Saturday, March 14, 2015

This Is Cinerama!

Former Paramount special effects technician Fred Waller invented Cinerama, a widescreen process which produces a 165-degree curved image, in the early 1950s. It evolved from an earlier Waller system called Vitarama, which used eleven synchronized projectors to create an illusion of vastness and motion on a curved theater screen. Vitarama was a big hit at the 1937 World’s Fair, but its expense and technical requirements made it impractical for common use.

Waller refined the system over the next two decades and introduced a new version in 1952 with the travelogue film This Is Cinerama. The Cinerama process required a film to be shot with three cameras, one facing straight ahead and the other two slightly to the left and right of the middle camera. Three synchronized projectors then projected all three films on a curved screen simultaneously.

Like This Is Cinerama, the early films shown in the process focused on spectacular visual effects, breathtaking rollercoaster rides, and soaring plane flights over the Grand Canyon. Unlike 3-D, Cinerama survived the 1950s, perhaps because its equipment restrictions limited the number of theaters that could show Cinerama films and elevated the process to special event status.

The first nontravelogue was 1962’s How the West Was Won. Occasional films continued to be made in Cinerama throughout the 1960s. However, technical difficulties, specifically problems with keeping the projectors synchronized, drove the development of a one-projector Cinerama process. The “new” Cinerama amounted to little more than projecting a 70mm image on a curved screen. It was abandoned in the 1970s, though expositions and amusement parks continued to exhibit popular Cinerama-like projection systems.

The Seattle Cinerama Theatre, which opened in 1963, is one
of the last remaining Cinerama venues.
As Cinerama faded, a new system called IMAX--its name derived from Image Maximum)--emerged at Expo '70 in Japan. It was refined over the next 45 years into the IMAX system in use today at many theaters throughout the world.

Here's a sampling of Cinerama films (both the original and the later single-film format):

This Is Cinerama (1952)
Cinerama Holiday (1955)
Seven Wonders of the World (1956)
Search for Paradise (1957)
South Seas Adventure (1958)
How the West Was Won (1962)
The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Circus World (1963)
The Best of Cinerama (1964)
Battle of the Bulge (1965)
Grand Prix (1966)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Ice Station Zebra (1968)
Custer of the West (1968)
Krakatoa, East of Java (aka Volcano) (1969)

This post is part of the Cinemascope Blogathon hosted by ClassicBecky's Brain Food and Wide Screen World. We encourage you to check the full schedule of posts by clicking here.


  1. Rick, An interesting historical look at Cinerama. The only film I ever saw in Cinerama was IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD.

  2. The only Cinerama film I've seen was "How the West Was Won". We had to hook my brothers big flatscreen up (our home tv is the old square kind) so we could see the picture! I would love to see one on an actual Cinerama screen! My dad remembers seeing a movie on one. I love learning about this kind of stuff.


  3. Attending a Cinerama screening must have been quite the event.

  4. Very interesting, Rick. I don't think I've seen any Cinerama films, but will seek one out! I did recently see Raoul Walsh's 1930 Western 'The Big Trail', starring John Wayne, which was made in an early version of widescreen called Grandeur - seems as if very few films were made in that format because of the expense. I hadn't heard of Vitarama - fascinating information.

  5. There are still a few Cinerama theatres left in the world, aren't there? We saw the Cinerama theatre when we were in Seattle, but were unable to actually see a film there.

    I agree with Caftan Woman – what a THRILL it would have been to have the Cinerama experience!

  6. Well, I am old enough to have seen a few these as a very small child (of course). I still remember how my eyes and imagination were dazzled by the Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.

  7. I remember two Cinerema films that I loved which you mention: 2001 A Space Odyssey and Krakatoa, East of Java. A strange duo, I suppose, but seeing them in the theatre was a marvelous experience. Your description of the birth of this type of filmmaking (I didn't know it went that far back!) was so interesting, Rick, and your list of movies makes me want to see all of them! Thanks so much for contributing!

  8. I'd imagine that the closer you are to the Cinerama screen, the more immersive it is. At least, that's how it was for me when I saw 'Interstellar' in 70mm last year. Not quite the same thing, I know, but close.

    Thanks for your post.

  9. It's quite saddening that I'll probably never have a Cinerama experience, but I appreciated your post. If you ever find yourself in London, the Phoenix cinema is worth a visit - it's the oldest continually-running cinema in the city and (fairly recently) underwent an extensive refurb that luckily only makes the experience more nostalgic (