The best reason for buying a Blu-ray player right now is Warner Home Video’s high-definition version of “How the West Was Won,” a film made 46 years ago in the highest-definition moving picture medium the world had seen: Cinerama. With its three strips of 35-millimeter film projected side by side with a slight overlap on a gigantic, curved screen, Cinerama offered six times the resolution — which is to say, six times as much visual information — of the standard film of 1952, when it was first used commercially.That sounds awesome. You would think that in the digital age we could come up with some more creative ways to project images onto a screen -- you know, besides just using bigger film stocks and really big screens (cough Imax cough).
Not even the finest home theater installation will be able to reproduce the scale and resolution of the Cinerama experience, or anything close to it. But moving from standard-definition DVD to Blu-ray generates a shock analogous to what the audiences of 1952 must have felt when the curtains parted to reveal the panoramic screen.
The images are so crisp as to feel almost unreal; the depth of field seems dreamlike, infinite, with the blades of grass in the foreground as sharply in focus as the snow-capped mountains in the distant background. Unfortunately, there is no way to bend even a flat-panel monitor to imitate the immersive experience of Cinerama’s curved screen, which tried to fill every speck of the viewer’s peripheral vision. But sit close enough, and that sense of enveloping depth returns. It feels like a three-dimensional experience, and in some ways is a more convincing illusion (and a much less visually painful one) than that provided by the two-camera 3-D processes that followed in the wake of Cinerama’s popular success.
I sense an art-school project coming on.