Sadly, however, the process was unjustifiably expensive and yielded only a handful of films. For a few years after its demise, some films still carried the Cinerama moniker (IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY among them), but these did not employ the three-camera process. For years, transferring three-camera Cinerama films to the home viewing medium was fraught with obstacles, the most obvious of which was a clear delineation between the three film strips, with each strip being slightly off-color from the one beside it and the “seams” separating one from the other clearly visible. Add to this an image slightly distorted at its sides and you have a less-than-desirable presentation. But thanks to a new process giddily titled “Smileboxing”, Cinerama films can now be seen properly in your living room. Smileboxing uses a 3-D rendering application that “projects” the three images onto a virtual Cinerama screen. In other words, they generate the curve on a flat surface, then digitally remove the seams between the three panels to create one widescreen image and… Voila! Cinerama! Sure, it’s not as spectacular as seeing the film in a Cinerama theater, but until you can get a curved screen and three projectors into your living room, this will do the trick.
Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray release of the classic Cinerama film How the West Was Won is a major leap forward in bringing the widescreen theater-going experience home. In addition to its all-star cast, one of the premiere reasons West holds such a valuable place in our cinematic heritage is its use of a short-lived widescreen process known as Cinerama.
Premiering in 1952, Cinerama employed three different projectors running simultaneously to create a “wide screen experience” unlike anything offered before. The image was projected on a 146-degree curved screen and the sound pumped through 7 different speakers to add to the feeling of total immersion. In order to do this, the film itself was shot with three different cameras running simultaneously and pointed at slightly different angles. When shown on a Cinerama screen, the alternate angles of each image, when placed side-by-side, created the illusion of actually being there in the action.
The only catch? The Smileboxed version of How the West Was Won is available exclusively on Blu-ray disc. Using the original Cinerama negatives, each of the three panels were scanned in at 2k for a grand total 6k transfer. And it is stunning. So if you’ve been looking for that perfect excuse to upgrade to Blu-ray, that excuse has finally arrived.