'Spy Kids' sequel adds a dimension

3-D moves out of IMAX theaters, theme parks into the cineplex

— Time to put on your cardboard glasses with the red-and-blue cellophane and dodge images leaping off the theater screen.

Three-dimensional movies are comin' at ya again, with the latest "Spy Kids" flick the first wide-release fictional film in two decades to debut in 3-D.

On the heels of "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over," James Cameron plans to shoot his next fictional film using the digital-video 3-D system he developed for his recent Titanic documentary "Ghosts of the Abyss."

Dismissed as an eye-straining, headache-inducing fad during its brief incarnation in the early 1950s and short-lived revival in the 1980s, 3-D film has gained new respect in the last decade.

Huge-screen IMAX theaters have greatly elevated the quality of the images and scored hits with such 3-D movies as "Space Station" and "T-Rex." Attractions such as Universal's new "Shrek" adventure have made 3-D a staple at theme parks.

As long as special glasses are required to watch it, 3-D may never become common in mainstream movies. But if successful, the new "Spy Kids" movie and Cameron's upcoming project might encourage more filmmakers to think about shooting in three dimensions.

"Myself being a big kid, I know kids would just be thrilled to go to a theater and be able to see a narrative film in 3-D," Robert Rodriguez, writer-director of the "Spy Kids" franchise, said in an interview at his home outside Austin, Texas, where he shot "Spy Kids 3-D."

"I've been to the theme-park rides where they show stuff in 3-D, and those are only like 10 minutes long, but everyone's screaming and having a blast."

Cameron's "Ghosts of the Abyss," chronicling his return voyage to the shipwreck after he created the blockbuster "Titanic," used 3-D images to create a vivid portrait of the decaying vessel.

The film also incorporated 3-D recreations of the tragedy using actors whose ghostly images Cameron superimposed, like figures in an artist's diorama, over his 3-D footage of the wreck.

In 1952, "Bwana Devil" kicked off 3-D mania, but the craze came and went quickly as Hollywood grasped at gimmicks to lure people back into theaters after television began eroding the movie audience.

Three-dimensional images are shot using side-by-side cameras, one capturing pictures for the left eye, the other for the right. Films are shown using either two projectors or through a single projector with the two images overlaid and slightly offset. The 3-D glasses trick the brain into registering them as a single image.

In the 1950s, viewers complained of headaches and eyestrain from watching 3-D movies. And while some quality films came out in 3-D versions, including "House of Wax," "Kiss Me Kate" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Dial M for Murder," many were mediocre movies that used 3-D as a prop.

Ultimately, studios settled on CinemaScope and other widescreen formats to differentiate movies from TV. The 3-D format faded, returning briefly in the early 1980s as studios milked franchises with 3-D sequels for "Jaws," "The Amityville Horror" and "Friday the 13th."

"It is a gimmick, but so is color film and sound on film," said Jeff Joseph, organizer of the World 3-D Film Expo this September at Los Angeles' Egyptian theater, a 10-day festival that will include such 3-D movies as "House of Wax" and "Creature From the Black Lagoon." "3-D still can be a lot of fun and enhance the moviegoing experience if it's shown correctly."

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