A Dead Medium Revived: The Stereoscope in *Across the Sea of Time*
by Stefan Jones
I've been a low-key aficionado of 3D media for some years. I go out of my way to take in presentations in stereo, and snap up magazines and comics that feature the technique. (I also have the odd habit of crossing my eyes whenever I see identical pictures, images, or patterns displayed side by side, in hopes of fusing the pairs to produce a 3D effect. I was reassured no end when a character in Pynchon's *Mason & Dixon* indulged in this trick.)
I recently had the good fortune to take in the latest in popularly available 3D entertainment, at the Sony IMAX theatre in Manhattan. The theatre presents several 3D movies, each a bit under an hour long, several times each day.
My cousin, playing local guide, selected a production titled *Across the Sea of Time,* and it turned out not only to be a great demonstration of modern 3D effects, but a wonderful tribute to a dead medium.
IMAX theatres feature a screen several stories tall and immensely wide; the film itself is projected at high speeds and has fantastically high resolution.
The 3D effect is provided by a high-tech "shutter" system. The projector alternately displays frames from a "right eye" and "left eye" perspective. Each eye is presented with only the appropriate view via bulky (but fairly comfortable) headsets with electrically "opaqueable" lenses. Infrared sensors on the goggles keep the shutter effect in synch with the projector.
The film follows the adventures of "Tomas Minton," a young Russian boy who stows away aboard a merchant ship to track down a branch of his family that emigrated to New York at the turn of the century. The only clue to the whereabouts of his relatives: some ancient letters and a bundle of stereoscope slides, taken by the fictional stereoscopist "Leopold Minton." Tomas, barely fluent in English, tromps through 1990s Manhattan, taking in skyscrapers, Central Park, ethnic neighborhoods and a Broadway play.
The quality of these "modern day" images was stunning; I found myself repeatedly reaching out to grab at fish, balustrades and other objects. I was more impressed by close-up images and street scenes than "show off" aerial shots of bridges and such; the former showed off IMAX's wonderful ability to capture fine details, such as scuff marks on a stage and the faintly grimy fingerprints Tomas leaves on a granite block after washing his face in a fountain.
The dead media angle: Tomas' adventure is narrated by his distant relative Leopold, via readings from his letters home; and interspersed with the moving, color images of modern day Gotham are hundreds of stereoscope images of old New York, blown up to full IMAX size and expertly adapted to the shutter 3D process.
As Leopold describes his arrival in America, the street life of turn- of-the-century Manhattan and Brooklyn, the construction of subways and skyscrapers, the delights of Coney Island and his growing family, we *see* all of these things, in wonderfully clear and detailed black and white still images.
The stereoscope slides I'd seen previously tended to depict natural wonders and monuments. "Minton's" slides show ordinary people and places: immigrants at Ellis Island, kids playing in the street, young women in full- length bathing suits at Coney Island, workers lighting fuses in the tunnels of the nascent subway system, and more. Thanks to the depth, great clarity and immense size of the images, we see the subjects as people, not blurred and anonymous phantoms.
I highly recommend this film to anyone visiting New York City; besides reviving some wonderful images from the past, it makes for a great ersatz tour of Manhattan.
*Across the Sea of Time* can be seen at the Sony IMAX theatre at 6th and Broadway. Additional details at:
Stefan Jones (SeJ@aol.com)