Bob Furmanek, founder of the 3D Film Archive, discovered the print used for the company’s new Robot Monster Blu-ray back in the early 1990s by sheer chance, working in a storage facility. Still, to this day, it’s the only known left/right 3D print that exists, and it’s taken until 2023 to finally see it in the intended format at home.
That 35mm release print wasn’t exactly cared for, if better than expected, considering. “It wasn’t bad, but it’s 1953, safety stock. Over the years, it’s deteriorating with vinegar syndrome. There’s also water damage in sections. There were a lot of problems with it that we had to overcome in using it as the basis for the restoration,” said Furmanek during a Zoom call for this feature.
That restoration fell to Greg Kintz, carrying the title technical director for this title. Scanned at 4K after a successful Kickstarter in July 2021, Kintz stated the left eye side was the better of the two, and became the basis for the 2D version. “It could vary from section to section, but I mean overall both sides were pretty good,” explained Kintz.
In addition to deterioration and damage, Robot Monster also utilized numerous composites and multi-generational elements. That further impedes image quality. “Opticals were done by Jack Rabin at his lab in Hollywood. So about a quarter of the film was dupe opticals from day one,” began Furmanek. “And of course, when you go down a generation like that, you’re going to increase grain, you’re going to lose quality, and that was there from day one.”
Prior to Furmanek’s find, Robot Monster saw airings on TV, including MTV, in red/blue anaglyph format. “What they had access to was not a complete left and right like Bob had discovered. When it played on TV in red and blue and on VHS, there’s a lot of times it goes flat,” noted Kintz.
Furmanek then jumped in to add “We wanted to make sure for this definitive release that it was 3D start to finish and that meant sometimes we had to use elements where they weren’t quite as good, but it remains in 3D as you would have seen it in 1953.”
There’s no processing, touch-up, or conversion done for these releases, but the restoration does include re-alignment to make sure the material is accurate, explained Kintz. “Vertical alignment is when the left eye is higher than the right eye. That means your eyeballs, instead of going in a horizontal direction (that’s how we see depth) one eye has to look up, the other eye has to look down, which our eyes weren’t designed to do. And you can do it, but it causes eye strain. It can cause a headache.
“And even if you can watch it, you know, your brain still having to do your eyes are still having to do something they weren’t meant to,” Kintz continued. “What we do is make sure everything’s in alignment. It’s not hype when you say the 3D is better than it ever has been in that everything is aligned just like they would have wanted it.”
“That’s an important part of what we do to try to make the 3D viewing experience optimal for viewers today,” added Furmanek.
Robot Monster is just the latest release from the 3D Film Archive on Blu-ray, although Furmanek formed the company in the late ‘90s. Modern technology finally allowed these films to be seen as intended. The focus remains on discovering, restoring, and releasing more vintage 3D content, including the upcoming Southwest Passage.
“For decades [Southwest Passage] was lost in 3D because four of the nine reels of one eye were missing,” explained Furmanek, then noting the recent find of another print in Italy that allowed for this release.
“As soon as that happened, we fast track that to get a license and get it restored. We’re going to be working on that later this year. So, for the first time in seven decades, people are going to have a chance to see this natural vision 3D Western that hasn’t been seen that way since 1954,” said Furmanek.
It’s great to see, but with TV manufacturers dropping 3D support and major studios no longer (or rarely) releasing modern films in 3D on disc, what’s the market like for this content? Kintz noted people finding great deals on used 3DTVs, discovering VR for 3D, or purchasing 3D-supporting projectors to keep this content viewable. More importantly for the business side, this is a passionate audience according to Kintz. “They’re a group that puts their money where their mouth is. Avatar: The Way of Water came out [on 3D Blu-ray] because Jim Cameron insisted on it. Well, shortly after the release came out, Disney ran out of stock, and that’s because they didn’t make enough discs,” said Kintz.
Furmanek echoed those statements. “One of the things that’s been very gratifying for our team is that we we’ve built a pretty solid fan base of people that like what we do and buy just about every release. So, for us, we know out of the gate that we’re going to be able to sell X amount of titles and that way, we’re able to keep costs very low in doing the restorations,” Furmanek adds, then noting the relationship with Kino Lorber and how that works to benefit both companies. “If we make money [with Kino], that’s great. If we break even, that’s fine. If we start to lose money, then we’ll talk, but luckily, we haven’t lost money yet.”
Plus, it’s important to keep these films looking as intended. “Like so many of the other films, seeing it in 3D is how it was meant to be seen,” closed Furmanek.