Remember that awesome scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when Indy and crew are in the mine cart on a nauseating roller coaster ride that's plunging deeper into the hellish depths of crazy-cult mountain? You can thank Cinerama for inspiring that shot. In fact, David Strohmaier's documentary Cinerama Adventure is an engaging look at how this widescreen filming process revolutionized American cinema and culture, only to suffer a sudden death after producing less than a dozen films.
Cinerama, a filming process created by water ski inventor Fred Waller and the co-director of 1933's King Kong, Merian C. Cooper, used three interlocked 35 mm cameras to shoot the film, and three projectors to show the three-paneled product on a huge curved, louvered screen. The result: breathtaking panoramic views that stretched from the edge of one's periphery to the other, with rich seven-channel sound. No wonder film nerds are still bonkers for this format, which had its heyday in the '50s and '60s. Unfortunately, the expensive process is obsolete today (though Seattle's Cinerama theater still shows special presentations periodically).
While few Cinerama films were made, their impact was undeniable on American culture—to this day "rama" invades all aspects of our vernacular, and millions fell in love with the virtual first-person thrills of roller coaster rides, soaring views of America's landscapes, and a daring plane dive into an active volcano. The Cinerama craze can be summed up with one stat: In 1952 This Is Cinerama, an exotic travelogue, was the highest-grossing movie of the year... after only playing for three months. In one theater.
But with Cinerama Adventure, do you actually get to experience the awesomeness of Cinerama? Nope. The documentary may be fun and (ahem) educational, but you never get to relive the true Cinerama spectacular—no three projectors and certainly no dazzling gigantic screen. You end up watching the flat, road kill version of Cinerama, disappointed that you never got to see it in all its majesty.