3-D, lost gimmick of the '50s, returns in a form that may finally succeed

Yes, 3-D is back. The great lost gimmick of the 1950s has finally caught on. If you don't believe it, check the ticket sales for the current 3-D hit, ''Friday the 13th Part 3'' - a pointless and hokey piece of junk, but burning up the box office from coast to coast and soon to have its debut in Europe.

Why has this movie triumphed? According to the entertainment newspaper Variety, it's largely because of a technical revolution in the 3-D projection process. It has always been difficult to outfit theaters with 3-D equipment. Now , however, a determined producer named Frank Mancuso Jr. has sparked the design of a whole new 3-D projection method. His idea was to come up with a foolproof system that would deliver a consistently good image in theaters of any kind or size, thus overcoming skepticism and ingrained resistance to the process.

The expense - footed by Paramount Pictures - reportedly came to around $2 million, which is about what it cost to make ''Friday the 13th Part 3'' itself. The most important breakthrough is a new kind of 3-D lens that fits on a projector just like a normal or wide-screen lens. This not only guarantees the quality of the image from one theater to another, it also reduces the bother and expense when theaters ''convert'' for 3-D showings.

The results have been dramatic. In the past, 3-D movies were treated as novelties and only released at a handful of theaters. By contrast, ''Friday the 13th Part 3'' opened in more than 1,000 theaters. And in its first weekend it earned almost $10 million, pushing even the beloved ''E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial'' into the No. 2 spot!

Now, says Variety, the overjoyed folks at Paramount are mobilizing their international work force for a similar ''saturation'' launch of the picture overseas. And the ''Friday'' filmmakers are reportedly preparing a sci-fi space comedy, shot with a new camera system that will allow whole scenes to take place off the screen and over the audience's heads. This time, the rating promises to be PG, reflecting a lighter mood and none of the foolish ''Friday'' ghoulishness.

Meanwhile, other studios are eyeing 3-D. Most notably, Universal Pictures is working on the first big-budget feature ever shot in the process. The title? ''Jaws 3-D.'' Oh well, it had to happen sooner or later.

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