I collaborate with someone who sends me 3ds files of work in progress. I can view these fine in Blender 2.49b, but in version 2.53 beta, the 3ds import script does not seem to work properly. Parts of the mesh are recognisable, but the scaling and orientation are all jumbled up.
Try a more recent build from graphical.org
Bugs are being fixed all the time. If it still doesn’t work correctly, report a bug (there is a link in the help menu) if the developers don’t know there is a bug they cannot fix it, or stick with 2.49