As a schoolboy growing up in Dunedin, I had a keen interest in movies and was a frequent visitor to the city’s 7 cinemas. I would check the theatre listings in the Otago Daily Times every day to keep up to date with the movies playing in each cinema. I had my favourites, the Octagon and Regent being top of the list. (Both still survive and continue to screen films, although the Regent is primarily a live theatre now) Not only did I go frequently to the ‘flicks’ I also started collecting film posters. The managers at the Octagon and Mayfair Theatres kept posters for me and I would go and collect them every month. I ended up with hundreds of posters but unfortunately, my parents, while having a major tidy up, burnt the lot after I had left NZ and, at the time, was living in Glasgow.


The 1960s saw the popularity of cinemas decrease as TV became the preferred entertainment choice. This was the main reason 70mm was introduced. It was hoped audiences would abandon their small TV screens for the giant ones available in 70mm cinemas. At that time, Dunedin was a major NZ city and it was no surprise that the Octagon and St. James theatres installed 70mm projection plants. This resulted in larger, sharper images, more intense colours and improved surround sound audio. Needless to say, I made a point of attending every 70mm film that came to town. There were about 8 a year between the two cinemas and included West Side Story, Ben Hur, Sound of Music, Ryan’s Daughter, Far From the Madding Crowd, 2001, a Space Odyssey, Cleopatra, and the most impressive of all, Lawrence of Arabia. Stephen Spielberg has said that this David Lean desert masterpiece is the best film ever made and it inspired him to make ‘big’ films.

My love for cinemas, culminated in my parents allowing me to remove a wall in our house to allow two rooms to be turned into one large space. I installed a 14ft curved screen which I believe, still holds the record for being the largest 16mm screen ever erected in NZ. I became quite well known for my Sunday night film showings. I tried to screen films that did not play on the commercial circuit so were only available at my theatre!


On the 5th November 1959, the Strand Theatre in Auckland presented the country’s first Cinerama film on its 65ft by 25ft 146 degree screen. This is Cinerama demonstrated what the format was capable of doing. The deeply curved, wrap around screen and full spectrum sound wowed the audience and it seemed the experience would get people away from their tiny black and white TV screens. Cinerama Holiday, South Seas Adventure, Seven Wonders of the World and Windjammer followed over the next few years. However, these were really just glorified travelogues with no story line to hook the audience and people began to tire of these expensive productions with their Cinerama gimmicks.

(Museums Wellington


In September 1963, Cinerama came to Christchurch. Needless to say, I hopped on a bus and made the four and a half hour, 360km (223 miles) trip from Dunedin to experience the thrill of seeing a movie on the biggest screen of all. This was 3 strip Cinerama, where 3 separate projectors were used to marry up the huge image. The presentation wasn’t perfect. There were fine lines where the three images met which was a distraction especially in scenes with lots of sky or other open spaces. However, I was impressed with the experience and made a trip back to Christchurch to see the next two Cinerama films but it wasn’t till I saw How the West Was Won, a true feature film with a story line and actors, that the impact of the format hit me. I was blown away with the whole experience and the following day, I watched it again before heading back to Dunedin. In March 1965, Cinerama’s second feature film, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm opened in Christchurch. The giant image held me spellbound from beginning to end and the format worked with the same magic as the story itself. However, because of the cost and limitations with production, this was the last 3 strip Cinerama film, the format had had its day. In 1963, The Best of Cinerama was the last 3 projection Cinerama film to be released. It was really just a compilation of the earlier Cinerama travelogues and disappointed at the box office.

Other titles were released under the Cinerama banner but with just one projector resulting in a reduced image size. Big budget films such as Khartoum, The Sand Pebbles and The Greatest Story Ever Told followed in Ultra Panavision 70 and Todd-AO. I viewed them all because they were epics and were presented on giant screens.


In the 1950s a few movies were released in 3D but the gimmick didn’t last long as audiences disliked wearing the glasses. The same thing happened when 3D made a short comeback a few years ago. I believe James Cameron is experimenting with a way to present 3D movies without glasses. That could be a winner but time will tell.


In the 1970s with the ongoing quest to lure audiences back to the cinema, a group of guys at Universal Studios sound department came up with an idea to literally move the audience. They called their low frequency sound system ‘Sensurround’. In 1974, the big budget disaster film Earthquake shook audiences around the world, including NZ. By this time, the Cinerama cinema in Christchurch had returned to screening standard 35mm films and this was the venue for Earthquake. Unfortunately, none of Dunedin’s cinemas installed the required expensive speakers so I hopped on the bus and headed to Christchurch to experience this new movie marvel for myself. The following year, I did the trip again to see Midway in Sensurround. I still remember the shaking up I experienced as a squadron of Japanese aircraft warmed up to take off from an aircraft carrier. That was nothing when it came to the shakeup I felt while riding high on a rollercoaster that was about to be blown up. In my opinion, Rollercoaster was by far the best of the three Sensurround films released. It was truly frightening to feel and hear the ominous rumble it created as we all sat dangling in a rollercoaster that had stopped at the highest point of the ride. The woman sitting beside me grabbed my shoulder and dug her fingernails into me. She was genuinely fearful as were many in the audience. The low frequency drone vibrated the light fittings in the ceiling and rattled the back of our seats adding to the fear factor. Rollercoaster was a successful movie and experiencing it in Sensurround was quite something.


IMAX screens are wider, higher and sharper than Cinerama ever was. There is just one IMAX screen in New Zealand. It is located in a Queen Street, Auckland cinema complex and screens big budget films on its 5 story high screen with laser technology, so to view a film on its vast surface is an experience that far outdoes any previous big screen formats. Ironically, I now watch movies on my 15inch tablet, having given up the big screen preferring to choose the films I want to watch rather than the ones mainly offered in cinemas.

Ceidrik Heward

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