This Is Cinerama, Blu-ray (1952/2012) Windjammer, Blu-ray (1958/2012)

by | Feb 26, 2013 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

This Is Cinerama, Blu-ray (60th Anniversary Edition) (1952/2012)

Voice: Lowell Thomas
Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Gnther von Fritsch, Ernest B. Schoedsak, Michael Todd Jr.
Studio: Cinerama/Flicker Alley FA0025 [9/28/12] (2 discs)
Video: widescreen curved screen 16:9 (“SmileVison”)  
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, PCM 2.0
Extras: Audio commentary track by Cinerama rep, historian David Stohmaier, Radio Gitch (locations background) and Jim Morrison (original crew member); Trailer; TV Spots: 15 min.; Tribute to Cinerama revival in Dayton OH 1999
Length: 127 minutes
Rating: ****

Windjammer, Blu-ray (1958/2012)

Directors: Louis de Rochemont III, Bill Colleran
Studio: Cinemiracle/ Cinerama/Flicker Alley FA0026 [9/28/12] (2 discs)
Video: widescreen curved screen 16:9 (“SmileVison”)  
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, PCM 2.0
Extras: “The Windjammer Voyage: A Cinemiracle Adventure” – 56 min. 2012 documentary on the original production, “Windjammer Gets a Facelift,” Windjammer breakdown reel, The Christian Radich Today (2010), Windjammer trailer, Windjammer behind the scenes slideshow, Original newspaper ads, Printed booklet reproduction of original program
Length: 142 minutes
Rating: ***½ 

The unique widescreen process of Cinerama paved the way for all the wide-screen formats which attempted to provide more than the small screen of home TVs of the time. Inventor Fred Waller dreamt for years of a motion picture experience which would convey the full range of human vision. The three-projector technology was the final result, and theaters showing the original 65mm films—three separate reels for each film— still exist in LA, Seattle and London.

These reissues from Flicker Alley use the so-called SmileVision format, which crops off a portion on either side plus curves the screen so that the center image is less high than the outside images. They also filmed the opening of all three screens at the LA Cinerama exhibitor, dramatically switching between the 12-minute standard center screen introduction and the wide-angle Cinerama presentation. One of the biggest enhancements of the Blu-rays is the improvement of the joining of the three separate cameras and projectors. This was one of the bugaboos of Cinerama, and with age the different exposures, amount of fading, chemical stains etc. made the joining of the three screens even more problematic. While it’s not perfect, the improvement is major, with only some strange effects between the three screens when the plane banks in the aerial shots, etc.  Considering a lot of the work was done by volunteers, on a very low budget, the remastering is quite impressive.

These is no story or dialog; this is sort of like a special travelogue. One of the longer sections is the finale of the first act of the opera Aida, shot at La Scala Opera House in Milan. The opener is a scary ride on a long-since demolished roller coaster. There are shots of gondoliering along the canals of Venice, historical marching around Edinburgh Castle, and a too-long section on the Florida Everglades, with water-skiing and hydroplanes. The presentation includes an overture and an intermission, just as the original roadshow did. The after-intermission portion is a scenic flight across America with the Cinerama cameras in the nose of the B-25 bomber. The soundtrack bursts forth with a chorus singing “America the Beautiful,” and as the NY Times said, “The Soviets surely had nothing like this!”

Some of it is pretty dated by this time, but generally it’s a kick to see this again after all these years if you saw it in the ‘50s, and great to have it in this form. Windjammer was originally made a few years later  by a competing firm, in a similar but different process called Cinemiracle (the camera mounts were different). When that company went out of business, Cinerama purchased the rights and re-released it as a Cinerama movie.  It is more of a standard travelogue, depicting the sailing of a Norwegian sailing ship designed to train young men in being seamen. The most interesting portions are the visits to various Caribbean islands and the near-finale visit to New York City, which causes the three screens to open up with various multiple effects and creative images.  The several musical selections aboard ship seem forced, and the big finale is a performance of part of the Grieg Piano Concerto on board, conducted by Arthur Fiedler. Windjammer also opens with a similar 12-minute small-screen introduction, as did This Is Cinerama. [By the way, Flicker Alley is a wonderful resource for other reissues of classic early sound films and silents.]

—John Sunier

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