Documentary

Better Living Through 3D Viewing

The (3D) Adventures of Sam Space: Image: MoMA
Intergalactic traveller Sam Space answers a distress call from the planet Meecan. Image: MoMA

If there’s one thing we love, it’s discovering rare footage that deserves a cult following.

One such film is The Adventures of Sam Space (1960), a “puppet cartoon” about two boys and a scientist who travel on a shiny rocket to a distant planet. Not only does this animated short have a nifty robot named “Robo”, it’s presented in THREE DIMENSION!

(Digression: While Sam Space & Co. are travelling to the distant planet, they see an interstellar ad for Joe’s Diner, located “only 36,000 light years ahead.”)

Sam Space is one short from the 3-D Rarities blu-ray from Flicker Alley, restored and curated by Bob Furmanek and the 3-D Film Archive. These shorts are beautifully restored and look fabulous on a 3D television.

Some of the 3D effects are so good, we found ourselves flinching. For instance, 3D footage filmed between 1924-27 made us duck when a baseball pitcher throws a fastball, and say “Eww!” when a fisherman dangles a fake (but very creepy) bug “in” the audience.

Yes, you read that right. This is realistic 3D footage from the 1920s, and it turns out the 1920s weren’t even the earliest years for 3D footage. (Smarty Pants Tidbit: The first 3D footage was released in 1915.)

The 3-D Rarities set features a wide variety of films, including a World Championship fight (Rocky Marciano vs. “Jersey” Joe Walcott), scenic tours of tropical islands, footage of the Pennsylvania Railroad (featuring value-priced “roomettes”), and trippy, experimental 3D animation courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada. One of the most mesmerizing scenes (that we watched repeatedly) is footage of an atomic blast in Nevada.

By the early 1950s, 3D had hit its stride. It had bold colour, thrilling effects and scripts that capitalized on both.

Happily, the 3-D Rarities blu-ray includes selections from the midst of this “golden era”. These shorts and movie trailers almost make you nostalgic for this generation of 3D film.

They also make us wonder if the relationship between early filmmakers and 3D technology was as straightforward as we thought.

Richard Carlson warns us away from The Maze (1953). Image: Flicker Alley
Richard Carlson warns us away from The Maze (1953). Image: Flicker Alley

Filmmakers from the 1950s knew exactly what 3D is and what it should offer viewers. (You can see a complete list of 1950s 3-D movies at the Film Archive site here.) These movies are sensational and exhilarating; viewers realize they should never hold a cup of hot coffee while viewing.

We were surprised to see 3D films were not always about intense thrills. One of the earliest films on the blu-ray has genteel, patriotic shots of Washington D.C. The disk also includes street footage of New York City, and an earnest explanation of the importance of the railroad to the American economy. One short (hosted by Lloyd Nolan) shows us the inside of a large, expensive-looking 3D camera and explains how our eyes see 3D images.

Another narrator declares,  “You can see how things work in three-dimensional movies. Almost better than being there yourself.” He says this as we watch a man ploughing a field with a bright red tractor.

Oh.

These are noble efforts to give us audiences an intellectual 3D experience, to try to make us better people. But let’s face it. If we’re watching 3D film, we aren’t concerned with Being A Better Person at the moment. We want thrills!

We want the high-speed car chase and the up-close-and-personal roller coaster ride. (Both filmed, incidentally, in the 1930s. We do not recommend viewing after a heavy meal.)

Still, you have to respect early filmmakers who wanted to educate us and show us parts of the planet we may never have visited. You find yourself appreciating these altruistic efforts.

We feel the 3-D Rarities collection from Flicker Alley offers an enlightening mix of shorts that give us a greater perspective of 3D history. Once you experience it, you’ll agree that some of this footage deserves its own cult following.

This post is part of the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon co-hosted by Movies, Silently, Once Upon a Screen and yours truly, and sponsored by Flicker Alley. Click here to view all the posts for today’s era.

Click HERE to purchase a copy of 3-D Rarities.

Check out Silver Scenes contribution HERE for a more complete look at feature 3D films of the 1950s.

For a review of a live screening of 3-D Rarities at MoMA, check out Citizen Screen’s review HERE

 

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25 thoughts on “Better Living Through 3D Viewing

  1. Ruth, I am going to have to bow out of this blogathon. Life events this week and next are just too busy and can’t be put off. I was going to blog about Airport, so if you could take me off of the roster, I thank you!

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  2. Mine just arrived this week and I have to wait for us to refurbish our “3D Studio” and “Film Geek” room. Heard so many great things, including here, and cannot wait.

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  3. Thank you very much! SAM SPACE was in pretty bad shape when we began, horribly faded and washed out. There are no surviving elements and the lone existing left/right 35mm 3-D print was found by a young poster collector at a Hollywood book shop in the late 1960’s. If he hadn’t been in the right place at the right time, that wonderful 3-D short would be lost forever.

    Don’t let the horrible quality of the red/green anaglyphic conversion that you have linked to on You Tube discourage anyone. The restoration on 3-D RARITIES looks much better!

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  4. I’m so jealous! I loved this at MoMA, but to be able to watch the entire collection whenever is beyond fantastic. Terrific commentary as usual, Ruth!

    Aurora

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  5. Sounds like a great collection! I had no idea 3-D movies began so long ago. I think the one around NYC and Washington D.C. would be fun. I’m sure my husband and I would both get a kick out of Sam Space. Actually my husband may have watched that on Saturday mornings when he was little. Very interesting post, Ruth!

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    1. Isn’t it strange to think that 3D is actually old film technology? The footage on this Blu-ray is so interesting. I was skeptical at first, thinking the old 3D would not at all be effective, but I was wrong.

      As for Sam Space, it is so much fun! I’d never even heard of him before.

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  6. How did I miss this post. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this.
    And the first 3D footage was released in 1915. Then the 100 year anniversary fall this year. Am surprised there is no big hoo-ha about it. There definitely should be one.
    Am generally not a great fan of 3D films, it’s such craze now-a-days. But I’d really love to check out classic 3D films, especially from 1915.
    Thanks for the great insight, especially ’cause I had no idea. I only knew that back in 30’s, and upto the mid-50’s, people complained about getting headache’s after watching 3D; but I had no idea, it was a 100 years old.

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    1. Yes, the early 3D films really are something to see, if you have the chance. I didn’t expect them to be so realistic, but they are!

      I agree re: 100 Year Anniversary of 3D film. Too bad modern film studios didn’t have a big splashy promotion to celebrate.

      Liked by 1 person

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