The Austin Chronicle

Comin' Back at Ya!

By Richard Whittaker, March 4, 2012, 10:30am, Picture in Picture

Ever watched a modern 3D movie and think, "Well, that's great, but when is someone going to convert an old-school, red-and-blue glasses classic to digital?" Now 30 years after Comin' at Ya! kickstarted the 1980's 3D minirevival, Tony Anthony and Drafthouse Films saddled it back up, in all its snake-striking, bottle-swinging, rootin' tootin' glory.

Drafthouse Films acquired the retro-classic last September straight after two barnstorming screenings at Fantastic Fest. That screening reminded writer, producer and star Anthony of opening up on Times Square back in 1981. "That audience started in the first minute of that film, laughing and carrying on like it's a live concert."

The 30th anniversary restoration opened in 13 cinemas across Texas last weekend, and Anthony pitches it as a film for people who like Spaghetti in their Western, and 3D that's really in your face (it is, as Marjorie Baumgarten recalled last week, also a film with a unique place in Chronicle history.) Anthony described the movie's vision as "the three Fs and one W: Fear, fleeing, fighting and winning."

As an actor, Anthony's probably best known as the globe-trotting shotgun-wielding Stranger from Luigi Vanzi's bloody Spaghetti Westerns. However, Anthony stumbled into the third dimension almost by accident. "They were trying to put me together with the guy they were hoping would be the next Bruce Lee," he said, "and they said that they wanted to shoot in 3D. Of course, I was like everyone else – the only time I saw 3D was in midnight shows." He convinced the producers to fly him and his longtime collaborator Ferdinando Baldi (Blindman, Django, Prepare a Coffin) to Taiwan "and I go in this little dinky room and I see the most incredible 3D I'd ever seen in my entire life. I said to the director, 'Ferdinando, we've got to make a Western with the stuff.'"

So now the pair were trying to resurrect two cinematic has-beens: 3D and the Western. To get his fever-dream project into cinemas, Anthony helped develop an affordable system for polarized projection. He and his partners rented a theater during the American Film Market "and we had multiple screenings during the festival. Within two days, the students from UCLA were trying to get into the theater. Then all at once the LA Times and all these news services were following our film."

Distributors agreed to put the silver screens required for 3D into cinemas, and soon more film makers quickly took advantage of that extra dimension. For two years, viewers took an axe to the eye and a laser bolt to the visual cortex courtesy of Friday the 13th Part 3 and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. Yet it was a shortlived revival: The film became just another part of 3D history, broken only by a brief return to screens 2002. Now Anthony has resurrected it for the 30th anniversary through another technological development: Converting the polarized over-and-under format of the original print into RealD digital format. Anthony said, "It took us four years to convert that film into what you see. … It was very difficult, very expensive and very time consuming."

This isn't just a technical conversion: Anthony described the new film as "re-invented and then restored … digitizing it and the animating we did to enhance the effects, plus putting it in 5.1 Dolby Stereo and redoing all the sound effects."

For Anthony, it's all worth the effort. "It's an endless struggle," he said, "but the film delivers, buddy."

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