The Charge at Feather
River, a 1953 Western based loosely on the historical Battle of Beecher
Island, is barely remembered today. Hardcore film buffs might just recall
it as the film which featured a minor character called Private Wilhelm, after
whom the “Wilhelm Scream”, a sound effect used in many subsequent films, was
...although a real movie nerd will tell you that the sound
effect itself was first used in an earlier film, Distant Drums...
Anyway, what is usually forgotten is that it was one of the
first films to have a three-dimensional version, as well as the usual
two-dimensional. Cinema audiences were indeed shocked by tomahawks apparently
flying at them out of the screen, but it was a gimmick and not a great
financial, technical, or aesthetic success. For the next fifty plus years,
nothing much happened with “3D” cinema.
However, the commercial triumph of James Cameron’s Avatar and the delightful How to Train Your Dragon might mark 2010
as the year 3D finally lived up to its potential. Problems remain. The
technology is still far from perfect, and the need for special glasses remains an
The greater problem may be that both producers and customers
are still reluctant to commit fully to a technology that will devalue
everything that went before. The introduction of sound made silent films
redundant very quickly, and colour later did the same to black and white films
– although over a longer period. That was partly because back catalogues did
not matter much in the early days of cinema, but they have been growing in
importance ever since and are now substantial assets on many balance sheets. It
will reduce the value of old 2D films in the vaults when the day comes when all
new films are being made in 3D.
Yet that day will come, and it will impact on far more than
the movie industry. Video games are
following – the technological potential of Virtual Reality is already
under-exploited. We can also expect the “adult entertainment” industry to be
ahead of the curve, as
always. Then there will be the educational and communications applications.
So how long will it be before every smartphone has to have a holograph
Change has been slow but, when it comes, it will be massive.
Indeed it may be so slow precisely because it will be so massive. Devices that
seemed so futuristic in the 1960s Star
Trek – the computer, the translator, the tricorder, the communicator,
the scanners – are now real or possible or laughably primitive. Perhaps the holodeck is closer than
we thought – and with it the end of the entertainment industry as we now know