Seven Wonders of the World – Cinerama, Blu-ray (1956/2015)

by | Feb 28, 2015 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Seven Wonders of the World – Cinerama, Blu-ray (1956/2015)

Narrator & host: Lowell Thomas
Directors: Paul Mantz, Tay Garnett, Andrew Marton, Ted Tetzlaff
Studio: Cinerama Inc./ Flicker Alley  FA0037 [11/18/14] (3 discs, both Blu-ray & DVD)
Remastered by David Strohmaier
Video: 3-35mm projector images matched and reduced to simulated curved screen “Smilebox” 16:9 image, 1080p HD color
Audio: English DD 5.1 or 2.0
Extras: Restoration from the original camera negatives, 5.1 channel audio restoration from the original seven-channel mix, Breakdown reel as used in 1956 theatrical run, Newsreel from opening night in NYC, Restoration Demo, “Best in the Biz” – new documentary on the composers of Cinerama films, “Cinerama Everywhere” – French short on Cinerama, Three Seven Wonders trailers, Slideshow of publicity and behind-the-scene shots, Printed facsimile of original program as illustrated 28-page booklet
Length: 106 min.
Rating: ****

This is quite a travelogue, to end all travelogues perhaps. As were most of the Cinerama movies. Yes, Thomas’s narration sounds very dated and inappropriate now, but isn’t the soundtrack of just about all travelogues a pain anyway? So I suggest you just turn it off and luxuriate in the amazing visual images. Of course then you won’t know where you are in many of the fly-overs.

This later Cinerama feature, mostly unseen in theaters since the early 1970s, captures a different world than we have today. New York City looks really huge in the opening shots, and there are lots of shots flying over Rio, which according to Thomas is the most exciting city in the world. This presention tries to replicate not only the curved-screen image of the original Cinerama (you probably should have at least a 55-inch display to appreciate this, and sit close), but it also replicates the long overture with the Cinerama curtains completely closed, plus the intermission in the middle. You probably will want to fast-forward thru all that.

Some of the reviews praise the 5.1 mix of the original seven-channel audio, but I found the music not only usually corny but afflicted seriously with flutter and wow – which certainly shouldn’t be happening with optical 35mm audio. Perhaps the folks at Flicker Alley are just not as sensitive to that as I am, or the originals have it and they didn’t have the Capstan software that Pristine Audio uses to fix that.

Whoever (some Japanese guy) did the so-called choreography for the shots in Japan should be shot. It’s really embarrasing. So are most of the dance bits, which abound in the film. The whole Saudi visit presents quite a different view from the actual facts today. My favorite part was the little Darjeeling train in India, especially when it came to the elephant sleeping on the tracks. The runaway train rolling back down the mountainside is fun too. Reminded me of a little train trip film I ran backwards once too. Sure, the elephant was set up for the filming, but it’s still great fun. The shots flying over the Holy Land got a bit tiresome, especially with Thomas’s constant quoting from the Bible.  One occasionally wants to get down on the ground and see some things, rather than all the high altitude banks and aerial views. But it’s better than the other recently-reviewed Cinerama reissue from Flicker Alley.

Flicker Alley has worked hard to properly match up the joins between the three different films running at once, and they are better than I recall seeing in the theaters back in the 60s, but they’re still not perfect. That was the main problem with Cinerama.  Sometimes there are a series of little dark smudges up in the sky on the right side during some aerial footage.  Seems like that would have been an easy thing to reduce using their video software. Probably couldn’t due to their limited budget.

Some of the extras are most interesting, especially the one on the big-name composers who wrote the music for some of the Cinerama films, and it’s an hour long. Fascinating also is the 15-minute French short on the Cinerama tent shows in Europe. They mounted sold-out shows for 3000 in a tent and then moved on to another city for another showing. The “breakdown reel” is actually a single-screen 11-minute film which Thomas made in order to fill time in case one of the three projectors broke down or the film broke – which happened quite a bit. He apologizes and tells stories while the projectionists are supposedly fixing things. (The Hollywood Theater here in Portland was originally a Cinerama Theater, but the extra two projection booths have now been removed, as in most theaters.  But there still are a few special theaters running the original Cinerama films around the world.)

This reissue restores some fantastic images that just aren’t there anymore. It’s great to able to either see them again or for the first time.

—John Sunier

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