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Lowell Thomas, Robert L. Bendick and Merian C. Cooper's 'This is Cinerama'

By Greg MacGillivray

From Lowell Thomas, Robert L. Bendick and Merian C. Cooper's <em>This is Cinerama</em>.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. I will never forget that sound and the anticipation I felt as I climbed the first crest of the roller coaster ride in the opening scene of This is Cinerama. I was ten years old in 1955. Even though I knew I was in a special theater, capable of projecting three 35mm images simultaneously, I was not prepared for the impact.

I sat close to the extra wide, deeply curved screen, filling my peripheral vision. Seven-channel sound boomed around me. People were screaming and laughing as This is Cinerama unfolded before us. More than a film (frankly, all I remember were those first few minutes!), it was an experience that opened my eyes and mind to the impact of bigger images and better sound. I was hooked on motion. Shortly thereafter, with my 8mm Brownie camera in hand, I started a filmmaking career trying to capture the excitement and beauty of movement.

After getting our start in the 1960s making surfing documentaries and shooting a lot of aerial work for Hollywood and documentary films, Jim Freeman and I released our first IMAX® Theatre film, To Fly! in 1976. When we were chosen to make To Fly!, there were only three IMAX theatres in the world. We knew we were trying to accomplish for the IMAX format what This is Cinerama did for that new film format—launch it. We aimed to take the even bigger and better IMAX screen and projection system and have it absolutely astound people, just as This is Cinerama did in the 1950’s.

Jim and I set out to design a 27-minute film that gave audiences the non-stop fun and thrills accomplished in This is Cinerama’s three-minute roller coaster ride. We hired Tyler Camera Systems to build a forward-looking aerial mount so audiences would feel as if they were flying. Until then, the only aerial views were accomplished from side or door mounts. We put the camera in points of view audiences had never before experienced. We swooped over cliffs, rode the wheel of a locomotive and flew with a barnstormer pilot as he flipped upside down a mere ten feet off the ground. We had so much fun creating that film. It was like being ten years old again.

To Fly! celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and it still plays at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum, for whom we first made the film, and at other theatres around the globe. More than 100 million people have seen To Fly! and we’ve since produced 24 IMAX Theatre films. Theatres now number 220 worldwide. What a tribute to the audiences’ love of documentary filmmaking on the giant screen, as first unveiled in This is Cinerama.


Greg MacGillivray has directed over 25 IMAX theatre films including the 2000 IDA Award-nominated and 2000 Academy-Award-nominated Dolphins, Everest and the 1995 Academy Award-nominated The Living Sea.

Editor’s Note: Pacific Theatres is restoring the original print of This is Cinerama for a spring 2002 release. IDA member Dave Strohmaier is currently directing a feature-length documentary, Cinemera Adventure (, for release next year, the 50th anniversary of the widescreen process.