Second only to his fetish for women’s feet, Quentin Tarantino has a major hard-on for watching movies projected from celluloid film. For his new Western ‘The Hateful Eight’, Tarantino shot the movie in the rarely-used Super Panavision 70 format and has pressured the Weinstein Company into releasing an exclusive roadshow engagement on 70mm film in selected theaters. Are you hoping to see what all the fuss is about?
This is no small endeavor. The National Association of Theater Owners says that 97% of cinema screens across the United States have switched from film to digital projection. Digital is far easier to operate and maintain, and has much more consistent quality from one screening to the next with no fear of a physical film print getting scratched or eaten up inside the projector. The situation is much the same throughout the rest of the world. Few theaters today are equipped to project movies on film at all, much less have professional projectionists knowledgeable or skilled enough to do so. Add to that the complications of 70mm projection, which requires very specialized projector equipment and comes on much larger and heavier film reels than the standard 35mm format, and this seems like a fool’s quest.
Nonetheless, a small cadre of filmmakers, Tarantino chief among them, continue to insist that projected celluloid has a magical quality that can’t be reproduced in digital. The 70mm roadshow engagement for ‘The Hateful Eight’ will open on Christmas Day on 96 screens in the United States. According to the New York Times, the cost of installing the necessary 70mm equipment could be as much as $80,000 per each of those theaters.
Determined to make this a special event, Tarantino is going all-out with the roadshow version, which will add an overture and an intermission, as well as being a different edit of the movie than the standard theatrical release. Reportedly, it will include some different footage and longer takes to allow the audience to bask in the glory of the flickering 70mm format.
So, where can you see it this way? The In70mm.com web site is compiling a list of participating theaters. The list doesn’t yet have 96 entries, which suggests that this is still a work in progress as more theaters confirm their plans. Already, however, I see two theaters near me, one of which I have frequented often.
[Update: This ticketing site appears to be the best way to track participating theaters.]
A better question, perhaps, is whether a 70mm screening is really worth the effort. Advance screenings of the movie have played for critics and some industry groups. Over at Hitflix, writer Drew McWeeny (better known as “Moriarty” from Ain’t It Cool News) recounts the story of a disastrous screening in which a portion of the 70mm image drifted in and out of focus, eventually forcing the theater to switch to digital projection for the second half of the movie. Even more embarrassing, McWeeny says that the movie looked much better in digital than it did on film.
“Here’s the really awful part, the thing that I feel bad writing: once they switched over to the digital projection, it looked better. And not just in that one out-of-focus spot, either. Robert Richardson has done some of the best work of his career while working with Tarantino, and looking at the film’s second half, we were given a reference-copy look at Richardson’s work. Because the 70MM lens was simply not working right, that overall softness could not communicate the rich burnished-leather look of the film. In the fuzzy first half, many of the details of Minnie’s Haberdashery, the isolated mountain roadhouse where most of the film takes place, were lost in that vaguely focused background. In the second half, it felt like you could explore every corner of that amazing set, and it also brought all of those great faces into sharp focus. It really was night and day in all the most important ways.”
Personally, I tend to be format agnostic in the Film vs. Digital debate – at least as far as either is concerned as a photographic capture medium. I’ve seen beautiful movies shot on film and beautiful movies shot digitally. Depending on what the director is trying to achieve, I can see the value of shooting on film. When it comes to theatrical projection, however, my nostalgia for film prints has long since faded.
Would I go to see ‘The Hateful Eight’ in 70mm? I have to admit that I’m curious about it, and one of the participating theaters is convenient to me. Unfortunately, with two young toddlers at home, I don’t get out to the theater much these days – and quite frankly, I haven’t thought very highly of Tarantino’s last couple of movies. I’m not sure that I want to see this one at all. If I do, I’ll probably wait for Blu-ray.