Cinerama and 2001: A Space Odyssey

Cinerama is a wide-screen film format that takes up a viewer’s entire field of vision. A 36-year-old Stanley Kubrick was so influenced by seeing a film in Cinerama–at the 1964 World’s Fair–that he hired its production team to work on his new film, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

TO THE MOON AND BEYOND, which played in a custom-built dome in the Transportation and Travel Pavilion of the World’s Fair, was shot in “Cinerama 360.” Screening a film in Cinerama required three projectors running simultaneously on an extremely wide screen. Its inventor, Fred Waller, won the Scientific Award from the Academy in 1954. As described in The New York Times by Ben Kenigsberg, “imagine a frame of film from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, shot in 65 millimeter, which became the gold standard for wide-screen epics. Now imagine a frame 20 percent taller. Then imagine three of those frames projected side by side, triptych-style, on a screen that would fill your peripheral vision. And imagine a team of four or five projectionists working to keep the presentation in sync.”

The seminal Cinerama film is THIS IS CINERAMA from 1952. It is essentially a travelogue. Lowell Thomas, best known today as the broadcast journalist who first met Lawrence of Arabia, welcomes viewers into his tchotchke-filled living room, then sends them on journeys to Vienna to see a three-part harmony, to Florida to see men and women perform water skiing tricks, and to other sights best experienced in this wide format. KING KONG director Merian C. Cooper directed and produced THIS IS CINERAMA.

As Douglas Trumbull, who worked with Kubrick on 2001, said to Science & Film, “a 100-foot wide screen and Cinerama created an opportunity for a more immersive experience. I realized that storytelling, drama, and other classical conventions of cinema could be set aside in favor of letting the audience feel like they were inside the movie instead of watching the movie.” Trumbull, along with Lester Novros and Con Pederson, produced TO THE MOON AND BEYOND, and went on to work with Kubrick creating concept sketches, and giving script notes for 2001. The film was released 50 years ago, in 1968.

Few theaters in the world can show Cinerama on film, but it can be presented digitally. THIS IS CINERAMA can be streamed for free on the public library’s platform Kanopy, in what is known as “SmileBox.” This simulates the curved screen that viewers would have seen in the theater.