Cinerama Dome Moves Forward

Michael Forman OKs This Is Cinerama Restoration

There is continuing good news from Pacific Theaters about the Cinerama Dome Theater and the Cinerama process. Michael Forman, Chairman of the Board of Pacific Theaters, ordered the restoration of This Is Cinerama (the one with the roller coaster ride), the first 3-camera / projector Cinerama film released originally in 1952.

The Forman family is the principal owner of Pacific Theaters. Michael Forman was in charge of constructing the Dome in 1963, and was key in the restoration of the theater and the new prints. Founded by his father William, Pacific Theaters is now run by Michael’s son, Chris.

Cinerama movies are very expensive, as three prints need to be made for the 3 projectors for each reel shown. All 3 have to be color balanced by hand to avoid any shifts in color between the 3 images. Hence no 3-panel Cinerama prints have been made since the process ended in 1962. Restoration is also far more expensive due to these same considerations. The existing print of This Is Cinerama was assembled from various prints and does show slight, but noticeable color shifts, yet it is still quite spectacular. To finally see a restored, balanced print as audiences first saw in 1952 will be a truly remarkable experience. It will not be seen anywhere else in the world but at the Cinerama Dome, where the hope is for a regular weekend matinee performance.

For this restoration, and the one of MGM’s 1962 How The West Was Won (a new print is being made for the Dome and the only other commercial Cinerama Theater in the U.S., Paul Allen’s restored Seattle Cinerama), Hollywood’s Crest National Film Laboratory has been hired. To strike new prints, Crest built a Cinerama theater at their lab with 3 Cinerama projectors (Cinerama projectors are different than normal 35mm projectors), a seven track sound system, and a 146 degree curved screen. Test prints are to be screened starting in April.

At the Dome, three Cinerama projectors have arrived from a closed theater in Hawaii. Asbestos has been removed from the ceiling and new acoustic material, matching the original’s appearance, will soon be installed. The 146-degree louvered screen is being made that will balance illumination and reduce distortion.

If Hollywood Heritage and Friends of Cinerama had not fought to preserve the theater’s interior, none of this would be happening, although we didn’t expect this enthusiastic a response from Pacific Theaters and others to restore the Cinerama process. This shows the benefits that can be obtained from historic preservation battles that may not appear to be obvious at first blush.

Now there is an effort being made to restore a round "hat box" Cinerama Theater in Omaha. There is hope that this may now lead to a new network of Cinerama Theaters, helping to justify the costs of film restoration. Pacific Theaters also owns five other Cinerama films (Cinerama Holiday, Cinerama’s Seven Wonders of the World, etc.), plus there is MGM’s Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (George Pal–1962), now also owned by Warner Brothers, which has been water damaged and needs extensive restoration.

Hollywood Heritage would like to thank those who have made this dynamic restoration of architecture and film possible: Michael Forman and Jay Swerdlow (who initiated the Cinerama discussions) of Pacific Theaters, Paul Allen of Seattle’s Cinerama (who is helping to pay for the new How The West Was Won prints), Dick May of Warner Brothers, Ron Stein and Crest National Film Laboratory, and Friends of Cinerama experts Doug Haines and Dave Strohmaier, who also supplied the updates on the Cinerama projectors and the Crest process for this article.