A sight for both eyes

Seeing the world in three dimensions

Published: May 06 2016, 01:01:am

Tuesday, April 29, 1986.

THREE-DIMENSIONAL MOVIES: THEY always seemed like such a good idea. For years we've endured headaches and heard about how good they could be, if only . . .
    If only the picture were bigger . . .
    If only the screens were brighter . . .
    If only the projectors were better . . .

    Until now, the promise has always outdistanced the performance. Producers promoting such recent films as Friday the 13th Part III (1982), Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983) and Jaws 3-D (1983) promised life-like realism. If the effect fails to work, well, conditions are not always ideal . . .
    At Expo 86, the conditions are ideal, and there isn't a single "if only. . . " to excuse a poor performance. As a result (and for the first time since 1939's New York World's Fair), stereoscopic films are a major on-site movie attraction.
    Three Expo 86 pavilions feature 3-D productions, and each promises to be a spectacular, stunningly memorable show. Transitions, director Colin Low's look at the Canadian transportation history, is the world's first live-action picture in IMAX 3-D.
     Filmed in the biggest of all big-screen movie formats, it fulfills every promise ever made for a depth-vision process, delivering an immense, bright, steady image so real and so clear that you'll find yourself reaching out to touch it.
     Low's film, on view in the Canada Pavilion's CN IMAX Theatre, is sharing its supply of polarized 3-D glasses with the Ontario Pavilion and its 20-minute, untitled stereoscopic movie.
    Ontario, of course, hopes to repeat the success of its pace-setting Expo 67 featurette, the Oscar-winning A Place to Stand. Produced by David McKay, the new film utilizes the multi-image techniques of the earlier film, and enhances the effect by presenting the results in a 70mm 3-D format.
    A 3-D film will also be on view at the U.S.S.R. Pavilion, but Russian officials are secretive about the technical details. A Soviet spokesman has confirmed only that visitors will be supplied with glasses, dashing hopes that we might see an example of their legendary lenticular 3-D. Developed in Russia in the 1940s, it is a lensed-screen process that creates a depth effect without special spectacles.

The above is a restored version of a Province Expo 86 preview feature by Michael Walsh originally published in 1986. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: The story of 3-D (or, as is now more usual in print, 3D) movies is a long and twisted one. For most of their history, stereoscopic pictures faced problems of expense (theatres needed to install new equipment), inconvenience (those awkward glasses, occasional headaches) and ineptitude (poor presentation, really poor plot lines), all of which added up to short bursts of popular interest followed by audience indifference. (For more on 3-D in the 1950s and early 1980s, see my review of Dial M for Murder.) In the years following Expo 86, theatrical motion pictures faced ever greater challenges from the  many advances in home entertainment technology. Producers and distributors responded with their own high-tech solutions, with the Mississauga, Ontario-based IMAX Corporation playing a key role in many of the resulting transitions.
    Though mainstream interest in 3D fell off after 1986, IMAX continued producing films for its network of special-venue theatres, eventually making the breakthrough to feature-length movies with director James Cameron's 2003 Titanic documentary, Ghosts of the Abyss. Three years earlier, IMAX struck a deal with Disney for an exclusive four-month run of Fantasia 2000, the first major studio feature to premiere in its theatres. Other studios followed, simultaneously releasing such "big" pictures as Warner Bros.The Matrix Reloaded (2003) in regular 35mm and IMAX DMR (Digital Media Remastering) versions. In 2004, IMAX released its first animated 3D feature, director Robert Zemeckis's The Polar Express. Although Cameron used another process (Digital 3D) for his 2009 feature Avatar, his picture proved to be a game changer. The top-grossing film of all time (as of May, 2016), Avatar's box-office success set off the current rush into theatrical 3D production.
    Since then, 3D has become the preferred format for Hollywood studio feature releases in IMAX theatres. Last Friday (April 29), veteran IMAX 3D director Toni Myers's 45-minute documentary A Beautiful Planet opened, offering special-venue audiences views from the International Space Station shot by the astronauts. Today (May 6), the Marvel movie universe expands to include the Russo brothers' Captain America: Civil War, premiering in IMAX 3D. It will be followed by director Brian Singer's X-Men: The Apocalypse, shot in Montreal and scheduled for release in IMAX 3D on May18. Currently, there are about 1,100 IMAX theatres in 67 countries. 

See also: The 13 articles included in this, the first of four Expo 86 special reports, are:

01: Expo86 Introduction
02: Expo86 Connections
03: Expo86 The Czechs
04: Expo86 In the Circle

05: Expo86 3-D
06: Expo86 Showscan
07: Expo86 IMAX
08: Expo86 Holovision
09: Expo86 Video
10: Expo86 Days
11: Expo86 Trips

12: Expo86 Multi-Screens
13: Expo86 Off Site