Festival does 3-D the old way, and says it's better

Setting up
Bill Carter goes through the final set-up of the 3D system. He brought in and installed the system which will be used for the two weeks of the festival.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

In the cramped projection box at the back of the Parkway Theater, cinema magic springs to life as a projector starts up.

But in reality there are two of them, linked together by a crude, but extremely effective set of synchronized motors. It's known as the Double Interlocking Polaroid System which gives the Parkway Theater's 3-D festival its name.

The projection room at the Parkway is strung with wires for the temporary installation of the 3D system. At the heart of the set-up are the two small motors which make sure the projectors stay in synch.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

The man at the controls is Bill Carter. He's just gutted this entire projection room and installed two vintage projectors.

"Right now I'm trying to critically align the images from the left and right machine," he says.

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He has to get it just right. Veteran projectionists tell tales of patrons getting headaches or worse after viewing a poorly aligned 3-D film.

"Warner Brothers said that in 1953, 'Everything we make from now on is going to be in 3D,' and they did it for about six months after that."

"I'm not going to mess with that," Carter eventually says. "It works!"

Carter says three-dimensional film was first invented in the 1930s. But it was only in the early 1950s that Hollywood took the 3-D plunge.

Humans see in three dimensions by our brains combining the slightly different view for each eye into one image. Close one eye and your vision will flatten out.

Carter says the 3-D filmmakers mimicked human vision by shooting with two cameras set slightly apart. That means of course, two films. He pulls out two huge film cans, and snaps one of them open.

"See how these are labeled? 'Left eye, part one,'" he says.

The system uses polarized filters so that each eye only sees one of the two films.

One set of filters hangs in front of the projector lenses. The other filter are the 3-D glasses worn by audience members. With their grayish lenses and white frames, the Parkway eyewear look like sleek sunglasses from the 50s.

"The image from the left projector is cancelled out by the filter you wear over your right eye, and vice versa," Carter says.

House of Wax
A DVD of "House of Wax" sits in the piles of cinema-related stuff around the projection room.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

What made this system so good Carter says, is it used 35-millimeter film. This delivers a sharp image still unrivaled by the 21st century digital projection systems driving the new wave of 3-D films. But the new systems make it much easier to show 3-D movies, and there are a lot of those movies coming down the line.

Todd Trembley is the film buyer for Cinemagic Theaters in St. Michael. He needs to open up his computer to get the full list of 3-D films about to open in local theaters.

"There is virtually at least one film a month coming out over the next seven [to] eight months, and once you get into 2010, it's even more than that," Trembley says.

The 3-D adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline has already been a hit, and "Monsters versus Aliens" is also expected to be a huge box office draw at the end of this month. Trembley says Hollywood is trying 3-D versions of all kinds of films.

Joe Minjares
Joe Minjares owns and runs the Parkway Theater in South Minneapolis. He saw many of the movies being shown in the 3D festival when he was a child. He says he just wants people to have fun at the event
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"There's some horror movies, there's family movies, there's action films, there's teenager films," he says. "I think they are trying to work out what films people want to see."

Back at the Parkway, Bill Carter smiles and says he's waiting to see what happens. He's heard some studio people say when enough digital theaters are properly wired, everything will be made in 3-D.

"Well, Warner Brothers said that in 1953, 'Everything we make from now on is going to be in 3D,' and they did it for about six months after that," he says.

Carter says some Hollywood classics were made in 3-D: Hitchcock's 'Dial M for Murder" John Wayne's "Hondo" and the musical "Kiss Me Kate." But the films that hit theaters first were cheaply made, and the public quickly got bored.

Carter says today there are only six theaters in the country which can show two projector 3-D. That's why the prints of films he's going to show including "House of Wax," "Dial M for Murder" "Gorilla at Large" and "Inferno" are in such good shape.

Parkway owner Joe Minjares saw many of the films being shown in the The Amazing Double Interlocking Polaroid System 3-D Festival when he was a child. He hopes the event will recreate a little bit of the 50s.

"This is a single-screen cinema, it was built as a cinema, for cinema," he says. "And people will be able to have the opportunity when they come here to step back into time to see what movies were meant to be like."

And then when it is all done in a couple of weeks, Bill Carter will gut the projection room again, and put back the newer projectors.