3D is here to stay… until shoddy post-conversion movies and inflated ticket prices kill the fad dead, as it has died before. James Cameron has been here before – remember when the alien in The Abyss and the T-1000 in Terminator 2 were the most cutting edge things you had ever seen? Jim didn’t let tons of crappy CGI movies dampen his enthusiasm for spectacle, presentation and showmanship, and I don’t think he’s going to let Clash of the Titans or the upcoming Gulliver’s Travels bring him down now.
But what’s next? Perhaps Cameron can once again look to the past for the movie technology of the future. Here are five previous movie gimmicks that Cameron can consider reviving.
Percepto. The brainchild of the James Cameron of his day, William Castle, Percepto completely changed the way audiences experienced low grade Z movie schlock. The technique allowed moviegoers to actually feel what was happening onscreen, by way of joy buzzers attached to their seats. Percepto was used in the movie The Tingler, in which Vincent Price discovers the source of the tingling sensation you get in your spine when scared – a creepy parasite, of course! The only way to defeat the parasite (which can kill you) is to scream; when people in the audience felt the Tingler they were told to scream as loud as they could to defeat the creature.
William Castle could get a whole list of movie gimmicks to himself, as he was the father of Emergo (a rubber skeleton swung over the crowd), Illusiono (special glasses allowed people to see ‘invisible’ ghosts on screen), and the Punishment Poll, where the audience voted on whether the villain of Mr. Sardonicus lived or died (a total gimmick as there was only one ending filmed). Percepto is his most famous, though, and his most ambitious. Installing the tinglers in seats was apparently tough; I’ve seen The Tingler presented in Percepto and the buzzing is fun, something I can’t say about the dreadfully dull movie itself.
Odorama. John Waters’ Polyester was released in the revolutionary Odorama format (itself a riff on William Castle’s Smell-O-Vision) and it forever changed the way audiences experienced ironic post-modern trash cinema. Theaters gave out Odorama cards – big scratch and sniff cards – and you were instructed to scratch off the number that corresponded with a flashing number on screen. The genius of John Waters, though, is the bait and switch. Just as you think the flashing number represents flowers the camera suddenly flashes on dirty sneakers and the theater would fill with the stench of feet.
Hypnovista. Released in 1959, Horrors of the Black Museum used the gimmick of Hypnovista to completely change the way audiences experienced British body count movies. In the opening moments of the movie a real hypnotist actually hypnotizes the audience so that they will fully experience the shock and horror of every terrifying moment of the movie. As you can imagine this extraordinary technique was wildly successful and no horror movie was ever again complete without a hypnotist.
Duovision. First there was color. Then there was sound. Then there was 3D. Then in 1973 came the most shattering cinematic achievement of all, a format that would completely change the way audiences experienced cheap exploitation pictures: Duovision. Used in the film Wicked, Wicked, Duovision was just split screen – used for the entire length of the movie.
Sensurround. Universal Pictures pioneered this sound technique that would completely change the way audiences experienced movies that caused structural damage to the very theaters in which they sat. Sensurround was a system that used a huge, low frequency speaker system to completely shake the bowels of audiences; when the Mann’s Chinese Theater tested it out for the blockbuster film Earthquake, they found that chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling and they were forced to hang safety nets to save the audience from dropping debris.