Although Cinemascope was the first of the new widescreen processes to hit the screen with the high-profile The Robe in 1953, a rival technology called Cinerama was premiered in September 1952. By using three adjacent 35mm cameras, an extremely wide image could be created. It actually required five projectionists operating three projectors to view these films. Uniquely the image was projected onto large screens that was literally curved. This would provide the viewers with a spectacular, almost three dimensional, image.
Outside of exotic travelogues intended to exploit the Cinerama experience (much like many IMAX films today), only two fiction films were shot in genuine Cinerama: How the West Was Won (1962) and The Wonderful World of The Brothers Grimm (1962). Later films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) were filmed in Super Panavision 70 and then presented in a 70mm Cinerama image rather than the 3-Strip image of the original films.
Well now you can view this fascinating process from the comfort of your own home. How the West Was Won, starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda and James Stewart (above), will be released in a new Blu-Ray edition in August. This will include a special feature known as ‘SmileBox’ which will recreate the curved Cinerama image. This seems to be a simple distortion of the image designed to create the illusion of Cinerama, as in this frame from the SmileBox website:
It will be interesting to see how effective this new stab at old technology is, but it sounds like an admirable attempt to present How the West Was Won as it was originally meant to be seen. Until then you can find more information on Cinerama, including some great stills of film frames, at the highly recommended Widescreen Museum.