BluRay/DVD Reviews

CINERAMA’S SEARCH FOR PARADISE (Flicker Alley)

By • Dec 14th, 2014 •

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By 1957, the movie-going public (or at least those near big cities) were familiar with Cinerama and the pure, visceral experience it provided. Cinerama used a rig that combined three cameras shooting specialized film, and required four projectors to play; three for the image, one for the seven-track stereophonic sound. The three-paneled image was displayed on a deeply-curved screen, and was meant to wrap around the viewers’ peripheral vision, making them feel like they were inside the film itself, and giving the images an even greater sense of depth (“3D without the glasses” was a moniker used to describe the experience). Few venues in the world played Cinerama, but the films made in the process were box office hits, with the debut film, THIS IS CINERAMA, selling out every evening showing for a year straight at the Broadway Theater in New York.

Cinerama films could roughly be categorized as travelogues (although Lowell Thomas loathed that term). The main point of them was showing the viewers exotic locales and incredible images. SEARCH FOR PARADISE, the fourth feature in the three-panel process, explores the Karakoram mountains, the Himalayas, the Forbidden Kingdom of Hunza, the rapids of the Indus River, the Shalimar Gardens of Kashmir, Katmandu, and finally, an Air Force base. The opening sequences in the Karakoram mountains in particular are jaw-droppingly beautiful, while the portions in Katmandu run a little long. There’s plenty of spectacle, and some very cheesy songs that instantly date the film to the 1950s. Overall, if you’re familiar with the Cinerama catalog, you kind of know what you’re getting into at this point. Those of us who enjoy it though, can’t get enough of it.

For the past three years, Flicker Alley, in association with David Strohmaier and the newly-rechristened Cinerama Inc., have been slowly releasing the three-panel Cinerama catalog on Blu-Ray, and have knocked it out of the park with each release. Even though most of the Cinerama films have been transferred from secondary sources (most of the original elements are either severely damaged, faded, or simply don’t exist anymore), the picture quality is always amazing, and the amount of color and detail they’ve been able to conjure out of faded prints with such a limited budget and tight schedule is mind-boggling. The restoration demos on each release show the amount of care that goes into the process. The expansive soundtracks are also lovingly recreated in 5.1, and have a surprising amount of depth and surround activity to them.

The most-touted supplement on SEARCH FOR PARADISE is a Cinerama short made in 2012, using a repaired Cinerama camera rig entitled IN THE PICTURE. This short beautifully imitates the chipper style and larger-than-life approach of the three-panel Cinerama features as two tourists visit Los Angeles landmarks. IN THE PICTURE is accompanied by a making-of documentary, THE LAST DAYS OF CINERAMA, which provides a great look at the extreme difficulty of shooting in the format, especially now in the age of instant video playback and light cameras.

The rest of the supplements are rounded out by some 16mm home movies made during the Nepal sequence and the finale at the Air Force base. There’s also a lengthy interview with Otto Lang, originally conducted for the excellent documentary CINERAMA ADVENTURE, in which he extensively discusses the Cinerama features and tells some amusing anecdotes. As usual with the Flicker Alley/Cinerama releases, there’s also the ‘breakdown reel’, which was shown to audiences whenever there was a technical difficulty with the projection, and a booklet that recreates the program handed out to audiences back in 1957.

Flicker Alley and Cinerama Inc. have carved out a fantastic little niche with these releases, and SEARCH FOR PARADISE continues a string of outstanding home video presentations. Anyone interested in the age of roadshows and large-format filmmaking owes it to themselves to check out another great Cinerama release. Even without the benefit of a huge, curved screen, these films still have plenty of visual panache and spectacle.

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