Footage From Francis Ford Coppola's The Bellboy and the PlayGirls: (HD 2:04) The film looks to be in decent shape and the 3-D is effective - the scene itself just isn't that interesting.
3-D Photo Galleries: This is a collection of pictures that were created repurposing films like 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The New York's World's Fair from 1939, 3D comic books from EC Comics, as well as Sam Sawyer View Master reels. The effects are pretty good, but since they're showing the entire page at a single time, the images are not as effective as they could be.
'3-D Rarities' is one of those collections that is really and truly for a niche audience. Some love 3-D, some loathe it. This is a disc that is thoroughly for the people that are out and out 3-D nuts like myself who can't get enough of the format - especially if it involves classic movies. With strong and effective 3-D picture quality, serviceable audio, and a host of interesting extras, I still have to call this one for fans only. Not everyone loves 3-D and watching this collection of short films in 2-D is absolutely pointless. So, if you have a 3-D TV and are itching for some vintage three dimensional films, get your glasses ready - this disc is worth the ride.